The medium is the message.

The flood information meeting held on Wednesday July 31st at Archbishop Romero High School was a follow-up to the one held on July 19th at York Council Chambers. Again, almost 200 residents filled the gym. It was immediately apparent that steps had been taken to control their response. For whatever reason, a uniformed police officer was posted at the back of the room. If Ms. Nunziata felt threatened by this crowd of grandparents, parents, and children, she must lead a very sheltered life.

The meeting format was organized by Ward 11 resident, Sean McConnell. He began the proceedings by restricting questions to ‘only those who live in the area and whose homes have been flooded’.

Organizer Sean McConnell sets the ground rules.
Organizer Sean McConnell sets the ground rules.

Once the introductions were over, the meeting began with a series of anonymous softball questions allegedly emailed from residents. Whether the authors of these questions were in the audience or not seemed irrelevant. A phalanx of City of Toronto and TRCA officials was on hand to provide responses. After these had been answered, Councillor Nunziata talked about what the city was doing  to address residents’ concerns. Residents were then permitted to come to the microphone to seek answers.

Representatives from the city, TRCA and Granite Claims listen to residents.
Representatives from the city, TRCA and Granite Claims listen to residents.

Some interesting points were raised during the audience questions.

One resident’s basement flooded on the 7th July, the day before the storm and he was told by a city representative that the sewer was blocked. The resident showed proof that a city employee had reported the matter in spite of statements to the contrary from the official at the meeting.

A resident shows proof that sewers were blocked the day before the flood.
A resident shows proof that sewers were blocked the day before the flood.

City Council has passed a motion to ‘look at opportunities to advance’ a ‘sewer overflow control’ public meeting scheduled for the fall of 2013.

Until the assessment is done it will take 3-5 years to get a solution implemented.

Quick fixes such as a berm along Black Creek might provide a temporary solution.

The city has ended its special garbage collection ( information to the contrary was given during the meeting).

Some residents reported that Backflow prevention valves had failed. Apparently they require a homeowner inspection every three months and flushing out twice annually otherwise they are liable to fail.  There is a proposal to increase funding to allow a greater subsidy but the process is complicated, expensive and probably beyond the reach of many. As one resident pointed out, the unpleasant task of inspection and flushing will likely be neglected too.

Another council motion has requested consideration of an increase in backflow valve subsidies.

If your backflow valve failed, the city says your contractor is responsible, not the city.

If residents think that city negligence caused damage to their properties, they should make a claim.

Backflow valves and a sump pump on display.
Backflow valves and a sump pump on display.

The bridge on Humber Boulevard that crosses the Black Creek concrete trench is irreparably damaged and will be replaced.

The City had an opportunity to apply to the province for state of emergency funding but unlike neighbouring Mississauga, failed to do so before the deadline.

Here is a list of basement flooding protection projects taking place in Toronto from 2013-2016. Nothing is planned for Ward 11.

Laura Albanese confirms that unlike Mississauga, Toronto failed to act before the deadline.
MPP Laura Albanese confirms that unlike Mississauga, Toronto failed to act before the deadline.

Towards the end of the meeting I was challenged by Sean, one of MPP Laura Albanese’s staffers, stating that I would need signed releases for the photographs I was taking. Luckily, not having been born recently (or even yesterday) I was able to help the young man with this particular gap in his education.

Albanese staffer Sean possibly obtaining legal advice on photography.
Laura Albanese staffer Sean possibly listening to legal advice on photography in public meetings.

No doubt Ms. Nunziata considers the meeting a success. Nobody shouted at her and her message was heard clearly. The message was, ‘we’re doing all we can to help’. If only that was true.

The fact is that residents have been let down by a lack of action. The flooding of basements in certain areas of the city has been public knowledge for years – for example this map from 2005 clearly shows chronic flooding areas (Ward 11, areas 6 and 4) in Weston and around Cordella Avenue. If planning had started in 2005, the problem would have been solved by now.

Politicians have focussed on more glamorous projects and on keeping property taxes low. If anyone needs evidence of the neglect of sewers, all they have to do is walk through Lions Park where a large sewer runs alongside the Humber. On most days the park smells like, …well, a flooded basement.

