Possible flooding solution rejected in 2017.

A man walks under Weston’s Lawrence Avenue bridge the day after the floods of July 2013 (file).

One of the problems of living in a big city is that much of the surface is paved over. When it rains, water drains quickly and can raise river and stream levels as well as create flooding in low lying areas. The solution is well known. Plant trees, build green roofs and where possible create temporary holding tanks for sudden water flows. To pay for this, staff last year proposed charging homeowners for the amount of non-absorbing roof and parking surface on their property. These are the people creating the problem so it’s fair that they should help pay for the solution. When Toronto’s Executive Committee considered the matter, following the Mayor’s direction, they recommended voting against the charges.

Councillor Nunziata voted with the mayor when the matter came to a full meeting of council but today has issued a helpful email itemizing what to do if your basement floods. That will be of small comfort to the many people whose lives have been disrupted yet again.

Running a big city costs money. Without a mayor and council with the courage to do the right thing, ordinary people are left to suffer the consequences. Charging people for the runoff they create would encourage a reduction in stormwater runoff and help pay for larger-scale flood prevention measures.

Instead of following staff recommendations, Mayor Tory and Councillors Mammoliti, Nunziata and others seemed place their trust in the short memory of voters, believing their re-election chances are more important than flooded basements. Kindred spirit Giorgio Mammoliti framed the charge as a ‘roof tax’ that would not play well in the suburbs.

Are voters really that stupid?

Action is needed on gun control.

Last night’s senseless and tragic shootings on the Danforth are more evidence of Toronto’s gun problem. More ruined lives and shattered families at the hands of a (probably disturbed) young man with a gun.

I agree with Mayor Tory when he asks, “Why does anyone in this city need to have a gun at all?”.  There is no good reason for anyone in this city to own a handgun. If you are a target shooter or collector, sorry; you should realize that the safety of the public must come before your hobby.

For those who believe that owning a gun will protect you and your loved ones, think again. The numbers show that guns don’t work for self defence. Statistics from our neighbours to the south amply demonstrate that the person most likely to be shot by a gun is its owner. About one child per week in the U.S. is accidentally shot by a family member’s gun.

A person pulling the trigger on a gun is most likely to be shooting themselves, then their family, then commit a felony, then way, way, way down the line, if they’re lucky, they hit a bad guy.   – Psychology Today

Until recently, most guns used in criminal acts came from the U.S. Now, the majority are supplied domestically from legal and illegal sources or from burgled gun collectors.

The Harper government weakened gun laws in this country in 2012. At the time they insisted that it was the right thing to do, emulating their Republican and NRA friends. Unfortunately, we are seeing the results of that misguided legislation.

Firearms flooded into Canada after Stephen Harper’s Conservative government dismantled the federal long gun registry in 2012 — nearly two million rifles, shotguns and handguns were imported for retail sale across the country over just five years, federal records show. iPolitics.ca 

The Trudeau government has proposed legislation that will tighten gun purchasing requirements. The legislation has been criticized for being too weak. This Liberal platform promise has languished for too long and needs urgent action.

One thing is clear in all the (legitimate) studies; gun control works. What then needs to be done?

There should be:

Guns are far too readily available to far too many people – Mayor Tory

Scarlettwood candlelight vigil tonight

Tonight at Scarlettwood Court, there will be a candlelight vigil at to respect the life of Nnamdi Ogba whose life was taken a week ago. Mayor John Tory will be joining the vigil at 7 pm.

Scarlettwood Court shootings cause for concern

Inside Scarlettwood Court.

Scarlettwood Court is a TCHC housing complex in Greater Weston™, just off Scarlett road, on the opposite side of the Humber. The development was built in the 1960s and is home to hundreds of families from a wide variety of backgrounds. Planners (as they did back then) created an isolated enclave in a beautiful setting overlooking Raymore Park with two main entrances; one from busy Scarlett Road and the other from Waterton. There is a little used pathway that leads down to Raymore Park.

The main entrance to Scarlettwood off Scarlett Road.

In recent years, several shootings have left residents on edge and fearful. These are the major incidents I have been able to track down.

September 1989 double murder – solved

August 2005: Sarfaraz Shah murdered – unsolved cold case*

January 2014: Colin Mohamed murdered – unsolved cold case

September 2015: three men shot – unsolved cold case

February 2016: Bryan Agyei murdered – unsolved

March 2016: gunfire reported – teen arrested

August 2016: a man was shot in the legs in a drive-by shooting – unsolved

April 2017: car found with windows shot out – unsolved

January 2018: Shaquille Wallace shot dead – unsolved

March 2018: Nnamdi Ogba, 26, of Toronto shot dead. – unsolved

*Cold cases are unsolved crimes older than three years.

Toronto Police claim a ‘clearance’ or solving rate for murders of 80%. Clearly 21st Century murders at Scarlettwood have a clearance rate of 0%.

