Letter of the week.

From Easy Reader News.

We begin a new feature today. Letter of the week will publish the best letter of the week as an article in order to expose it to more viewers.

This week’s is from Carlo Polidoro, board Chair of local financial institution, Victory Credit Union.

Roy Murray brings up a valid concern in his November 27 op-ed. As a longtime resident of Weston and working in Mount Dennis, I have been disappointed by the recent bank branch closures, which have left vulnerable members of the community without access to an institution they have been loyal to for decades. However, there is an easier and more realistic solution than asking the banks to keep a branch open in each community.

The simple solution is to bank at a credit union.

Victory Community Credit Union has been serving the Weston and Mount Dennis communities since 1948. I have had the pleasure of being a member for over 20 years and board member for 10 years. Victory recently announced a partnership with Luminus Financial, another community-minded credit union with a 65-year history. The partnership will strengthen both credit unions financially, allow them to offer even more products and services, and most importantly, both credit unions will continue to serve members from their existing brick-and-mortar branches.

If you have never banked with a credit union, I would highly recommend learning more about it. Banks and credit unions offer essentially the same products and services but operate in very different ways.

Credit unions are member-owned financial cooperatives. Their profits are distributed back to credit union members in the form of profit-sharing, lower loan rates and higher yields on savings. They are run by a local board of directors who are elected by the credit union members, and members vote on how their credit union is run.

By contrast, banks are shareholder-owned. Their profits are not shared with customers. They are run by a board of directors who are not necessarily customers, and customers have no say in how their bank is run (as we have seen here in Weston/Mount Dennis).

Banks and credit unions both offer deposit protection, so your money is safe either way. But credit unions in Canada have a much better reputation for customer satisfaction—they were just awarded the Ipsos Best Banking Award for Customer Service Excellence and Branch Service Excellence for the 13th consecutive year.

If your bank has left the community, or you’re worried that yours will be the next to go, consider opening an account at Victory. You can visit them in person at 2011 Lawrence Ave W unit 11, or give them a call at 416-243-0686.

Five myths about Weston / Mount Dennis

There is an old saying that perception is everything. There is a widespread set of beliefs about our corner of Toronto. Let’s see where perception meets reality. Readers are invited to share their own observations on these topics.

Myth #1: Weston / Mount Dennis is a high crime area

People are notoriously poor at assessing personal risk. When a murder occurs such as the recent stabbing in the Shoppers Drug Mart parking lot, it (quite naturally) shakes up the community. Because we know the area well and may have at some time walked through that parking lot, it’s only human to imagine that we’re personally at risk from such seemingly unpredictable occurrences.

How safe are we? The answer is very safe. Killings are rarely random and most murder victims have some kind of relationship with their killer. Is the average person at risk of being murdered in Weston? To put it simply, no. Riding in a car, crossing the road or climbing a ladder exposes us to far more risk of death or injury.

An intelligent reaction to such tragic deaths is important. The involvement of police and politicians working with residents in finding solutions to criminal behaviour is essential. If there is a shortage of police on duty, that should be changed – although if 12 Division can only muster seven officers and two traffic officers during one shift (it would be nice to know the time of day), clearly either the police are understaffed or those who do the staffing feel that crime levels warrant such small numbers.

In 2011 we learned that there is considerable overlap in police shifts suggesting that there is still room to maximize police resources.

The press tends to sensationalize criminal behaviour and treat it in isolation rather than look for underlying causes and trends. There is a theory that since we have so many press outlets in Toronto, crime is emphasized more and perceptions are distorted. As a suburb of Canada’s largest city (and the third largest in North America) we do have crime. Incidentally, Weston’s crime rate is no higher than other areas of Toronto which is by the way, the safest major city in North America. When I talk to American friends, they are always astonished that our murder rate is so low. Toronto’s annual murder rate would be a considered a bad month in comparably-sized Chicago.

Myth #2: Weston / Mount Dennis is out in the boonies.

