Dozens of residents in Toronto’s Jane and Finch neighbourhood rallied at the site of a proposed community hub and called on the Ontario government and Metrolinx to come through with the land needed to build the centre.
“We have come together once again to respond to an attempt to take away something our community has been promised for years,” Butterfly GoPaul, who lives and works in the Jane and Finch neighbourhood and helped organize Monday afternoon’s event with multiple community organizations, told reporters.
The rally comes after area Coun. Anthony Perruzza issued a public letter after a conversation with officials from the provincial transportation agency.
He and several others said Metrolinx staff said the land in question, located on Finch Avenue West between Jane Street and Highway 400 and part of a larger parcel of property beside the Finch West LRT storage facility that will be sold off after the transit line opens, would be donated to the community and the City of Toronto.
Perruzza said he was recently told the whole parcel of property was going to be sold on the open market — potentially worth millions of dollars, raising concerns that the land value would effectively end development of the community hub.
“We’ll never be able to outbid developers … that’s not possible, that’s not doable. That’s why we need to hold their feet to the fire and they need to honour their commitment,” he said Monday afternoon.
Perruzza and GoPaul said the Jane and Finch neighbourhood is in need of a community centre. Both pointed to a lack of social and recreational infrastructure in the area.
“Given the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on our already under-served and under-resourced area, a significant increase of social infrastructure investments in our community is urgently needed,” GoPaul said.
She went on to say issues surrounding a lack of decent housing and transit, precarious employment, racialized poverty, anti-Black racism and police brutality are facing area residents.
“This experience has shown us we need honest partners and clear commitments,” GoPaul said.
Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster said the agency is supportive of the community hub plan, but noted staff are looking at ways to increase development on a larger parcel of the land aside from the community hub.
“We’ve not always been that great at communicating issues around this perhaps, but it’s not changed. The community hub will be built on this location of land and the community hub will not have to buy the land,” he said in an interview after Monday’s rally.
“In the end, where the land ownership resides or not, will be a matter of discussion with all the people who are involved in the community itself, the City of Toronto and with whoever will maintain the property in the future.”
GoPaul said they “cautiously welcome the statements from Metrolinx,” but added they are “wary of vagueness and these remarks especially given all the attempts to disavow things that have happened and promises that have been made.”
When asked about Metrolinx’s handling of the land allocation, Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney expressed regret during an unrelated news conference Monday afternoon.
“It’s unfortunate to say the least … it wasn’t formalized and it fell through the cracks,” she told reporters before the rally.
She said she and Premier Doug Ford co-signed a letter to Metrolinx to say they want to see the land used for community purposes.
“This community hub will be built, it’s going to be part of the plan and we’re just waiting for options,” Mulroney said.
Ford also said the government was committed to the building of the project.
“We’re building it as sure as I’m talking to you right now, but there’s a process no matter what government piece of property there is you’ve got to go through the process,” he said shortly after Mulroney.
“The City of Toronto has to step up too along with the community and help build this.”
Meanwhile, Tom Rakocevic, the NDP MPP for Humber River-Black Creek, said it is within the government’s power to formalize the commitment and the land allocation.
“We’re not going to take anything less than a ‘yes’ from this government. Do the right thing and transfer this land to the community — it’s time,” he said.