Monday, December 30, 2013

Rupert Hotel Fire and Canada's Hidden Emergency

(This story originally appeared at

Last Monday December 23rd was the 24th anniversary of the Rupert Hotel fire that killed nine men and one woman in Toronto.

In 1989 the Rupert was overcrowded and badly maintained.  The tragedy served as a wake up call and for a time new safer accommodation was designed and built.

For those of us who are involved with individuals and families forced to live in rooming houses or other inadequate housing, the anniversary is a time to reflect on whether things have improved.

Rupert Hotel, Toronto 1980
Photo from flickr collations photostream

In that spirit, I’ve been reading results of a multi-city study that looks at health impacts on people living in this housing.

The study is called Housing Vulnerability and Health: Canada’s Hidden Emergency.

It was put together by the Research Alliance for Canadian Homelessness and Health (REACH).  The research was based on the health and housing status of 1,200 vulnerably housed and homeless single adults in Vancouver, Toronto and Ottawa.

First, some definitions.

Homeless, for the purposes of this study, referred to someone “living in a shelter, on the street, or in other places not intended for human habitation.”   Couch surfers also were considered to be homeless.

Who are the “vulnerably housed?”

The authors used this definition to describe an individual who had their own place but at some point in the previous year had been homeless or had moved at least twice.

Surprisingly, perhaps, the study found that there were really no differences in the health of those people who were homeless and those who were vulnerably housed.

Both groups had serious physical health problems.  We are talking about significant chronic health conditions here.  Rates of 33% for arthritis, 30% for Hepatitis B and C, 18% with high blood pressure and so on.

More than half of those surveyed reported a past diagnosis of a mental health problem. Sixty-one percent had had a traumatic brain injury at some point.

Individuals surveyed had problems accessing the health care they needed for various reasons.

In the year prior to the survey, more than half had visited an emergency department and a quarter of those surveyed had been hospitalized for at least one night. (That figure does not include emergency room stays.)

Thirty eight percent (38%) had been beaten up or attacked in that past year.

Getting adequate and sufficient food was an issue.

An earlier study that examined the deaths of 15,000 people living in such housing had some shocking results.  For example, average life span of these 15,000 was “7-10 years shorter than the life span of the general Canadian population.”  Women had about the same chance of living to the age of 75 as an average women in Guatemala, a country where many lack access to basic health care.

The takeaway from the Housing Vulnerability and Health research is this:  On any given night in Canada for every one person sleeping in a shelter, there are 23 more people living with housing vulnerability.  It is indeed “Canada’s Hidden Emergency.”

Hamilton’s Recent History

More than a decade ago, a number of housing advocates and workers, led by outreach worker Suzanne Swanton, put together a film. The film documented the situations of people living in rooming houses in Hamilton.  We had hoped the movie would spur change, would help people understand not only what a rooming house is but also what the conditions are like in rooming houses.
For example, over the years the legislation has changed so that most residents in rooming houses are considered to be tenants and have rights and responsibilities of tenants.  (See a blog piece from earlier this year for more on this including comment from Mike Ollier, the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic’s Director of Legal Services.

Beginning in the nineties this kind of housing had become the only real option for many Hamilton residents with low incomes. Our experience was that while some of this housing wasn’t bad the conditions in most were deplorable.

Our film didn’t really look at the kind of health issues portrayed in the REACH survey. That research suggests that nearly nine thousand households (8,755) in Hamilton experience housing vulnerability.  (This figure is from 2006 data and includes all households not just one person ones.)

What’s Next?

The fact that the City of Hamilton is finally moving to proactive enforcement of zoning and licensing regulations is a positive step.

However, these actions don’t really address, and shouldn’t be expected to address, health issues.  The solutions, though, are well known and outlined in the research paper.

We need housing that is of good quality and affordable.  Some people could use on site services (supportive housing) or service provider visitations (supported housing).  Ideally, single dwelling units with their own kitchen and bathrooms will become more available.

In Hamilton, we take great pride in striving to make the City the best place to raise a child. In that context, the situations of single unattached individuals often are forgotten.
A story written four years ago for Raise the Hammer provides more history on rooming houses in Hamilton and the Rupert Fire. (

The REACH paper can be found at

Friday, December 27, 2013

Make the Transitional Funding Permanent

Here is a story I wrote that appeared December 3rd at  As far as I know nothing has been heard from the province yet. 

Over a year ago, the City of Hamilton and other municipalities were struggling to figure out how they would address a problem caused by the provincial government.

That problem was the cancellation of the Community Start-Up and Maintenance Benefit program (CSUMB).  This benefit had been available to people on Ontario Works (OW) and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) to cover costs like last month’s rent, rent and utility arrears and other housing related expenses.

In 2012, the province passed on only half of the funds to cities for a new program called the Community Homelessness Prevention Initiative. 
You may remember a public outcry followed. Then, at the 11th hour, the province provided transitional funding to cities to cover the gap.   (We wrote about it at the time

However, that transitional funding runs out on March 31, 2014.

What will fill the gap?

Recently a letter was sent  to the government by a number of organizations urging that the $42 million be made a permanent part of the CHPI fund.  A decision to do this needs to happen soon as municipalities are in the final stages of planning their budgets for next year.

While many municipalities like Hamilton created their own local programs to address the gap, some, unfortunately, did not.  But all municipalities need more funds to meet the need in their communities.

We are writing to political leaders to ask them to reinstate the program.  We hope you will too.
You can read the letter the community organizations sent on the Clinic's Fast Facts page at

The letter and more background information is also available at

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Tenant Votes Matter

  Here is a story that I did (slightly edited) that appeared in a recent edition of Sherman Hub News.

Hamilton Community Legal Clinic/Clinque juridique communautaire de Hamilton is a community based not for profit agency. We provide legal services to low income individuals and communities.

Our goal is to promote access to justice and to improve quality of life. We’ve been asked to make a regular contribution to the Sherman Hub News. This will be our first piece.

At the Clinic we practice what is referred to as poverty law. Put simply, our work is in those areas which disproportionately impact on low-income individuals or disadvantaged communities.

As you can imagine one of the busiest areas of our practice is landlord and tenant law.

We offer information, advice and representation to low income tenants. If a tenant is having a problem with their landlord or rental unit, we can help explain rights and obligations under the law. We can also advise tenants when to get help from another service and how to take legal action to deal with issues. In some cases we will represent tenants at a hearing.

Tenant Advocacy

Another part of the clinic’s mandate is to provide community development, law reform and public legal education. Here case work intersects with advocacy. Over the years we’ve been actively involved in tenant advocacy initiatives. We’ve worked with groups like the Solutions to Housing Action Committee (SHAC), the Tenant Outreach Education and Information Committee and others.
There have been times when tenant work has been relatively well resourced. This is not one of those times. Some of you will remember a group called the United Tenants of Ontario. Many years ago UTOO, as they were known, provided a strong voice for tenants. The group faded away in the nineties. In Hamilton tenant advocacy projects have come and gone over the years.

Left off the List

But that work is important. A recent article in the Citizens at City Hall (CATCH) newsletter hints at why it is.

According to the CATCH story, “(t)housands of Hamilton adults are missing from the city voters’ list and the main cause appears to be long-suspected discrimination against tenants.” (See

In Ward 3, where about half of all the housing is apartment or duplex, nearly a fifth (20%) of residents are left off the list.

The omission of tenants is becoming more of a problem. No one comes knocking at your door to put your name on the list of electors any more. Since 1999 enumeration has been taken over by the Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC). MPAC’s mandate is more about determining property values for taxation purposes than maintaining accurate and updated voters’ lists.
It is not news that tenants need to step up to the plate to represent their own interests. One way to do this is by participation in municipal elections. Historically, municipal politics has been about property and protecting householder’s property values. However, about twenty percent of the average rent payment goes to city hall in the form of property taxes. In addition, much of what gets debated and decided upon at City Hall impacts tenants.

In the 2006 election, the Clinic was involved with an outreach effort called I’m a Tenant and I Vote. We distributed flyers and had a media campaign pointing out to tenants the importance of voting. We had some success when we argued that tenants needed to know how much of their rent went to pay property taxes. Now, the city notifies renters how much they are paying in taxes based on their building’s tax totals. Tom Cooper, who worked at the Clinic at the time, remembers that a tenant in a $700/month unit paid equivalent tax to somebody who owns a $150,000 home.

Another issue we pushed in 2006 was the need to establish appropriate and fair municipal tax rates. We did this because the current system is not fair. Multi-residential taxpayers pay nearly three times the rate of residential (single unit) taxpayers. Tom Cooper, now with the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction, documented that reality in a story in Raise the Hammer. (

A city committee looked into this but nothing has changed. With the municipal elections less than a year we’re concerned that tenant voices won’t be heard.

What can be done?

Some municipalities are taking the issue seriously.

As the CATCH story points out:
“Toronto has recognized the voter participation shortfall among tenants and taken specific steps to tackle it, including locating nearly half their polling stations inside or within 800 feet of an apartment building. That was partly in response to a campaign calling for a polling booth in every apartment building that has more than 100 units.”

A campaign like that needs to happen here. Perhaps the neigbourhood hubs can take a leadership role in addressing the voter participation shortfall. The Hamilton Community Legal Clinic will help.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

"Transit Talk"

I’ve heard that there have been significant changes to Burlington Transit routes.  Living well outside the GTA/Hamilton, as I do now, it is hard to keep track.  This week I got a better idea of what the changes entail.

There is a new schedule for one.  That is the third new schedule in 2013. That doesn’t bode well for riders and businesses looking for some consistency in planning how to get around.

I listened to a tape of the CFMU show Unusual Sources where the Transit Talk show presented a discussion on some of these changes.

As far as how these changes are being promoted Transit Advocate James Smith put it this way:

“They are saying the right things but when the rubber hits the road that’s just not the case.”

Fairview/Plains enhancements are a good thing but, as host Doug Brown pointed out, they are offset by reductions elsewhere.  Burlington Transit’s extremely small fleet of 52 buses now covers 33 routes.
One of the most surprising changes is the elimination of Mapleview Mall as a pick up and drop off point for BT routes.

On the positive side James talked about improvements that Mississauga is making with a Transportation Demand Management (TDM) program.  In one year, they achieved a significant reduction in car trips. 

TDM is a term used to describe strategies that improve transportation efficiency. TDM emphasizes the movement of people and goods rather than motor vehicles.  The term Mobility Management is now replacing TDM as a more useful descriptor.  (Learn more about Mobility Management at

Perhaps Burlington could learn something from Mississauga.

You can find the CFMU show (it lasts about 20 minutes) by clicking here

Saturday, November 09, 2013


Are you happy with your transit service in Burlington?

The Burlington NDP wants to know.  They are hosting a meeting Tuesday (November 12th) at the Seniors Centre in Burlington to discuss this issue.

A couple of speakers will lead the discussion.

One speaker is Rosario Marchese, the NDP MPP from Trinity-Spadina.  Marchese is a long time MPP first elected in 1990 and re-elected five times since then.  He is the party’s Urban Transportation and Government Services Critic and Caucus Chair. 

Marchese speaks English, Italian and French and is conversant in Portuguese and Spanish.

Here is Marchese speaking on the need for a strong Metrolinx with a clear vision for transit and transportation.

The other speaker is Burlington’s Doug Brown, the Chair of Burlington for Accessible Transit (BFast).  I don’t think there is anyone more knowledgeable about Burlington Transit than Doug is. 

Here is a video that was put together by Graham Wood a couple of years ago where Doug talks about some of the issues facing Burlington Transit.  There is even a picture of the Pier before it was complete in this video for those who have forgotten what that looked like.  

As Burlington decision makers continue to make cuts to the transit system I’m hoping this meeting will help give voice to those who know how important public transit is for a community.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Oakville Transit Fare Increase

All we want are the facts, ma'am"
Joe Friday

Making decisions in municipal politics and in all facets of life, I suppose, requires having some facts.

Some politicians, Rob Ford comes to mind, just make these facts up.

Others seem to have an incredible ability to absorb and /memorize relevant bits of information and pull them out when necessary.

Most municipal politicians depend on staff to gather and present these relevant facts so that that policy decisions can be made by the policy makers and the rational for those policies be understood by the public.

It goes without saying, then, that the facts need to be accurate.  With that in mind the Crack Research Team (CRT) here at When the Mayor Smiles was deployed to look at the following statement contained in a recent Town of Oakville Media Release.

"Oakville Transit fares, even with the proposed changes, continue to be among the lowest when compared to other similar sized transit agencies in the GTA."

Oakville staff are proposing to change i.e. raise fares.  If approved the new rates will be:

$3.50 for a cash fare
$105 an adult monthly pass
and $50 for a Monthly pass for those over 65.

With these new rates will Oakville continue “to be the “among the lowest?”

CRT has compared prices around the GTA.  We’ll leave out Hogtown.  By our count we’ve got Brampton, Burlington, Durham, Mississauga Oakville and York to look at.

Comparing the cash fares of these six properties and using Oakville’s proposed new fares we find the average cash fare is $3.39.  That’s lower than Oakville’s proposed $3.50.  In fact, only York has a higher cash fare.

As far as monthly adult passes Oakville’s proposed new rate ($105) is below the average of $109.67 and their seniors’ monthly pass is right at the average of about fifty bucks. 

But the media release talked about “similar sized transit agencies in the GTA.”

In our view, the comparator group drops down to Burlington and Durham as Brampton, Mississauga and York are all much larger than Oakville.  Two is hardly much of a comparison.  So let’s look at the seven other Ontario cities closest in population to Oakville.

They are Kitchener, Windsor, Richmond Hill, Burlington, Greater Sudbury, Oshawa and Barrie. 

Average cash fare for the seven is $3.05. 
Oakville’s proposed cash fare is $3.50

Average adult monthly pass for the seven is $89.91.
Oakville’s proposal is for $105.00

Average monthly senior pass for the seven is $50.86 
Oakville is $50.00

We conclude, then, that Oakville’s current fares would seem to be more in line with similar places.  The proposed increase would make them among the more expensive.

Transit advocate Doug Brown reminds us that this is not the first time fares and costs have been “misrepresented” to justify higher fares in Oakville and Burlington.  

In 2010 both Burlington and Oakville used the downloading of Halton's financial contribution to GO from the Region to the lower tier municipalities to create the false impression that there had been a large increase in local transit spending,” Doug notes.

Of course, decision makers need to look at more than just fares.  The quality of the service needs to be factored in as with any product your purchase.

I wonder, is the service improving?

Friday, October 11, 2013

Tenants Benefit from Quickest Ever Class Action Resolution

A class action lawsuit launched against Toronto Community Housing and Greenwin Property has been settled.

“Class actions are lawsuits in which the claims and rights of many people, defined as having common but no identical interests, are decided in a single court proceeding brought by representative plaintiffs, or representatives of the class.”  (See for more about class action lawsuits)
The action came about following a fire that took place on September 24th 2010 at 200 Wellesley East in Toronto.

Six hundred tenants will share 4.85 million dollars to compensate for property damages and injuries.
The fire was caused after a discarded cigarette landed on the balcony of a 24th floor unit.  That unit had an excessive amount of combustible material on it.  The unit’s occupant, who was identified by investigators as a hoarder, had previously complained to property management that someone was tossing cigarette butts on his balcony.

 It is reported that the case is the fastest to be resolved in Ontario history. 
The Ontario Class Proceedings Act came into effect twenty years ago.  According to Brian Shell, lawyer for the tenants: 

“It was designed to bring access to justice to people who otherwise would not be able to get any,” Shell said.  It was not designed for lawyers to make huge amounts of money and for many thousands of people to recover $40,” Shell told the Star.

Read the Toronto Star story at


(This story was originally published on September 30 at

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Court Won't Hear Right to Housing Challenge

Earlier this year I wrote about how social and economic rights are becoming increasingly important.

In that piece, I made reference to the “right to housing.”
Recently we had a case in Ontario where the idea of federal and provincial governments were challenged from that perspective.   Here is what happened.

(This story originally appeared on
Ontario Superior Court Judge Thomas R. Lederer ruled on Friday that the courtroom is not the proper place to resolve the issue of homelessness and inadequate housing in Canada.
The Judge’s comments came in a decision in, what has been called, the Right to Housing Challenge. Individuals and housing advocates were trying to make the case for a court order. That court order would require that the Federal and Provincial governments implement a national housing strategy.
Lawyers from the Centre for Equality Rights in Accommodation (CERA) and filed a case three years ago. Their argument is that Canada and Ontario have violated individuals’ rights under section 7 and section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by creating and maintaining conditions that lead to and sustain homelessness.

Put simply, Canadians have the right to adequate, affordable housing.

Lawyers for the governments of Ontario and Canada argued that the case shouldn’t even be

Judge Lederer agreed with the government lawyers.

Peter Rosenthal, one of the lawyers for the applicants, offered this comment:

“The decision reflects a narrow view of the Charter that seems to be applied when the poor seek judicial relief.”

The judgment will be appealed.

You can read more about the Right to Housing Challenge on the website of the Advocacy Centre for Tenants of Ontario (ACTO) at

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Physician Believes Poverty Reduction is Essential for Good Health

(This story originally appeared at on August 19th.) 

Earlier this year I attended the annual Ontario Project for Inter Clinic Community Organizing (OPICCO) conference.

This gathering is put together for Community Legal Clinic staff who are involved in and want to learn more about community development work.

One of the really interesting speakers at this year’s conference was Dr. Gary Bloch.

Gary is a family physician who works out of St. Michaels Hospital in Toronto.

His presentation focused on the social determinants of health. The twenty-minute talk zeroed in on one particular social determinant of health – i.e., poverty. Gary told us “poverty accounts for 24% of person years of life lost in Canada.” That figure is second only to 30% of person years of life lost for cancers.

One significant resource Bloch made us aware of was a four pager called a Clinical Tool for Primary Care in Ontario. This is a resource for family docs that will help them in patient diagnosis. It will help physicians to keep in mind that poverty is a health condition that needs to be treated like other medical conditions. ( )

Bloch has a unique approach to practicing medicine. In a Globe and Mail story, he wrote earlier this year emphasized the importance of tax filing.

A patient named Rena told Bloch he could make her better by getting her more money. But Gary determined that Rena had not always filled out her tax return.
“Suggesting Rena fill out her tax return is prescribing income. And prescribing income can be just as powerful as prescribing medications for her blood pressure or her mood,” wrote Bloch.

Bloch wrote about another patient in a story in the Huffington Post.

Tom is a 46 years old skilled carpenter who hurt his back in a car accident 8 years ago. He has been forced to live on social assistance.
For him, social assistance has not been so much a safety net as it's been a fish net -- a trap of indignity from which he has been unable to wriggle free,” said Bloc.

Similar to the views of the Clinics, Bloch believes that there should be a level of social assistance support that allows for a dignified standard of living.

Forcing people to live in squalor and survive on less than a pittance only worsens the health impacts of their low income. While this may appear to save money up front, it likely ends up being spent elsewhere, through higher use of physical and mental health services down the road.”

While Gary Bloch views may stand out as unique for a physician, the ground is shifting in the Canadian medical world. The Canadian Medical Association has just completed a consultation. Their conclusion is that poverty is the main issue that must be addressed to improve the health of Canadians.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Why we need the Ontario Municipal Board

Lately there has been talk about reforming or even getting rid of the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB).
The contention is that municipalities know best how to plan for their communities.  So, who needs the OMB?

That’s a crock.
When it gets down to decision making in municipalities local politicians have the final say.  They aren’t planners.  In fact, in a lot of cases the extent of their planning experience is the scheduling of a day to declare when they are running for re—election.

Take as Exhibit A the recent OMB hearing brought about when the City of Hamilton blocked an attempt by a non-profit agency to consolidate its programs under one roof.
I’ve written about this before.  Last September’s piece talked a bit about the ideas of distance separation by-laws. (   That is the tool that Hamilton used at first to block Lynwood Charlton’s Centre’s (LCC) move.

Then the City changed their “planning” argument   claiming that the LCC program represented an “institutional” use.  I wrote about it again
At the end of the day OMB member Makuch basically ruled the City had no good planning case.   The Board was satisfied that the proposed development was “consistent with the Provincial Policy Statement 2005 and conforms to the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe as well as the City’s Official plan.”  (You can find the August 23rd decision at

 Lynwood Charlton Centre suggested Council’s refusal of the application “was based on the negative reaction from the community.”   The Board, however, heard “no evidence to support any of the concerns expressed to City Council.”
With the traditional planning issues being resolved, there was no need to carry on to human rights matters.  The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) had standing at the hearing.  If given the chance, they would have said that Hamilton’s refusal of the application is considered discrimination under the Human Rights Code.

That position had been forwarded to Hamilton Council some time ago.  Most Councillors apparently believe that the fact that they were popularly elected gives them license to override human rights concerns.
Sure, the OMB needs to be reformed.  But cases like this one demonstrate why we need a body like Ontario Municipal Board as a safeguard to local idiocy.  

Friday, August 16, 2013

Gender Gap not Closing

(An earlier version of this piece appeared at
In the nineties, I was one of the Mayor’s representatives on a municipal committee that looked at the issue of violence against women.  The Committee looked at some of the broader social conditions affecting women in our community.  A report with recommendations was produced.

That was when I was a Councillor (actually, and perhaps ironically, I was an Alderman) in the City of Burlington.  When following the work of the Committee we tried to change our job title to Councillor it failed fifteen 15 votes to two, as I recall.

It goes without saying that this was a long time ago.  So when some publications on the Gender Gap from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives came out last month I was interested. Has the Gender Gap closed?

Apparently not, based on the research of two writers.     

The Gap in the Gender Gap: Violence Against Women in Canada was released July 11th. (See

The authors argue that “progress on ending violence against women in Canada is stalled by the absence of a coherent national policy and consistent information about the levels of that violence.”

Kate McInturff‘s In Closing Canada’s Gender Gap Year 2240 Here We Come! came out in April. The author looks at data from the World Economic Forum. That data measures the progress of the world’s nations in closing the gap between the participation of men and women in four areas: education, health, the economy, and politics. We do well in education and health; not so economic participation and opportunity.

The author argues that “the biggest drag on Canada’s score in this arena is its poor performance in increasing the percentage of women who make up our country’s legislators, sen­ior officials,
and managers."

I've take some facts from these two from these and put them in a chart which follows.
100,000         On average each year the number of Canadians who reported experiencing sexual violence to
                     the police. (a)
70 %              of incidents of spousal violence never reported. (b)

83 %              of victims of spousal violence who are female. ©

334               Combined cost in dollars per person per year of adult sexual assault and intimate   
                    partner violence is in Canada. (d)
262               Estimated cost in dollars of the use of illegal drugs per person per year. (d)

541               Estimated cost of smoking per person per year. (d)

2.77             Dollars per person in federal public spending to address violence against women in 2011-12 (d)

228              At the current rate of progress years that will be required to close Canada’s
                   gender gap i.e., inequality between men and women. (e)

25 %            of federal Parliament constituencies represented by women. (f)

17 %            of government caucus who are women. (f)

14.5 %         of seats on corporate boards occupied by women in Canada. (g)


(a) Sinha, Maire (2013). Measuring Violence Against Women: Statistical Trends. Statistics Canada.

(b) Sinha, Maire (2012). Family Violence in Canada: A Statistical Profile, 2010. Ottawa: Statistics Canada.

(c) Sinha, Maire ed. (2013). Measuring Violence Against Women: Statistical Trends. Statistics Canada.

(d) The Gap in the Gender Gap: Violence Against
Women in Canada

(e) Kate McInturff ‘s In Closing Canada’s Gender Gap Year 2240 Here We Come

(f) In McInturf from Members of Parliament (Current).” Parliament of Canada.

(g) In McInturff 2011 Catalyst Census: Financial Post 500 Women Board Directors. Toronto: Catalyst, 2012.

(h) In McInturff from Mackenzie, Hugh (2012). Canada’s CEO Elite 100. Toronto: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

August 4th in History

I wasn’t really aware of how important a date August 4 is in the history of Toronto and the planet.

Yes, I remember where I was when JFK was shot (Grade 9 English Class, Nelson High School). When Apollo 11 landed on moon I was working at the #2 Rod Mill at Stelco in Hamilton.  And I have a clear memory of September 9, 1956 when a six-year-old surreptitiously crawled down the back hallway, apparently undetected by unsuspecting parents, to watch Elvis gyrating on the Ed Sullivan show.

Now the Toronto Star has reminded me that August 4, 1983 was indeed an historic date that I should add to my list.  (

And, yes, I remember where I was that day.  I was there at Toronto’s Exhibition Stadium when Dave Winfield “slew a gull.”  My memory is foggy though.  I guess I should have taken notes.

Along with about 36,000 others I was taking in the game from the cheap, but covered,  seats in left-centre field at what later became known as the Mistake-by-the Lake.   Burlington Post reporter Dennis Smith and I spent four dollars each for our seats (Could they really have been $4.00 dollars then?)  Between innings I had my 7x50 Dienstglas binoculars trained on this bird.  It had pretty much sitting in the same place in right-centre field for several innings.  As I looked at the gull through the binos it was smacked by a baseball. 
Someone sitting near us called out:  Winfield killed that poor pigeon.”

The “pigeon” was indeed dead.  A hapless ball boy was dispatched to cover and remove the dead bird.  While some booing began I, clearly identifying with that ball boy, flashed back to a similar incident in my past.   As a student steelworker I had been ordered by the foreman to “bury that poor effing cat” that had been found dead in Stelco’s #2 Rod Mill.  Poor ball boy, I empathized with him.

As I’ve suggested some of the details of this important day are lost to me.

The Star says the charge against Winfield, later dismissed, was “cruelty to animals.” I can’t say I remembered that specific but for some reason I do recall Winfield’s manager’s response to the charge:   
Said Billy Martin: “Cruelty to animals?  That’s the first time he’s hit the cut-off man all year.”

I remember too that the birding community was irked.  Peter Whalen of the Globe and Mail wrote about it. His column lamented the fact that the deceased bird was continuously referred to by the media and public as a “seagull.”    There is no such species, as any birder worth his feathers would tell you.  It was a ring billed gull or larus delawarensis, if you prefer.

I do have some memory of, then Metro Chairman, Paul Godfrey grovelling to the Americans over the incident. But didn’t that have to do with getting a NFL franchise for Toronto?

All these memories coming back to me……

Oh, and where were you on August 4, 1983?

Where they are now
Dennis Smith, who attended the game with this Blogger, is semi-retired and does some freelance work for the Burlington Post.  When reached today he declined comment on the incident as he was busy doing a story on a book written about another team that played in Toronto in the ‘Year of the Dead Bird.’  That team, the Toronto Argonauts, won the Grey Cup in 1983.

While the Toronto Blue Jays lost to the Yankees that August day they did go on to record their first winning season in 1983 winning 89 times against 73 losses.  This year they are on pace for a record of 74 wins and 88 loses.

The #2 Rod Mill was opened by the Steel Company of Canada (Stelco) in 1966.  Once North America’s largest manufacturer of hot rolled wire rods, it closed for good in 2004.  Stelco was purchased by US Steel in 2007.

In 2008, an alleged NFL team, the Buffalo Bills, began playing four down football in Toronto once a year.  Ticket prices per seat averaged $183 that first year.  

Bob Wood lives in Port Rowan Ontario and last attended a Blue Jays game when his son’s school choir was singing the national anthem at the Sky Dome.  That would be about twenty years ago.  He preferred the Mistake-by–the-Lake as a sporting venue even if they were cruel to animals there.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Doug Holyday, Perversion of Democracy and Hubris

Toronto Star Queen’s Park columnist Martin Regg Cohn is into it with Conservative by-election candidate Doug Holyday.

Long time municipal politician Holyday was unsuccessful nine years ago in getting Toronto Council to adopt sanctions against municipal politicians who chose not to complete their terms.

If Holyday wins the provincial by-election on August 1st, he will be such a politician. 

Holyday seems to remember only some details of his motion.
Read Regg Cohn’s column and the motion (which I’ve copied below) and you’ll see why the columnist has accused Holyday of hubris.

Oh, I’ve highlighted (by underlining) a few of my favourite sections of the motion.

J(10) Request to Amend The Municipal Elections Act to Allow a Municipality to Place Restrictions on the Terms under which their Members may Stand for a Higher Office

Moved by: Councillor Holyday
Seconded by: Councillor Ootes

WHEREAS in an open and accountable free society, an oath of office calls for a total commitment to fulfill the duties and responsibilities that voters expect and deserve during a term of office; and
WHEREAS our democratic institutions are not a business, nor are the votes a
commodity to be purchased and then ignored at will; and
WHEREAS it is incumbent upon individuals when standing for office to recognize that the public fully expects that winning candidates will honour their selection with conscientious dedication for the full period of the mandate;


WHEREAS any disruption in a term of office can cause a new election to be held with considerable cost to the taxpayers; and

WHEREAS should the Council decide upon an appointment in place of an election, the democratic rights of citizens to elect their representatives is denied and perversion of the system ensues; and

WHEREAS the financial difficulties endured by Council to balance the budget and maintain services make it imperative that no unnecessary expenses be incurred; and

WHEREAS citizens standing for office should be aware of both the remuneration and demands of office and understand that the public expects that they, once elected, honour that trust and complete their term; and

WHEREAS any time a Councillor is absent (with or without pay) from Council
deliberations, the ward involved remains unrepresented on many key issues; and

WHEREAS it has never been more important to have a strong Council unaligned with political party interests to best effect negotiations with other levels of government; and

WHEREAS it is manifestly unfair that some councillors use their candidacy for higher office to buttress the evaluation of their local incumbency by voters; and

WHEREAS a councillor’s role in governing Toronto affairs should not be used like a Las Vegas poker table where you ‘fold a hand’ and play another later without risk, penalty or moral censure; and

WHEREAS the public, according to published surveys, perceives the democratic process to be so fundamentally flawed and controlled by opportunists, that voter turnout is at an all-time low;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT this Council recognize the electoral abuse that takes place when a Ward remains unrepresented for weeks at a time and enact appropriate safeguards to prevent voluntary absenteeism in the pursuit of another office;

AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT candidates for Council should swear
upon filing their nomination papers that, if elected, they will serve at least half the term of their mandate before seeking another office, or as a result of such a decision, trigger automatic dismissal;

AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED THAT Toronto Council request the Government of Ontario to amend The Municipal Elections Act to allow a municipality to place restrictions on the terms under which their members may stand for a higher office.”

Monday, June 24, 2013

Employment Standards Act Violations

(A version of this posting appeared recently on

The Workers Action Centre reported earlier this month on a new study released by the Chinese Canadian National Council-Toronto Chapter.

The study called “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back” documents widespread employment standards violations facing Chinese workers.

For example of the workers surveyed:

**Twenty percent were paid less than minimum wage.
**Only half received public holiday pay.
**Seventy-seven percent said they never receive overtime.

An earlier report by the Workers Action Centre documented similar abuses. The fact that 1 in 3 low-wage workers had experienced unpaid wages in the previous 5 years was indeed shocking. 

The Worker’s Action Centre wants to immediately increase fines and penalties for employers who break the law and make it mandatory for all employers with a confirmed violation to face a fine. 

This just makes sense.