Statement re Demonstration on March 30, 2024

March 31, 2024

Yesterday, a peaceful march for Palestine was abruptly halted by Toronto Police at the intersection of Parliament Street and Gerrard Street East. Numerous videos circulating on social media depict marchers and bystanders being obstructed by a significant presence of police officers, some mounted on horses, converging from all directions.

The right to Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Assembly are sacred in our democracy. While these rights are not unlimited, it does not appear that the extraordinarily high bar required to infringe on these fundamental freedoms was met. Torontonians have a right to demonstrate and proclaim their solidarity with civilians in Gaza. These rights do not cease to operate when they are exercised in a largely racialized neighbourhood such as Regent Park. 

Both local residents and march participants were intimidated by the swift escalation initiated by law enforcement, resulting in some individuals being forcefully pushed to the ground. I am informed that the police reportedly issued no audible or repeated warnings to the group of marchers or bystanders before these altercations and subsequent arrests.

Toronto Police have also informed me that enforcement was taken against the leading truck under the Highway Traffic Act. This explanation does not satisfy the concerns brought to me from bystanders in the neighbourhood about why people were caught in a dangerous standstill.

I want to underscore my steadfast opposition to the controversial police tactic known as “kettling”. This method has faced widespread criticism for its indiscriminate containment of crowds, often ensnaring innocent bystanders and journalists. Torontonians never want to see the regrettable events of the G20 Summit in 2010 repeated. 

I have listened to stories of what happened that substantiate how the movement for Palestinian human rights is not being policed equally with other movements. Toronto has a long history of racialized residents facing over-policing and violence. The peaceful marchers, local residents, and all citizens of Toronto deserve transparency regarding yesterday's events. To build community trust, I call on the Toronto Police to promptly provide a detailed account of their actions, including the reasons behind the arrests. Transparency and accountability are needed to begin repairing trust.







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Provide Rapid Antigen Tests to Toronto Public Health

March 25 2024

 

Minister Sylvia Jones

Minister of Health

777 Bay Street, 5th Floor

Toronto, ON. M7A 2J3

 

Re: Providing Free Rapid Antigen COVID-19 Tests to Ontarians

 

Dear Minister Jones,

 

We are asking that you urgently provide COVID-19 rapid antigen tests to Toronto Public Health (TPH). TPH relied on the Province of Ontario to supply the city with free rapid tests since the Province of Ontario made the unfortunate decision to discontinue free widespread rapid test provision in July 2023. The remaining tests that TPH had expired on March 2, 2024, and the TPH website has yet to show any updates since. 

As we continue to navigate through the ongoing challenges presented by the pandemic, it has become increasingly evident that access to rapid testing is a valuable tool in our arsenal against the virus, allowing for more timely and targeted interventions to curb its spread. We note that provinces like British Columbia still provide rapid tests for free in hundreds of pharmacies across their less populated province – Ontario should also ensure that tests are widely available.

Simply put, the demand for testing continues to outpace the rapid test supply that the Ontario government is providing. Based on our research, the average cost of a rapid test is $3.50 – $6.00 per test. This average cost is not affordable for families made up of frontline workers, with children in school, and with elders in long-term care, especially since they require frequent testing. If the Government of Ontario wants people to test and stay home when they are sick, tests must be readily available and provided free of charge.

Testing alone might not stop COVID-19 from spreading, but testing remains a useful layer of protection. We continue to see that frontline workers are at the greatest risk of COVID-19 infection – they deserve access to free tests to keep themselves, their co-workers, and their community safe.  By providing rapid tests to Public Health Units across Ontario, we can enhance our ability to detect and contain outbreaks in high-risk settings such as schools, workplaces, and long-term care facilities. While COVID-19 infections are less deadly than they were before widespread vaccination, COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death in Canada in 2022 – the most recent year for which we have data. 2022 was also the third year in a row where Canada’s life expectancy declined. 