TAVIS BBQ AOK

None other than CTV’s Colin D’Mello was in Memorial Park on Sunday as 12 Division officers hosted a community barbecue. The idea was to hold a meet and greet with the community where people could ask questions about the 25 Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS) officers who will be patrolling the Weston area for the summer. Officers will be on bicycles, horseback and on foot patrol.

Colin D'Mello prepares for his news segment.
Colin D’Mello prepares for his news segment at the TAVIS barbecue.

We can only wish the officers success in their summer mission and hope that they are able to cover more territory by moving around in smaller groups rather than the larger ones deployed a couple of years ago.

Weston will get TAVIS this summer

Weston will again have a more considerable police presence this summer. TAVIS, the Toronto Anti Violence Intervention Strategy, will be brought back until September 1.

TAVIS brings an increased number of police and more community outreach from them. They travel the neighbourhood, often on bikes, and visit community organizations and events.

Not all of Weston will be covered by TAVIS. The police are focusing on the southern and western parts of town.

TAVIS2

Muggings? – You be the judge

Over the past weeks, five groups of people have been threatened and sometimes robbed. Though nobody has been hurt, this is a sinister crime.

In all cases, the crime and the criminals appear to be the same. A group of three young men approach young people on their way home from Chaminade school, and threaten them, sometimes into giving up their phones and property. The first time, two young people were threatened, and the would-be muggers tried to steal the phones and jewelry of the teenage victims, who would not file police reports—perhaps because they were afraid of repurcussions. A week later, two more men were mugged, this time successfully, near the same place, just on the other side of Jane. They were, like the first group, accosted by three young men. That same day, another group of young men were threatened. It happened again last week. And this week.

Five times in all, young people on their way home from Chaminade school have been threatened by a group of three young men.

The school says, sensibly, that students should travel together, on main roads, without cell phones, and without wearing the bright yellow school colours. This reminds me of the behaviour of defensive herds under threat. Caribou do the same thing, and they leave the weak, the friendless, and the young to be picked off by the wolves.

And that tells us who the thugs are doing the muggings: predators.

My esteemed colleague, Roy, says that these are not muggings. I agree. Muggings are random. This is not random. Chaminade students seem to be singularly vulnerable and picked on by this small gang of thugs.This is not mugging; it is much more alarming.

I worry how this will end. I know how I would have dealt with a similar threat in high school, when I was unpopular, proud, myopic, and cocksure. Anyone mugging me would have been sorry they had—and I would have been sorry that I had made them so, though I can only see that now.

Your humble correspondent is usually strict about not reporting things outside of Weston; this time, we have made an exception, because it is important for local politics. Mike Sullivan has a private member’s bill before the House that would not stop this crime, but would make it less profitable by making stolen cell phones useless. It is an uncommonly sensible, inexpensive, and well-designed bill—just the kind that should get the support of all parties, and all residents.

Muggings? – You be the judge.

On May 7th in the House of Commons, MP Mike Sullivan, promoting his private member’s Bill C-60, referred to ‘muggings’ that are taking place in the area around Chaminade College. he stated, “Mr. Speaker, there were four muggings of students for their phones, from one school, in my riding last week”.

Here are the actual details:

1. Thursday April 18 @ 3:pm, Queens and Jane; three individuals tried to take a gold chain and cell phone from a grade 11 student. Chaminade College made a police report the next day as the student would only provide an oral report. An accompanying student was reluctant to make a report.

2. Friday April 26 @ 3pm, Laneway leading from Queens to Maple Leaf; three individuals asked students for their phones but the students said they didn’t have any; the individuals walked away empty handed.

3. Friday April 26 @ 3:15pm, on Maple Leaf; three individuals took a cell phone and house keys from each of two Grade 10 students.

4. Monday April 29 @ 4:20, Culford near Gracefield; three individuals demanded valuables from a Grade 10 student who was not in uniform (after sports practice). The student handed them his wallet and the individuals removed some TTC tickets and fled.

5. Monday May 13 @ 4:10pm, Venice and Queens; three individuals demanded valuables from a Grade 9 student with vague threats of repercussions for non-compliance. The student handed over his phone but it was returned to him when he asked for it back.

Map adapted from Google Maps.
Map adapted from Google Maps.

Putting this all together it seems that although these incidents are serious, they do not constitute a crime wave by any stretch of the imagination and don’t really fit the definition of mugging. In incident 5, a phone was actually returned by the alleged thieves to the owner – hardly the actions of muggers or hardened criminals.