Scarlettwood’s other entrance from Waterton.

The reason behind the spate of shootings is unclear but the story goes that Scarlettwood is the home of the ‘All Crips Gang‘ which apparently has territorial claims stretching down to Dundas Street. Presumably they deal in drugs and other contraband. There may have been a truce between the various gangs at one time but that seems to have ended. According to police, the latest shooting of Mr Ogba, an electrical engineer, seems to have been entirely by chance; criminals from outside Scarlettwood appear to have selected him randomly.

The local councillor for Scarlettwood (in Ward 2) is Mike Ford who responded to my email on March 19 to say,

“I thank you for bringing this concern to my attention and I do sincerely sympathize with you.
I want to assure you that the safety of Etobicoke is at my highest priority and any violence especially criminal violence is a serious concern.

I have spoken with Mayor Tory and Toronto Police Chief in the past and I will be doing the same for this incident. Although there is no easy answer to this problem I will be following up with yourself and the community for their input on this matter.”

I replied to the councillor that if anyone needs sympathy and help, it’s the law-abiding people trying to raise their families, trapped in the confines of Scarlettwood Court.

Residents told me that dozens of police responded on the night of the murder. Cruisers were parked all along Scarlett Road. Today when I walked through Scarlettwood, there was no police presence and residents confirmed that the police are a rare sight.

What’s to be done?

  1. The Mayor should bring his travelling podium show and together with Councillor Mike Ford visit Scarlettwood to meet with residents and listen to concerns. This would show solidarity with residents.
  2. Toronto Police need to get out of their cars and make meaningful and lasting contact with residents. The Community Safety Unit run by TCHC does not absolve police of their ongoing responsibilities. Police also need to avoid showing up in large numbers rather than in ones and twos.
  3. Community groups and social justice warriors should make this their fight too. They need to contact residents and help organize some kind of community association (if none exists) and start a ‘take back Scarlettwood’ movement.
  4. Politicians, police and the community should make and implement a plan of action to support residents.
  5. Because of the limited entrances to Scarlettwood Court, in addition to the existing cameras, it would seem logical to have good quality cameras set up to monitor who comes and goes; cameras with the ability to see images clearly. In 2016, 100 cameras were installed.

Incidentally, the fight for gun control in the U.S. is our fight too. The majority of guns used in Toronto crimes originate in the U.S.

Letter of the Week

Letter of the Week

This letter of the Week comes from: Five things that need to change in Weston / Mount Dennis. Part 5.

Anonymous wrote:

Mr. Murray, out of the goodness of your heart, do you voluntarily make extra property tax payments? I would hope so.

 

This letter came in reaction to an opinion in the article that the poor are suffering thanks to the needless austerity imposed by our low Toronto property taxes; the lowest in the GTA.

The whole point of taxation, especially progressive taxation is to make a collective effort to look after the needs of all citizens. Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. said that, “Taxes are the price we pay for civilization.”

Here in Toronto, a voluntary tax payment scheme was set up in 2011 at the height of the Ford mayoralty. No doubt the idea was to deflect pressure for higher taxes by saying, ‘If you’re so keen on higher taxes, pay more yourself’.

Do we really wish to go back to the days of voluntary contributions to pay for services? The days of unpaved streets, private education, private health care and  fire companies who only fight their subscribers’ fires?

We’re all better off when we work as a cohesive society. If I believe that employers should pay a higher minimum wage, as an individual I can’t top up every wage packet but I can cheerfully pay any increased costs.

So, the answer is no, I don’t make voluntary contributions because they would be a drop in the bucket. The whole idea of taxation is that millions have agreed through the democratic process to pay a progressive and reasonable amount to provide services and infrastructure. If we are at the stage of relying on donations from property owners, then the tax structure isn’t working and should be changed so that they pay more.

The measure of a good society is how it treats its poorest citizens. Samuel Johnson put it well when he said,

“Where a great proportion of the people are suffered to languish in helpless misery, that country must be ill policed, and wretchedly governed: a decent provision for the poor is the true test of civilization.”

Along the same lines, here’s a quote from Mayor Tory during a recent Inside Toronto interview with David Nickle. The Mayor in spite of regularly punishing the poor and homeless with austerity during his term, now astonishingly claims to be their saviour.

“What you come to realize is that really what you’re here to do … the people who are comfortable don’t need too much help from me,” he said. “It’s the people who are struggling who are most in need of better transit so they can get to a job situation that’s better for them, good housing so they’re not in substandard housing or living in a shelter. That’s when you realize that’s got to be your priority.” Mayor John Tory

Lord knows when this lightning bolt hit Mayor Tory but he seems blind to the fact that he helps the comfortable every day by ensuring that they pay the lowest property taxes in the GTA. He claims that the poor are his priority but his actions and voting record tell another story.

In fact, Canada has some way to go when it comes to public social spending.

