TAVIS – Another Viewpoint.

A disturbing incident came to my attention yesterday.

A friend of mine, let’s call him Bruce, is a keen wildlife photographer. Bruce was in Lions Park by the Humber footbridge last Thursday, intent on photographing an elusive heron. Four young men walked by and two of the men got chatting to Bruce and eventually asked him if he would take their photograph and email it to them. As the two and Bruce gathered around the camera to see the image, there was a sudden skidding sound as six police officers on bikes (from the TAVIS program) swooped down and surrounded them. They asked ‘What’s going on?’ and searched one of the young men and his backpack, finding a tiny quantity of marijuana. He was arrested and placed in handcuffs. Meanwhile, the other young man became indignant at this breach of Charter rights and voluntarily stripped to his underwear in frustration and to demonstrate that he had nothing to hide.

The attention then turned to Bruce who was asked by one of the officers ‘What exactly are you photographing?’ Bruce felt intimidated by the officer, the question, and indeed the whole incident – and feared for his own personal safety if he said anything or intervened to protest the treatment of the young man. He had the impression that this was a way of filling an arrest quota. As if the six officers weren’t enough to keep order, a seventh arrived, also on a bike. Bruce beat a hasty retreat.

Apparently, possession of small amounts of marijuana is now treated as a serious crime and no longer regarded as a minor violation. No doubt this will be thrown out of court in two or three years when the judge finally hears of this breach of the young man’s right not to be subjected to arbitrary search and seizure. In the meantime, this charge will hang over the young man’s head.

The headline to this story could have been ‘Armed Gang Intimidates Park Visitors’. Although slightly misleading, it is the absolute truth from the viewpoint of the people involved. Readers might understand the story better with the additional information that the only white people in this incident were on bikes.

What to make of this? Is such behaviour acceptable on the part of police officers? Is this racial profiling? Do we know the whole story? – probably not but the optics are not good. Would young white men have been subjected to this treatment? I doubt it very much.

The TAVIS program, in addition to reducing major crime and increasing safety is designed to enhance public trust and confidence and build relationships. It is hard to see what the harassment of these young men has accomplished other than inducing fear and mistrust.

When I was growing up, a long time ago, police officers walked the beat on their own and built relationships with business owners and people they met along the way every day – not just during a barbecue and photo op. Not being in groups, individual officers could spread far and wide, covering a large area in each shift. Their presence was enough to detect and deter much criminal activity and to be a set  of eyes and ears on the street. Nowadays, such policing is considered old-fashioned and perhaps requires a modicum of courage from the participants that today’s police academy graduates are no longer willing or able to provide. Evidently it’s OK to ask firefighters to put their lives on the line but police officers need to be in a posse in order to feel safe.

As Weston Web has pointed out, crime in Weston is no higher in here than elsewhere in Toronto. We live in a safe community where rates of crime continue to drop. To receive an influx of police officers during the summer was a fabulous opportunity to build bridges and humanize the face of policing. Tragically, incidents like this one destroy any good will that might have been created.

 

UrbanArts owns Weston this weekend

UrbanArts is having a busy week. On Thursday, from 2–5 pm, they will be unveiling their newest mural; it’s at the corner of Weston and Lawrence. On Friday, they will be starting CultureShock, a two-day festival of art, dance and music.

The mural is part of an annual project that puts young people from the community to work to abate graffiti in Weston and Mt Dennis. They paint an average of two murals a year, and have done so since 1999. This year, they celebrate Weston as the “Home of the Bicycle”. A second piece will soon be installed in Mount Dennis.

On Friday and Saturday, UrbanArts will host the annual CultureShock Festival at Weston Collegiate.

Wes “Maestro” Williams (formerly Maestro Fresh Wes) will be headlining. Cabbie Richards, from TSN, and Canadian hip-hop pioneer Michie Mee will be MCing.

The festival starts Friday at 6, and resumes on Saturday at 1 pm.

Everyone is welcome at both events.

17 year-old Caught With Gun

Last Sunday, July 24, 31 Division officers patrolling at Weston and Church apprehended a young man who allegedly in addition to a quantity of marijuana, had a stolen .32 Smith and Wesson handgun in his possession. Judging by the nature of the charges against him, this young man is probably not a first-time offender. The police report did not mention if the officers were part of the TAVIS program or on regular patrol.

Weston Treasures: Frontlines

Frontlines: 1844 Weston Road

Tucked between a high-rise building and rows of stores and apartments on Weston Road is a single-storey building that is the current home to a powerhouse that has been in our community for the past quarter century. While the back of the building serves as a food bank (that’s a story for another day), Frontlines (naturally) occupies the storefront entrance at 1844 Weston Road. Frontlines is a child and youth outreach centre, financed primarily through individual donors, along with fundraising and grants from small foundations. It operates six days a week under the leadership of Kristy Grisdale, Denise Gillard and Felix Opoku.

Executive Director Kristy Grisdale

Along with 20 volunteers, the team serves around 200 neighbourhood children through a wide range of after-school activities. In the summer, Frontlines employs local students and young adults to assist with week-long camp experiences as well as a wide variety of daily activities. That’s not all—in a typical month, this small building produces 140 nutritious cooked meals, 130 packed lunches and dozens of healthy snacks for the homework club run in conjunction with the Macaulay Child Development Centre. All of this is done at a cost of $350 per child per year.