If a short commute to a job downtown or at Pearson Airport is a good thing, Weston is better off than many inner suburbs. It’s only 14 minutes to downtown by UP Express or GO train and a combination TTC/GO-UPX fare is now $1.50 cheaper. Pearson Airport and Bloor Stations are an even quicker commute. Several intersecting bus routes already make Weston a transit hub and the TTC is looking at providing more express buses.

If you like to take in a professional sports game, have a downtown night out or visit the second largest theatre district in North America, UPX trains will take you there and back quickly at all hours.

The new Eglinton Crosstown will open in 2021 providing welcome rapid access to mid-town places like Yonge and Eglinton from Weston GO / UPX Station and the beautiful new Mount Dennis Station. Contrary to rumours, Weston Station is not likely to close once the Eglinton Crosstown opens as it’s far too valuable a piece of infrastructure and will form a stop on any new commuter line.

Although Toronto’s roads are increasingly blocked, we have rapid access to highways 401, 409, 400 and 427.

Myth #3: Weston / Mount Dennis is all apartment towers / there’s nowhere decent to live.

Architecturally, Weston Village, much dating from the early 20th Century, has streets full of residential gems that have somehow survived demolition. Many have been restored to their former splendour along quiet leafy avenues.

Nevertheless, we do have more than our fair share of awful apartment buildings. They were put up decades ago by unscrupulous developers with a wink and a nod from planners and politicians. Are those days over? Planning guidelines written to preserve the character of Weston and Mount Dennis are routinely ignored. We’ll see what happens once the developer friendly Ontario Municipal Board loses its grip on the building process.

Dilapidated rental units close to our newer transit options will find it in their own interest to renovate and improve their properties. That process is well under way.

Hopefully our current politicians along with a revamped approval process will oversee a better quality of new development than in the past.

Myth #4: There’s no natural beauty in Weston / Mount Dennis.

There are few suburbs in Toronto where you can walk to such a variety of beautiful wide open parkland as we have here. Our riverside parks stretching along the Humber are a wildlife and landscape photographer’s dream. There are likewise few places in any city where you can regularly see deer, rabbits, chipmunks, groundhogs, foxes, coyotes, mink and beaver to name but a few.  Birds are also plentiful ranging from red-tailed hawks, owls and woodpeckers to chickadees and tiny humming birds in summer.

Fishing for Atlantic salmon or Lake Ontario trout is a twice annual activity that would cost a small fortune in other countries. Our parks are able to accommodate large family picnics and there are also places for quiet contemplation. Although parkland along the Humber could still use better accessibility (ignored by Council for more than a decade now), there are parts of Weston where there is nothing but nature.

Myth #5: There’s nowhere to eat – restaurants and pubs.

We have many eating places in Weston and while some are very successful, sadly others aren’t patronized as well as they might be. Toronto is known for its huge variety of ethnic restaurants but some local eateries are sadly unpatronized or denied licenses because of vocal nimby groups. On the positive side, successes are growing; one only needs to look at the new P&M, Zeal Burger, Perfect Blend and SuperCoffee to see evidence of people supporting food outlets that have invested in our community. Sadly, the hoops that these new businesses have to jump through are many. It would help if our councillor could ease and speed up the costly and time consuming bureaucratic processes that plague new business startups. Rumour has it that Perfect Blend coffee shop on Weston Road had to delay opening for two years while awaiting various approvals.

So there we have it; there’s a lot more to Weston and Mount Dennis than people give us credit for and the best is yet to come.

A banking desert in Weston / Mount Dennis?

From love money.com

Banking in Canada is pretty much a license to print money. Profits have never been higher and the big five banks enjoy a comfortable living. With the trend to computerized transactions, banks are finding that many of their customers have no need for a ‘bricks and mortar’ branch. Over the past few years, branches in Weston and Mount Dennis have been ‘consolidating’. This is banking language for closing and sending customers to the next nearest branch. As a result, Weston and Mount Dennis are quickly becoming a banking desert. At one time, we could choose from several banks but now, banks are closing their branches along Weston Road and Jane Street. While it’s true that demand has lessened considerably, many older residents need the comfort of talking to a teller and having their bank book updated regularly.

