A day after controversial comments were made by a Progressive Conservative MPP with respect to Toronto’s Jane and Finch neighbourhood, a TDSB trustee and advocates say it’s time to change the narrative around their community and address the stereotypes in a meaningful way.
“I thought someone was pulling my leg,” trustee Tiffany Ford told Global News anchor Crystal Goomansingh while on a tour of the neighbourhood on Thursday when asked about the comments.
“It’s a historic issue, it’s systemic and most importantly, you need to come and visit the community and find out what it’s about.”
The discussion comes after a question about carding by Brampton North MPP Kevin Yarde on Wednesday. Community Safety and Correctional Services Minister and MPP Michael Tibollo referenced a ride-along he did with Toronto police and specifically mentioned the Jane and Finch neighbourhood.
“Personally, I went out to Jane and Finch, put on a bulletproof vest and spent 7 [p.m.] to 1 o’clock in the morning visiting sites that had previously had bullet-ridden people killed in the middle of the night,” he said before going on to praise officers and to say police need additional “tools to work with.”
Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath subsequently called the comment “inexcusably racist” on Twitter while noting Tibollo is also the minister responsible for the province’s anti-racism directorate. Yarde called for a retraction and an apology.
The issue was brought up again at Queen’s Park on Thursday.
“This has nothing to do with policing resources. This has to do with an unacceptable remark made by a minister of the Crown in this house,” Horwath said in the legislature during question period.
“We will challenge him on those remarks and challenge this government on their attitudes when it comes to racialized communities.”
WATCH: Michael Tibollo says he toured Jane and Finch neighbourhood in bulletproof vest (July 18)
Tibollo responded, accusing the NDP of “wanting to do nothing.”
“If we do nothing, the number of victims will grow,” he said.
Jane Finch Action Against Poverty, a community grassroots organization, called on Tibollo to resign and the Ontario government to apologize on Thursday in a statement posted on Twitter.
“Thousands of residents of Jane-Finch from over 100 cultural backgrounds proudly live in the neighbourhood without bulletproof vest[s] or fear of each other knowing that the most brutal violence imposed on them has been caused by poverty and racial discrimination reproduced by all levels of government,” the letter read in part while calling for “real long-term, decent jobs and sustainable investments in the community.”
Ford, who is running in October’s election to become Ward 7 councillor, pointed to a broader negative perception among many in Toronto as well as parts of Ontario and Canada — something she said she has tried to address as a trustee and wants to continue working on going forward.
“That stigma, you feel it. You feel it when you’re in school, in your classes, you feel it when you’re walking around,” she said.
“It’s a … lower self-esteem – feeling that you’re not necessarily part of the city, feeling that you’re considered another. This idea of lower expectations really just affects you emotionally, mentally, and it makes you feel why even bother.”
Ford, who said she was born at a nearby hospital and studied at York University, said in addition to implementing more community programs, she wants to see more mentorship opportunities for area youth — something she said she has tried to do through the creation of a youth advisory council three years ago.
“You can still do well while you’re here. You can still be that change while you’re here. You don’t have to go away … There’s just so much vibrancy in this community,” Ford said.
“I see what’s happening around me. I just really want to inspire our young people to really feel OK with living here and wanting to make those changes they desperately see and want.”
Ford acknowledged there’s a higher crime rate in the area, but she said it’s not something restricted to the Jane and Finch neighbourhood.
“That’s a systemic issue to me, because if young people don’t feel welcome, if they don’t feel like there’s more to expect from them, then what are they going to be doing, right?” she said.
According to the most recent year-to-date crime statistics, only 35 of the city’s 220 shooting incidents have happened in 31 Division — the division that covers not only the Jane and Finch neighbourhood but the entire area between Steeles Avenue West, the Humber River, Highway 401 and the north-south rail corridor between Keele and Dufferin streets. North Etobicoke and downtown Toronto divisions have the second- and third-highest totals, respectively.
Ford said she wants to see media outlets be more specific in their reporting about incidents of crime in the area. For example, Ford said a specific address or intersection should be cited versus saying ‘at Jane and Finch.’
“That’s an issue. That’s still stigmatizing the whole community because if it’s not happening here, where is it happening exactly? It’s just bringing fear and anxiety to everyone – it’s really harmful,” she said.
WATCH: How an urban farm is helping the Jane and Finch neighbourhood (July 2015)
“Just being here and feeling the neighbourhood and then seeing unfortunately some of the media portrayals. It’s just something — that narrative I want to change.”
Emidio Ditomasso, who lives in the neighbourhood for decades, echoed Ford’s points.
“If something is happening at Jane and Steeles, why don’t you say Jane and Steeles? Why do you have to say Jane and Finch?” he said.
“If you talk to somebody and you say you live at Jane and Finch … my answer is, ‘I lived there for 35 years and I’ve never had a problem. Problems today are everywhere.”
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