Saturday, 10 August 2019

Provincial Day of Action Held to Call for a Stop to Legal Aid Cuts

By Neil Armstrong

Photo contributed  A rally held outside the Constituency Office of Premier Doug Ford in Toronto, Ontario

A coalition of community members, frontline legal aid workers, and lawyers is calling on the government of Ontario to stop the cuts to Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) and community legal clinics.

On July 30 protests and actions were held in communities across the province to demand that Attorney General Doug Downey and Premier Doug Ford to reverse the cuts to funding the legal aid system in the province.

The Progressive Conservative government slashed nearly 30 per cent of the organization's budget in April and said that the LAO could no longer use provincial funds for refugee and immigration cases.

There were actions in different parts of Toronto, Brampton, Bracebridge, Fort Frances, Hamilton, Kingston, Kitchener, Little Current, Marathon, London, Mississauga, Moosonee, Newmarket, Owen Sound, Peterborough, Renfrew, Sarnia/Point Edward, Thunder Bay and Windsor. 

“Ford's $300 million cuts to legal aid will hurt a huge number of people in Ontario, including tenants, low-wage workers, women fleeing violence, people struggling with mental illness, workers hurt on the job, and parents with custody or support issues. They're the biggest cuts ever faced by legal aid and community legal clinics,” said the organizers.

The Black Legal Action Centre (BLAC) joined the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario (SALCO), Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic (CSALC), and Centre for Immigrant and Community Services (CICS) in the provincial day of action outside the constituency office of Premier Ford.

 The BLAC is a specialty legal clinic that works to combat individual and systemic anti-black racism through the provision of legal aid services. It provides free legal assistance to low to no income Black Ontarians who meet its case selection and financial eligibility requirements.

“Doug Ford says that he is loved by the Black community. He says that he has massive support from the Black community. He says that he loves us and that we love him. That there is no other politician in this country who has supported us more than he has. This statement is backed up by telling us that he takes 80 young Black children to his cottage for several days in the summer months.

“The Black Legal Action Centre (BLAC) is here to tell Mr. Ford that the 80 children that he takes to his cottage does not the “Black community” make. That while some may love beneficence of taking Black children to his cottage, doing so is not a solution to the massive systemic discrimination and inequity faced by the over 600,000 members of the very diverse Black community across Ontario. And, neither are the cuts that he has made to policing oversight, education, social services and Legal Aid Ontario,” said Ruth Goba, executive director of the Black Legal Action Centre, outside Ford’s office.

Goba said if Ford really wants to support the Black community, she would urge him to “ask the young Black people stuck in detention who can no longer get legal aid certificates for bail because of Mr. Ford’s cuts to legal aid if they feel supported and loved? And who are very likely to be in detention because of racial profiling in the first place.”
She would also urge the premier to “ask the Black refugee fleeing domestic violence who can’t get assistance from a legal clinic or Legal Aid Ontario to make their refugee claim, if they feel supported and loved?”

“My guess, Mr. Ford, though I do not profess to represent the entire Black community in the province, is that if you thought to ask these questions, the answers would be a resounding NO!! This should matter to you. It should matter very much. If you truly do “love” and care about the Black community as you purport to, BLAC urges you to reverse the cuts to Legal Aid Ontario and other areas that impact vulnerable Ontarians.”

Photo contributed Staff of Black Legal Action Centre (BLAC) and other community legal aid clinics outside Doug Ford's Etobicoke North constituency office

In a statement on the legislative changes in Ontario that it issued in May, BLAC said that without consulting stakeholders, the government cut Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) funding by a third, with an anticipated $31 million cut next year. 

“This will have a severe impact on the LAO clinic system and consequently, communities most impacted by social and economic inequities,” it said. 

BLAC said what is particularly concerning to BLAC and others is the government’s decision to single out legal services provided to immigrants and refugees, and effectively cut 100% of its funding to these services.

It notes that immigration is a major source of growth of the Black population, with 53% of all African Canadians in Ontario born outside the country.

“The cuts to the immigration and refugee law services will put people’s lives in danger, and is an attack on human rights. Community and specialty clinics such as BLAC provide services on issues that are most critical to our communities.”

 These service areas, which intersect, include housing, income security, education, health care, mental health, disability programs, workers’ rights, domestic violence, and environmental issues.

It notes that clinics prioritize client and community needs and attempt to meet them strategically, making efficient use of scarce resources.

Clinics use lawyers, non-lawyers, public education initiatives and other delivery systems in order to deliver services cost-effectively to those who cannot otherwise afford lawyers and court fees.

“These LAO cuts have the effect of creating further barriers to access to justice for the most marginalized members of our community. These LAO cuts will impact all low to no income Ontarians,” BLAC said.