Denise Gillard and friends.

Program Manager Denise Gillard says that there is a tremendous need for Frontline’s services and they serve the tip of a very large iceberg. A McMaster graduate, Denise is an ordained Baptist minister who believes that improving lives in the community begins with respect. Fostering of wellness and respect is achieved through building relationships and providing meaningful programs.

Youth Program Coordinator Felix Opoku and friends.

In order to address our community’s growing needs, fundraising is a time consuming but essential activity. For example, student-cooked items can be purchased each Saturday at Weston Farmers’ Market. In April, the annual dinner held at Weston Golf and Country Club raised over $10,000 from 90 paying guests with 17 sponsors generously covering all costs. Another way of fundraising involves individual sponsorships – for example, it costs $350 to sponsor one child’s activities for a year, $315 will send a child to camp for a week, while $2800 will employ a student facilitator for the summer.

Frontlines’ next major fundraisers are:

Community Summer BBQ bash this Saturday, June 18 at Frontlines. Time: 11 a.m. To 6 p.m. Featuring BBQ favourites, baked goods, vendors and entertainers as well as TC3 – the Toronto Children’s Concert Choir and Performing Arts Company. No ticket required.

BIG breakfast on Saturday, June 25th at Frontlines. Time: 9:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. Tickets are $12.00 and attendees can enjoy a delicious meal while finding out more about Frontlines and meeting staff and volunteers. If you would like to attend, please RSVP at 416-244-7017.

Politicians, What Have You Done For Weston Lately?

Weston has had a raw deal in the past few decades. Our ‘village’ has lost nearly all of its industry, historic properties have been demolished to make way for unattractive developments, and the area has become depressed. The once attractive main street has been infiltrated by payday loan/cheque cashing companies, dollar stores, and other detritus of hard times.

Weston gets no respect. The airport link as originally proposed was never intended to stop in Weston. When the TTC wants to save money, Weston services are cut. When Metrolinx needed to expropriate properties as part of the airport link, the way they dealt with homeowners was reprehensible and high handed. Drug related gangs of criminals seem to operate freely without much fear of capture. There is apprehension on the part of many people about being a victim of crime. While there are many beautiful homes in Weston, there is a large amount of ugly low-income housing both public and private.

Throughout all of this process, federal, provincial and municipal politicians have collected their generous salaries and tut-tutted about the sad state of affairs: “What a shame and we’re doing all we can; by the way, don’t forget to re-elect me as I’m really concerned about unemployment—mine.”

With one election under our belts and two more on the way, perhaps it’s time that the citizens of Weston asked our politicians: what have you done for Weston lately? Sitting on committees and attending conferences in glamorous places doesn’t count. What really counts are results bringing prosperity and hope back to Weston and eliminating the conditions that encourage crime, namely unemployment and lack of opportunity.

Here are some of the things that Weston could benefit from:

  • Improved education and workforce training
  • Decent housing
  • Help for struggling retailers and small businesses
  • Doing something about empty commercial properties
  • Police on the ground, not in cars
  • Politicians actively working on our behalf.
  • Encouragement and support for local initiatives such as the Farmers’ Market
  • Community facilities such as an indoor pool
  • Better communication by politicians about what they are doing for the community

There is no desire to malign individual politicians by lumping them together as a group. Perhaps everyone is doing the best they can. It would certainly be appreciated if our individual representatives would take the time to outline plans for Weston to their employers, the people.

You may wish to contact them individually, here are their contact details:

Federal MP Alan Tonks,
2534 Keele St
Toronto ON  M6L 2N8
Phone: (416) 656-2526
Fax: (416) 656-9908
Email: [email protected]

Provincial MPP Laura Albanese
Unit 102
2301 Keele Street
Toronto, Ontario M6M 3Z9
Tel: (416) 243-7984
Fax: (416) 243-0327
Email: [email protected]

Councillor Frances Nunziata
Toronto City Hall
100 Queen Street West, Suite C49
Toronto, ON  M5H 2N2
Phone: (416) 392-4091
Fax: (416) 392-4118
Email: [email protected]

Weston to get a media centre

Weston is one step closer to having a digital arts and computer skills centre. The centre will let youth explore “digital arts (animation, web design, digital photography, audio and video editing) and Microsoft curricula”.

In the last City Council meeting, UrbanArts, a neighbourhood arts and development organization, was given a green light to top-up the finding for the  “Pro Tech Media Centre and Youth Arts Hub”. The city was responsible for the bulk of the funding, but the program required that partners make contributions. Microsoft contributed $1 million citywide for the ProTech projects; UrbanArts contributed $95,000.

There are several ProTech Media Centres elsewhere in Toronto. Rexdale, Malvern, and the Eglintion East-Kennedy Park neighbourhoods have them already; the Weston-Mount Dennis centre is the last of the planned locations. The city says that the centres will “introduce youth to potential careers in new media while providing computer literacy skills and creating opportunities for self-expression.”

The first phase of construction will begin this fall.