We urge you to prioritize the allocation of new COVID-19 rapid tests to TPH to address the pressing need for expanded testing capacity. Swift action in this regard will not only help to safeguard the health and well-being of our residents but also contribute to our collective efforts to overcome the challenges posed by the pandemic.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We trust that you will give due consideration to the urgent request outlined herein and take the necessary steps to ensure that TPH receives the support they deserve as they strive to fulfill their mandate of laying a robust foundation for the public health of all Ontarians.

 

Respectfully submitted, 



Bhutila Karpoche

Official Opposition Critic for GTA Issues

Member of Provincial Parliament

Parkdale – High Park

 

 

Kristyn Wong-Tam

Official Opposition Critic for Small Business Issues                                             

Member of Provincial Parliament 

Toronto Centre 

 

cc: Hon. Stan Cho, Minister of Long-Term Care                 

Keep Tenants at 16 St Joseph St. Safe

 

March 24, 2024

 

Sent By Email 

 

Muge Fikri, Property Manager

Akelius Residential Properties

 

Re:  Tenants’ Safety During Heating Failure at 16 St Joseph Street

Dear Ms. Muge Fikri at Akelius Residential Properties,

I am writing this letter because your tenants at 16 St Joseph Street need decisive action and urgent accommodation to protect their well-being during the failure of your heating systems in their homes. Please share this letter with Akelius Head of Canada Shelly Lee as I ask that she personally involve herself in this matter to ensure the health and safety of her tenants.

It is unimaginable that Ontario residents have been living in an Akelius rental building without essential heating since March 2, 2024. Winter temperatures in Toronto have remained consistently below levels that are safe. Tenants have an inviolable right to safe dwellings and this includes the vital service of an indoor temperature that is at least 21 degrees Celsius.

It is the responsibility of the property manager and landlord at 16 St Joseph Street to ensure its heating and ventilation systems are maintained and regularly serviced. The failure of the critical heating and ventilation system and any delayed response to adequately address this problem underscores the importance of proactive work to maintain all of your rental properties’ critical infrastructure. I understand from correspondence with involved parties that proactively upgrading the boiler heating system was not prioritized until the boiler failed. 

These failures are not an accident. They happen too regularly in Ontario when landlords allow critical equipment to fail by not regularly maintaining the equipment or proactively planning to replace systems as they near their end-of-use cycle. I unfortunately have extensive experience with misguided landlords deferring costs on these critical infrastructure failures from my time as a City Councillor and now as a Member of Provincial Parliament. It is always more costly and inconvenient to your tenants to let the systems fail. I know that it is your responsibility to keep your tenants safe and to ensure that they have uninterrupted access to their homes. When your critical infrastructure fails, it is also your responsibility to propose immediate and adequate solutions to keep them safe and unharmed.

As you cannot find a way to restore the heating system immediately, I demand that you provide hotel rooms in the vicinity as temporary accommodations for your affected and now vulnerable tenants until adequate heating is restored. It will be your responsibility to ensure that they can access their units, and that their units are secured from an increased risk of break-ins during this time. This is your direct responsibility as a landlord and the tenants should not be punished for the failure of your heating system – something that they had absolutely no control over.

I’m informed Akelius is offering partial rent abatements and space heaters — but your tenants have shared with my office that these measures are wholly inadequate. Fuses are regularly blowing because of the outdated electrical system. Your tenants are cold, tired and getting sicker. Their physical and mental health will be harmed for as long as they go without heat. I believe that providing them with safe and adequately heated hotel rooms or other suitable alternatives while ensuring they can access their homes, would be the least that you can do during this most challenging time for them.

I am not asking for any shortcuts to be taken that might put your tenants at risk. Providing hotel rooms is a reasonable accommodation for this situation. I even imagine that it may be covered by your insurance policy.

I need to hear back from you or Shelly Lee as soon as possible and no later than March 26, 2024.  You can reach my office at any time by emailing [email protected] or calling 416-972-7684. 