Like melting snow in a dog park after a long winter, what’s left behind after banks leave are payday loan companies that exploit the poor and vulnerable.

What does the future hold for banks and their branches? Probably more of the same resulting in less convenience for customers.

There is a possible solution to all of this consolidation and one that would be a ‘win’ for both banks and their clients. At least one storefront bank branch could remain open in each community. It shouldn’t matter which bank is represented as long as it services costumers from any of the other ‘big five’ banks without charging a fee. This is entirely possible in these days of Interac banking. Banks could consult with communities and decide which bank is represented in each locality. The banks could save a fortune with a clear conscience knowing that everyone; especially vulnerable seniors, had reasonable access to a bank.

The federal government is responsible for regulating our extremely profitable banks and their activities. Local MP Ahmed Hussen should take this on as a top priority before banks all leave town. If payday loan companies can have branches everywhere, it’s not too much to ask that one ‘big five’ branch stays open in each community. Competing brewers sell their wares through Brewers Retail. The banks need to set up something similar.

Girl charged for accessory to Weston murder

The net is tightening around two men wanted for the murder of David Blacquiere, 54,  near the Shoppers Drug Mart on Weston Road.
Police have charged a 16-year-old girl with being an accessory after the fact, after she surrendered to 12 Division police on Thursday.

The police continue to search for Christopher Enrique Gordon, 18, for allegedly committing the murder, and Demetrius McFarquhar, 24, for allegedly helping Gordon escape.

Detective Rob North told CP24 that the two men are likely in the Toronto area, and that their efforts to evade arrest have been “unsophisticated”.

Update on community crime meeting

Westonian Lindsay Cahill has a report from the community crime meeting held this past Wednesday. Thank you, Lindsay!

The gymnasium at Weston Memorial PS was standing-room only Wednesday evening for the community meeting organized by City Councillor Nunziata. Councillor Nunziata started the meeting on a positive note, discussing possible commercial developments in Weston village including interest from Loblaws at 1966 Weston Road (the current home of Greenland Farm Supermarket) and a community rec centre in the old Scotiabank building.

With the help of officers from the Toronto Police Service (TPS) 12 Division, the meeting quickly turned to safety concerns in Weston. Staff Sgt. Lesley Hildred provided statistics of the types of crimes reported in Weston since January and information about some of the arrests. Much of the crime in the area was termed “nuisance crime” (i.e. cars being broken into, vandalism). Some details were provided about the recent armed robbery at Olympic Variety on King St and the fatal stabbing in front of the Shoppers Drug Mart. At this point, residents began to share their specific concerns about the safety of the area. In response, it was made clear that the TPS is understaffed due to budgetary constraints: residents were very surprised to hear that 12 Division has only seven officers and two traffic officers on duty during one shift. The officers at the meeting emphasized that it is important to call in all crimes to either 911 or 416-808-2222 (the non-emergency line) so that the statistics will show Weston requires additional officers. In addition, Councillor Nunziata pledged to take this issue to City Council and the Mayor and requested our support by attending Council budget meetings (see her website for future information).

There was a continued call from the crowd for a strategy and suggestions for crime prevention.  Some of the options discussed included CCTV (provided by residents or subsidized by the government), a committee of Weston residents who liaise with the TPS and Councillor Nunziata, a possible role for auxiliary police, use of off-duty police officers, and how we as a community can try to decrease crime (i.e. collecting mail and garbage from neighbour’s homes if they are away).

In the final minutes, a petition was collected by Councillor Nunziata’s team for increased police presence in the area. Unfortunately, the meeting came to an abrupt end due to time constraints, with many questions unanswered.