Toronto city councillor says Muslim-only subsidized housing is acceptable

WATCH ABOVE: A Toronto city councillor sees nothing wrong with a policy that allows the exclusion of non-Muslims from a subsidized building in the city. As Sean O’Shea reports, the policy — approved by city council — has elicited outrage.

TORONTO — A Toronto city councillor says a provision that allows only Ahmadiyya Muslims access to a city-subsidized apartment building is not unfair.

“We want people to live in a culturally-appropriate setting,” said Councillor Joe Cressy, of Ward 20 Trinity-Spadina.

“The solution here lies not in restricting the diverse range of housing options, but in providing increased housing options for everybody who needs it.”

This week, about 11,000 people looking for subsidized housing were removed from the waiting list at Ahmadiyya Abode of Peace, a 14-storey apartment building on Finch Avenue West. About 100 of the 166 residential rental units are designed as rent-geared-to-income.

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On Jan. 1, the city of Toronto entered a five-year agreement with Ahmadiyya. City council agreed to establish a mandate to restrict tenancy to “members of the Muslim Jama’at.”

Austin Lewis, 21, is among those who received letters informing him that if he is not a member of the designated group, and is not Muslim, he can’t remain on the list.

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READ MORE: Toronto man denied subsidized housing for not being Muslim

“We don’t like you, you can’t share our religion, you can’t live here — it doesn’t make sense,” said Lewis, who is physically-disabled and requires the use of a wheelchair.

The Ahmadiyya property is among those that is accessible for his needs.

Lewis’s mother is outraged that her son, among others, has been taken off the list.

“It’s wrong on every single level. This goes ahead everything Canada represents to me,” said Laura Whiteway, 50, of Brampton.

After the Global News story, dozens of viewers and readers agreed.

“Shameful,” read one Facebook post. Another said: “this is wrong — and this insanity needs to stop”. “Sickening” wrote yet another.

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One Facebook poster, claiming he is Muslim, wrote: “I am an Ahmadi and I fully agree that this is wrong.”

While many attacked the idea that a subsidized residence could be restricted to Muslims only, it’s not the only location in Toronto that selects tenants based on religion or age.

The McClintock Manor on Pape Avenue is geared to “Christian seniors.”

Under the “mandate” adopted by Toronto city council in 2002, a total of eight residences are geared to targeted groups, including buildings that house those of Macedonian, Chinese, Lithuanian and Greek backgrounds.

In a statement defending its practice, the city says the provisions do not violate human rights laws.

“The City’s mandate policy allows social housing providers to restrict their housing to individuals belonging to an identifiable ethnic or religious group if specific conditions are met,” the statement reads.

“The housing provider must provide the City with a legal opinion that they are meeting the requirements of Section 18 of the Ontario Human Rights Code by providing services and facilities to support the members of the identifiable ethnic or religious group.”

Asked if a building could be established by a group catering to white, Irish and Catholic residents (for which there is no such building at present) as opposed to one housing only Muslims, Councillor Cressy that it was conceivable.

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“I’d look to the Ontario Human Rights Code to look at the list of criteria that we feel is equitable and fair – and if it met such criteria I’d be willing to look at it,” said Cressy.

About 90,000 families in Toronto are on waiting lists for subsidized housing.

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