Sincerely, 

Kristyn Wong-Tam

Member of Provincial Parliament for Toronto Centre

120 Carlton St. Suite 401

Toronto, ON

M5A 2K4

Racialized, Queer Business Owners Deserve Grants

Indigenous and Racialized businesses in the Church-Wellesley Village should be eligible for the Government of Ontario's RAISE Grant, but many are worried that because their businesses acknowledge sexuality and carry products "of a sexual nature," they may be ineligible for the grant. On December 4th, I wrote to Minister Michael Ford to tell him that his Ministry needed to grow up, stop codifying sex-negative attitudes, and open the RAISE grant to all deserving Indigenous and Racialized applicants. I will be keeping you updated with the Minister's response when I receive it. 

 

 

December 4, 2023          

Re: Supporting Indigenous and Racialized Entrepreneurs Equitably

To the Honourable MPP Michael Ford

Minister for Citizenship and Multiculturalism

Sent By Email

Dear Hon. Minister MPP Michael Ford,

I am reaching out because of serious equity-related concerns that local business owners in Toronto’s Church-Wellesley Village brought to my attention. 

As you know, your Ministry funds an initiative called the Racialized and Indigenous Supports for Entrepreneurs (RAISE) grant. The RAISE grant provides up to $10,000 to facilitate innovation, growth, training, and coaching for sustainable economic development to small business entrepreneurs from racialized or Indigenous backgrounds. This grant represents a potentially life-changing amount of money to entrepreneurs who are racialized or Indigenous in addition to being 2-Spirit, Queer, or Trans in the Church Wellesley Village area. 

Unfortunately, and to the dismay of local small entrepreneurs, the government has added new exclusion criteria to this grant that disproportionately prevents 2SLGBTQI+ entrepreneurs from applying. The website lists that businesses with “displays of a sexual nature” cannot receive this grant. This ambiguous wording created confusion for local entrepreneurs leading them to follow up and learn that:

 “A business with a primary activity related to products, services or displays of a sexual nature would be ineligible for the program. We consider a primary activity as a distinctive and indispensable component of how the business achieves its mandate. If the business has elements which contain products, services or displays of a sexual nature, a main factor for eligibility is whether those elements are a primary activity of the business or not.” 

This definition appears to exclude many 2SLGBTQI+ businesses unduly. 2SLGBTQI+ businesses are going to talk about queer sex ⁠— and this government must grow up and live with this reality. Queer businesses offer many 2LSGBTQI+ Ontarians some of their first experiences seeing who they are and what they desire represented and validated⁠— experiences that heterosexual Ontarians take for granted. I know that this government has not always embraced the importance of inclusive sexual education ⁠— but are adult Ministers afraid of discussing human sexuality? Without understanding why this criterion has been added, I wonder if businesses are being excluded because Ministers are embarrassed to declare that government grants to stimulate our economy sometimes stimulate more than just our economy. 

Codifying sex-negative and shame-based attitudes in Ontario’s economic recovery benefits no one. Pandemic lockdowns uniquely harmed queer businesses in the Church Wellesley Village and across Ontario, because the Pride season festivals that anchor their annual budgets did not happen. These businesses are already struggling to navigate incompetent federal decision-making regarding the Canadian Emergency Business Account (CEBA) loan forgiveness deadlines failing to be adequately extended. It is demoralizing and distracting for these businesses to have to learn that programs they once could apply to have newly closed their doors for no clearly stated reasons. 

I am further worried that anti-queer signals in this program are already hurting queer businesses. This grant is awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis. 2SLGTBQI+ businesses are being told that they need not apply, and even if this government changes its position, they will be competing for a reduced pool of funds. Deeper accountability is needed from this government as to how anyone thought these criteria were acceptable in 2023. 

2SLGBTQI+ Ontario business owners deserve answers. I wish to know:

  1. When will you amend the criteria so that all Ontario businesses can apply?
  2. How will you ensure that 2SLGBTQI+ businesses are not unduly compromised because they must apply later?
  3. What steps will your Ministry take to explain how this criteria was added and avoid repeating this exclusionary decision?

If you have additional questions, I would be more than happy to help your Ministers or staff better understand diversity, equity, and inclusion. I can even suggest many 2SLGBTQI+ entrepreneurs who your Ministry might benefit from hiring. You can reach my office at [email protected].

 

Kristyn Wong-Tam

Member of Provincial Parliament 

Toronto Centre




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