The coalition members are: Association of Community Legal Clinics of Ontario,
Ontario Association of Child Protection Lawyers, OPSEU, Society of United Professionals (IFPTE 160), and Voices of Scarborough.

[This story has been published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, Aug. 8-14, 2019.]

Police Board Holds Public Consultation on Race-based Data Collection Policy

By Neil Armstrong

Photo contributed  Notisha Massaquoi, Co-Chair of the Anti-Racism Advisory Panel of the Toronto Police Services Board

The Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB) and its Anti-Racism Advisory Panel (ARAP) are inviting the public to participate in the development of its Race-based Data Collection policy.

The Board will be meeting with various stakeholders, community groups and subject matters, and would also like to provide the public with the opportunity to provide invaluable input into the development of the final policy that will be presented to the Board for approval in September.

For more than a decade, communities have been asking for the Toronto Police Service to collect and report on race-based data collection, in order to enhance transparency, accountability, and to help to create a better understanding on how policing services are delivered, specifically across racialized, marginalized and vulnerable populations.

“With the drafting of this policy, the Toronto Police Services Board wanted to ensure that in addition to working with the Anti-Racism Advisory Panel (ARAP), the public was confident that a sufficient number and representative cross-section of community members, community organizations, subject-matter experts as well as members of the Toronto Police Service were consulted in the development of the Policy,” say Uppala Chandrasekera and Notisha Massaquoi, Co-Chairs of the Anti-Racism Advisory Panel.

Chandrasekera is the director of public policy at the Canadian Mental Health Association and a member of the TPSB, who is a well-regarded mental health advocate, and Massaquoi is the executive director of Women’s Health in Women’s Hands and a prominent equity champion.

The panel itself is a diverse group of community members, mental health advocates, academics, service providers and police officers.

“This policy is literally groundbreaking as the Toronto Police Service Board is the first police governance body in partnership with various communities, to create a comprehensive policy that makes race-based data collection mandatory across the entire organization and the Toronto Police Service will be the first police service in Canada to create the resulting operationalized procedure,” say the Co-Chairs.

They said the Board and Service wanted to be proactive, working ahead of the timelines set out in the Anti-Racism Act's Anti-Racism Data Standards which came into effect in 2017.

“The development of this policy demonstrates that our Board and Service are committed to becoming national leaders in this very important and topical area.”

Chandrasekera and Massaquoi note that the collection of race-based data means that racialized communities can better monitor how policing services are delivered in their communities.

“It provides an opportunity to analyse trends and behaviours, and creates the opportunity to identify gaps in training, process and procedure. The public reporting of this data is a first step towards an open, transparent working partnership with communities in the interest of increasing public trust and eliminating systemic racism.”

Photo contributed  Uppala Chandrasekera, Co-Chair of the Anti-Racism Advisory Panel of the Toronto Police Services Board

The Anti-Racism Advisory Panel’s work is grounded in an anti-oppression framework, with a specific focus on anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism, as well as an analysis of the systemic, intersectional, and historical ways that racism and discrimination affect Black, Indigenous, and racialized peoples.

Initially, the work of ARAP was intended to focus only on the establishment of a monitoring framework (i.e. key benchmarks and performance indicators) for the Board to use in assessing the response to and implementation of each of the recommendations from the inquest into the death of Andrew Loku.

Loku, a Black man with mental health challenges and a father of five, originally from South Sudan, was shot and killed by police on July 5, 2015 after refusing to drop a hammer he was carrying in the building where he lived. The shooting sparked days of protest by Black Lives Matter in Toronto.

Following the release of the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s interim report, “A Collective Impact: Interim report on the inquiry into racial profiling and racial discrimination of Black persons by the Toronto Police Service,” the TPSB determined it was appropriate to expand ARAP’s mandate to include the development of a mandatory race-based data collection policy for the TPS.

A draft of the Race-based Data Collection Policy notes that “…it is the Board’s policy that race-based data will be collected by the Service in all stops, searches, interactions involving Use of Force, charges, apprehensions and arrests.

“The Board has chosen to engage in a phased implementation of this Policy, with a focus on a single area for collection first: all Use of Force incidents. After this first phase is properly evaluated, the Board will, as soon as possible, expand the application of this Policy to the mandatory collection of race-based data across all areas of the Service.”

 The link is now available on the TPSB’s website, under the "Policies & By-Laws" tab until the end of August.

This is a unique opportunity for communities to provide feedback into what will be a groundbreaking policy in Civilian Oversight and Police Governance.

[This story has been published in the North American Weekly Gleaner, Aug. 8-14, 2019.]