From Twitter; @artsifton

Lastly and food for thought; one more quote from Johnson via his biographer:

What signifies, says some one, giving halfpence to beggars? they only lay it out in gin or tobacco. “And why should they be denied such sweeteners of their existence (says Johnson)? it is surely very savage to refuse them every possible avenue to pleasure, reckoned too coarse for our own acceptance. Life is a pill which none of us can bear to swallow without gilding; yet for the poor we delight in stripping it still barer, and are not ashamed to shew even visible displeasure, if ever the bitter taste is taken from their mouths.”

Bloor Bike Lane Report is out

Karl Jilg/Swedish Road Administration
This cartoon illustrates how much of our streets are dedicated to traffic. Karl Jilg/Swedish Road Administration

Cycling is experiencing a boom in many cities in the world. Here in Weston, other than a short stretch along Eglinton between Scarlett and Jane, there’s no space exclusively dedicated to cycling through our streets. We have ‘sharrows‘ along streets like Weston Road and bike lanes that are simply painted lines but these do little or nothing to improve safety levels for cyclists in a city where people in vehicles have killed 2 cyclists and 28 pedestrians so far this year. Interestingly, when police report that someone has killed a pedestrian or cyclist, it’s the victims of driver inattention who are consistently lectured to wear light clothing and use more caution. Motorists are never asked to be more vigilant. The advent of the mobile phone and lax enforcement of distracted driving laws has made our streets less safe. Transportation Services’ cycling maps are hopelessly confusing and out of date.

Here in Canada, society favours motorists but Europe seems to be re-thinking their cities and many have extensive car free centres.

While Toronto doesn’t even have a single car free street, it is moving timidly in a more car-centric direction and recently set up bike lanes along Bloor street between Shaw Street and Avenue Road as a pilot study. The expectation was that the pilot would fail. Cyclist lanes would be unused, clog traffic and bankrupt the merchants along Bloor.

A report has been delivered to council with the following findings

The negative:

  • Car journey times did increase
  • Merchants had difficulty with deliveries
  • Parking convenience was reduced (longer walks)

The neutral or positive:

  • Increased journey times were reduced 50% with traffic signal adjustment
  • Cyclists felt safer and cycling increased by 49%
  • Motorists felt more comfortable with bikes separated
  • Near miss collisions have been reduced
  • Parking revenues remained steady
  • Most merchants reported increased customers and sales
  • Store vacancy rates were unchanged

As a result of the successful Bloor pilot, the city’s Transportation Services are recommending that the bike lane be made permanent. The report will go before the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee and despite the committee’s car-oriented membership the recommendation will go forward to Council next month because as a result of the report, Mayor Tory supports the bike lanes. T.S. Committee members are: Christin Carmichael Greb, Stephen Holyday (Vice Chair), Chin Lee, Giorgio Mammoliti, Anthony Perruzza and Jaye Robinson (Chair).

Where does that leave Weston / Mount Dennis streets? Still dedicated to the traffic that mainly uses our area as a conduit to other places. Metrolinx is supposed to be investigating the extension of the West Toronto Railpath into our area but inquiries take weeks for a response and answers are vague or simply unhelpful. Even Toronto’s own Transportation Department doesn’t seem to bother to update its cycling information.

Toronto Cycling Map
A detail from the City’s latest cycling map showing our area. They still have the GO station in its old location. Click to enlarge.

Councillors in the suburbs tend to be very car-centric and ours is no exception. Ms. Nunziata’s support base may be called many things but cyclist tends not to be one of them. It remains to be seen if the Mayor’s turnaround will influence other members of Council when it comes to local bike lanes and public car-free areas. If this is his way of not being Doug Ford then long may it last! Perhaps he can also turn his attention to adequately funding the TTC and cancelling that idiotic $3.45 Billion one-stop subway.

Drake General Store Pop-Up Hits Mount Dennis

The pop up shop concept (from Scadding Court site).

The Mount Dennis BIA is about to open a pop-up shop. Julia Maddin, Mount Dennis resident and General Manager of the Canadiana and Toronto themed Drake General Store downtown (not that Drake) will run a pop-up-shop in Mount Dennis this and next weekend. Working with Scadding Court’s BOB (Business Out of the Box) Project, the idea is operate a pop-up shop in Mount Dennis, under the lights of Nyctophilia at the corner of Weston Road and Dennis Avenue. While not quite the concept that we at Weston Web have been harping on about, it’s a good start that may lead to bigger and better things; especially if Mayor Tory’s excellent suggestion to tax vacant stores is adopted. Yes, even the Mayor gets things right sometimes.

When: December 10th to 11th between 11 am and 5 pm, December 17th to 18th between 11 am and 5 pm, and again for the BIA’s Winter Solstice Event on Wednesday, December 21st from 6-8 pm. 10% of all proceeds will go back into the community.