Who are these alleged ‘muggers’? It is likely that the same three bad actors are responsible for all these incidents. According to witnesses, they are between 16-18 years old, probably students themselves and (based on the timing of the incidents) travel eastward on their way home. They likely attend school on the west side of Jane.

What can be done? According to Vice-Principal Teresa Santoro in emails to staff, 12 Division police have increased their presence by car, bike, horseback along with undercover officers at lunch and after school. Chaminade College has issued directives to students to travel in groups, keep cell phones out of sight and avoid hot spots where robberies have occurred.

These are sensible precautions and while it is important that these three thugs in training are caught and dealt with before their crimes escalate, we should not elevate them to such figures of fear that students are afraid to report and testify against them. It is also more than likely that some students at Chaminade know exactly who these three characters are. That might be a more fruitful line of investigation.

As for Mr. Sullivan, he should be careful not to paint York South-Weston as a more dangerous place than it is. Even though his bill is commendable, the end doesn’t justify the means.

Attempted kidnapping at Lawrence and Weston

Eric Coplin−Duran
Eric Coplin−Duran

On April 27 (after we thought Weston had enjoyed a crime-free week), Police released a couple of crime bulletins requesting the public’s assistance in tracking down a man wanted in connection with an attempted kidnapping on Thursday, April 25 around 1 p.m. near 2079 Lawrence Avenue West. Two men allegedly attempted to force a third into a vehicle, assaulting him in the process. A brave passer-by shouted at the men and the suspects drove off without the victim. Police have identified one of the men as Eric Coplin−Duran, 18 who is considered dangerous. The police report can be found here.

This begs the question of whether the new security cameras provided any information regarding this incident as Weston and Lawrence are quite close by and the car, on the south side of Lawrence, would have therefore travelled east through the intersection. Apart from signs informing people of their presence, no actual cameras can be seen (at least by your correspondent after gamely squinting on several occasions). Perhaps they are so tiny that they aren’t visible. Have readers managed to spot any of the cameras?

A second bulletin released the same day reported an exchange of gunfire in the hallway of 1855 Jane Street. One of the alleged shooters by the name of Adrian Scott is being sought along with a second man.

Weston featured in CCTV video surveillance article

Saturday’s article in the National Post didn’t do Weston any favours. As a result of crimes such as repeated muggings in prominent locations, long promised security cameras have yet to be installed along Lawrence at Weston, Pine and Jane. In the story which dealt with the growing number of such cameras around the city, our councillor cheerfully painted a grim picture (contrary to the reality of falling crime levels) of how crime-ridden we are in Weston. Do we really need to give people the impression that we live in a lawless area with bullets flying?

Much of the criminal activity occurring was phone theft. While serious and traumatic for victims, these are not major crimes. When allowed to continue however, they represent a failure of policing in that they were happening regularly in the same locations and little was done to address the problem. Petty thieves became emboldened and escalated their activities. Instead of staking out these known locations or setting up foot patrols where officers walk the beat and get to know a community, TPS uses a system in which police spend much of their shift waiting for calls. Hence the common appearance of several cruisers at a crime scene. We did have a group of provincially funded TAVIS officers in the summer of 2011 but one-off solutions are ineffective. The TAVIS team rarely ventured out in groups of less than five or six and rather than being ambassadors for the police, they seemed quite intimidating on occasions.

Once criminals know about cameras in a particular location, they will simply move to another spot in which to commit their crimes. The answer to crime prevention is not simply cameras and cell-phone legislation – we can’t have cameras in every public place surely?  Then what? Does crime prevention become a matter of employing teams of people who spend all day watching monitors? Perhaps send a drone over to check things out? Four million such cameras are currently in use in the U.K. They seem to do little to prevent criminal activity.

The answer is getting officers out of cars and walking the beat while getting to know a neighbourhood; especially in times and places when and where crimes are most likely to occur. The benefits will be immediate – healthier officers, better relations with the community, lower pollution levels and less crime.

In the meantime, don’t hold your breath for the cameras to appear anytime soon. In spite of a 2011 recommendation that they be installed, Toronto Police still have to ask permission from Toronto Hydro to use their poles.