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Jamaica Summer Games and Wellness Festival to Kickoff in Toronto

By Neil Armstrong

Karl Hale, organizer of the Jamaica Summer Games and Wellness Festival, and Angella Bennett, regional director - Canada, Jamaica Tourist Board

A new initiative promoting sports, wellness, music, culture and Jamaica will take place in Toronto during the third weekend of August.

Jamaica Summer Games and Wellness Festival is the brainchild of Jamaican-Canadian Karl Hale who notes that it will feature seven beach and land sports on August 17 and 18 at Ashbridges Bay in Toronto.

This is to support Helping Hands Jamaica Foundation, a charitable organization he founded, to build their 25th school in Jamaica.

Helping Hands Jamaica Foundation seeks to improve the lives of the next generation of Jamaicans and their communities by creating a world-class education system through investment in infrastructure, resource materials and expertise.

Hale is expecting approximately 500 athletes in different sports this year and anyone interested in participating can register online. Approximately 300 people have already registered and the sports ambassadors are Daniel Nestor, tennis; Dwayne De Rosario, soccer; Jonathon Power, squash; and Nick Kypreos, hockey.

The sports are beach tennis, squash, tennis, pickleball, beach soccer, beach volleyball and beach ultimate frisbee. There will also be yoga, a wellness talk series and live music.

Hale, who played Davis Cup for Jamaica for 10 years, says he came up with the idea for a couple of reasons; one, to have a new revenue stream to help the Foundation build schools, and two, sports and health and wellness are things that they know.

He is currently the tournament director of the Rogers Cup Tennis Tournament in Toronto and the director of Racquet Sports at the prestigious Donalda Club.

“We have a good partner, the Jamaica Tourist Board, and we feel there is a need in the community for something like this because it’s a little bit different than what’s out there. It’s not your normal reggae festival or something like that; it’s more health and wellness, family and sport and we see an opportunity to grow this tremendously over the next few years.”

He believes they can get to 10,000 athletes which helps Brand Jamaica and Helping Hands create awareness get more people on their school builds and grow their charity.

Hale says he chose Ashbridges Bay because it is a beach and they wanted the feel like that of a beach in Jamaica and they are also trying to promote the island as well.

“We thought it’s a unique idea because everybody thinks Jamaica Summer Games in Jamaica which potentially we can grow to that. In the future we do have a vision to do that but right now it helps promote Jamaica and Helping Hands, people love it and the sports are doing really well – the registration – so we hope a lot of people come out for the health and wellness centre on the 17th and 18th of August.”

Hale has plans to travel to Jamaica in July 2020 with 40 volunteers to build the 25th school in Port Antonio, Portland.  Helping Hands Jamaica Foundation has built schools in Westmoreland, St. Elizabeth, Trelawny, Kingston and other parts of Jamaica. This year it built schools in Treasure Beach and in St. Thomas.

“We just try to look and whoever is interested in hosting us, and Port Antonio was really eager to host us. We had a good experience last time so we’re going back.”

Food For The Poor is their build partner on the ground so they will be helping volunteers of the Foundation to construct the school. 

Karl Hale in conversation at the media launch of the Jamaica Summer Games and Wellness Festival at The Real Jerk restaurant

The Jamaica Summer Games and Wellness Festival includes beach volleyball, beach tennis, beach soccer, beach frisbee, pickleball, tennis and squash

Angella Bennett, regional director – Canada of the Jamaica Tourist Board, says this is a very new concept to Toronto and thankfully Hale came to the JTB with the idea to support Helping Hands Jamaica Foundation in Jamaica.

“We came onboard, we are the sponsor because we want to promote Jamaica’s health and wellness awareness in Toronto. It’s becoming quite a popular destination for health and wellness and we thought why not have a summer games activity that will speak of sports fun activity in a very healthy environment.”

The aim is to promote Jamaica as the main destination for health and wellness.
Bennett said Jamaica is dedicated to sports tourism and health and wellness, and has the perfect environment for it.

“When you do yoga in the morning it’s beautiful to do it with the sunrise in Jamaica. All our hotel partners are offering very extensive health and wellness programs within the hotels so we want to make sure that that awareness is known in Toronto.”

She said Canadians are a very big part of the numbers of travellers to Jamaica “and everyone is looking for a vacation where they can disconnect from all the technology that is so connected to them.”

“They want to disconnect and have a special time in Jamaica. We want to offer Jamaica as an option for them.”

The media launch for the Summer Games and Wellness Festival was held at The Real Jerk restaurant, owned by Jamaican-Canadians Lily and Ed Pottinger, in Toronto and where international stars, Rihanna and Drake shot a music video for “Work” a few years ago that went viral.

To register for the sports competitions at the Jamaica Summer Games and Wellness Festival, go to: