Archive for the ‘current-events’ Tag

Return To “Normal” (12)

 “Today, we don’t know the full extent of the coronavirus pandemic or its future impact on transnational economics, government, or societies.

But we do know that things we believed impossible became possible overnight.”

Rose Marie Berger, Sojourners magazine, July 2020, page 17


Take Responsibility





Return to “Normal” (11)

The core of Emmay’s thinking on our current context might be summarized in this statement of hers:

Those of us who hold resources and influence, organizationally or personally, need to be willing to have uncomfortable and challenging conversations with our peers, communities, co-workers, employees and supporters – and be willing to listen to racialized people who offer the gift of sharing their experiences with us. It is only through the willingness to linger in a place of discomfort that we can begin to fully understand and address injustice in our society, institutions and communities.


What are the responsibilities of environmental organizations in building a racially-just society?

At a time when the struggle for racial justice is at the forefront of public discourse, environmental organizations like the Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA) are compelled to reflect on their roles and responsibilities in addressing the inequity, violence, and systemic oppression experienced by Black, Indigenous and other racialized peoples.

It’s a gross injustice that the burden of “righting” our society continues to be borne by the people who experience the most extreme forms of racism and discrimination. It’s long past time that those of us who hold resources and influence help to share this burden, and this includes the environmental community.

At TEA, our commitment to more deeply embed an equity lens in our work, and build meaningful relationships with racialized communities, is an ongoing process. While I do not claim to have all the answers, I’d like to share some thoughts on what allyship can look like for us and other environmental organizations, and how we can contribute to catalyzing and supporting lasting change.

Use our platforms to express support and solidarity.

In the context of the ongoing violence and dehumanizing behaviour experienced by Black and Indigenous communities, staying silent is not an option. Many environmental organizations have public platforms that can and should be used to speak out against injustice and make statements of support and commitment. The intention is not to put environmental organizations at the centre of this discourse, but rather, to support and amplify the voices and messages of those who are at the forefront of the struggle for racial justice.

There can be no climate justice without racial justice.

Build connections to our work.

At TEA, we have a clear purpose – building a greener city for all – which is grounded in the belief that environmental issues impact all residents in our city, and that solutions must consider how to address inequity related to these environmental problems. This does not diminish our important environmental watchdog and policy-advocacy role. On the contrary, by including an equity lens in the in-depth environmental analysis TEA conducts, we aim to do a better job of preventing unintended harms and maximizing the positive benefits of the solutions we put forward.

The analogy that “we are in the same storm but on different boats” has been used to describe the COVID-19 pandemic, and similarly applies to the interconnected nature of climate, economic and racial justice. For example, in our city, there is growing income inequality between racialized and non-racialized populations, and significantly higher rates of poverty among racialized people, including children. Household income can determine where people live and their housing conditions, which in turn impacts how they experience environmental shocks such as extreme heat. Low-income households have very low consumption-based emissions but are made disproportionately vulnerable to climate-related risks.

For several years, accelerating equitable climate action in Toronto has been a core focus for TEA. We consistently advocate for housing retrofits as a climate solution that can reduce emissions, make residents’ housing more resilient in extreme weather, and create good, green job opportunities for equity-seeking people in the skilled trades. We also believe that retrofit programs require safeguards to protect tenants’ rights so that retrofits don’t lead to renovictions.

Illuminate systemic impacts. 

Environmental organizations have a responsibility to understand and situate their work in relation to other systemic issues. We have to recognize that many of the drivers of environmental harm are the same drivers that create systemic inequity and injustice. Data – both statistics and other information provided by communities – can reveal the deep connections between these issues and illuminate systemic solutions that can address harm to people and the planet.

Overlaying environmental data with geographical and race-based data can tell a powerful story. For example, a 2017 US study found that concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (from transportation emissions) were 2.7 times higher in neighbourhoods with the highest proportion of racialized people than those with the lowest proportion. This type of work, which highlights the connection between pollution exposure and where racialized people live, can facilitate collaborative advocacy among environmental groups and community members.

Make space for excluded voices.

It’s a painful fact that our political institutions were born out of a colonial system that was designed to keep certain people silent and subordinate. This legacy remains with us today in overt ways – such as the Indian Act and the visible lack of diverse political representatives at all levels of government – and in more insidious ways when it comes to which voices hold influence in how government designs policy, implements programs and allocates resources.

Sadly, the environmental movement has also played a role in perpetuating this legacy. There are historic examples of conservationist beliefs conflated with eugenics, and contemporary examples of environmental campaigns that have chosen to completely disregard the implications for local populations including Indigenous communities. The voices of Indigenous people and other racialized people, who have demonstrated tireless leadership in defending land, water and air, have gone unrecognized, and at times, have been purposefully excluded or undermined.

Given where we’ve come from, and the injustice that continues today, we need to proactively work to build a different path forward. It is important for the environmental movement to recognize and support the work led by Indigenous, Black and other racialized communities, which happens in spaces that are inside and outside of mainstream institutions. Environmental organizations can play a role in amplifying these voices in environmental policy and programs, and broader decision-making and resource allocation processes.

There are encouraging initiatives underway that seek to make space for racialized people in public policy and inside the institutions where decisions are taken. The action-research project led by Adapting Canadian Work & Workplaces (ACW) in collaboration with the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU), Environmental Racism: The Impact of Climate Change on Racialized Canadian Communities: An Environmental Justice Perspective, focuses on building Black and racialized leadership capacity to address environmental racism and influence public policy on climate. The Urban Alliance on Race Relations recently launched the Black Youth Fellowship, a professional and leadership development program focused on building the next generation of Black public servants, which will place participants in a Toronto Councillor’s office.

As a municipally-focused organization, TEA has intentionally built relationships with organizations who work with diverse communities across the city. We collaborate with these partners to engage more racialized people in civic processes to shape Toronto’s environmental policies and the City Budget. TEA also showcases and shares stories about the work of racialized people leading outstanding environmental work. We are committed to being vocal advocates for meaningful and transparent public participation and believe that our city will benefit from a greater diversity of voices calling for deeper and more equitable environmental action from government.

Face uncomfortable truths and be prepared for a long journey.

For all of us who are committed to sharing the burden of addressing past and present injustice in our society, it will be a long journey. During the first weekend of large-scale protests across the US, ignited by the killing of George Floyd by police, the hashtag #MeanwhileInCanada was trending on social media. Instead of using this moment to try to better understand the experiences of Black people on this side of the border, a significant number of people took to social media to paint an image of contrast between our ‘troubled’ neighbours to the south with our own ‘harmonious’ society.

In my view, a key role for allies is to help people and institutions face the uncomfortable truth that Black, Indigenous and other racialized people are continually treated as less equal and less valued members of our society. This is true here, in the US, and in many other parts of the world. We need to address the cognitive dissonance that can happen when people are confronted with a reality that does not match what they believe to be true – in this case about Canadian society – and use this moment to build greater understanding and empathy, not disassociation.

This brings me back to where I started. Those of us who hold resources and influence, organizationally or personally, need to be willing to have uncomfortable and challenging conversations with our peers, communities, co-workers, employees and supporters – and be willing to listen to racialized people who offer the gift of sharing their experiences with us. It is only through the willingness to linger in a place of discomfort that we can begin to fully understand and address injustice in our society, institutions and communities.

When I discussed writing this blog with my team, they urged me to share some of our challenges as an organization. One of the examples we discussed was how we respond internally to support the people on our team. TEA has a field canvass team, which, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, went door-to-door speaking with residents all over the city and raising critical funds for our work. At present, they do this work on the phone. Over the years, racialized workers on our team have had significantly different experiences than their non-racialized counterparts – whether it’s experiencing subtle mistrust or overtly racist behaviour while interacting with the public.

While TEA cannot control individuals’ behaviour towards our team, our organization can ensure that measures are in place that help workers feel supported when such incidents occur. In addition, equipping outreach workers with professional identification and providing supportive verification systems, which we started to do last year at the team’s request, can go a long way in mitigating certain types of harmful and hurtful interactions. Our team is encouraged to exit from situations where harmful views are expressed – whether it’s on the phone in person – since we do not want our workers to be subjected to discrimination nor do we want to recruit supporters with discriminatory views. We have had to face the reality that TEA’s outreach work takes place in a society where racism exists, and we must continually listen to staff and improve on how we support our team as they engage the public.

At TEA, we still have much to do to ensure that our work meaningfully supports the priorities of Black, Indigenous and racialized communities in Toronto. We are part of a growing movement that recognizes the interconnected nature of environmental, economic and racial justice work, which is why we are calling for green and just recovery for Toronto as we emerge from COVID-19. I am hopeful that we collectively can do the work needed to turn this important moment in history into an era where real change happens.

Several years ago, I was conducting a focus group discussion with a community group, and stories were shared by two elder members – one Black and one Jewish. They were commiserating about how there used to be parts of our city where they couldn’t go, and one recalled a sign that was posted in a public place that read “No Blacks or Jews allowed”. This was an important reminder to me about what has happened, in living memory, right here in Toronto. I sincerely hope that these elders will see a profound transformation in their lifetimes – a time when all people are safe, heard and valued.

Emmay Mah is the Executive Director of the Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA).


Return to “Normal” (7)

Is anyone still counting the number of days of “COVID Confinement”? Or, have you moved on to counting the number of weeks, or months?

With our attention currently focused on the pandemic, and systemic racism, the media and others seem to have forgotten that the Earth is concurrently in a climate crisis. Toronto author Tom Rand prefers to label this situation as a time of “climate disruption”[1].

Some aspects of our natural environment have improved while “the economy” has been operating in slow motion. Air quality has improved in many cities because people are driving and flying less; carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have not risen as much this year as in the past years; we hear the birds in the morning rather than traffic, and so on.

Many people are now looking forward to a “return to “normal”. Do you remember what “normal” was doing to the Earth’s environment?

  • A world of species extinction and hyper-consumerism

  • A world of an ever increasing disparity of wealth / equity / and racism

  • A world of the car culture and the combustion engine belching polluting gasses

  • A world of homelessness and lengthy lines at foodbanks


BUT, we don’t have to return to that “normal”. We can work together to make a better world on three levels: personal, community, and as a society. Now is the opportunity to make a difference because change is in the air, and many people don’t want to return to the “old normal”. As Dr. Kwame McKenzie said in his blog, “Normal was the problem.”[2]

What would the “New Normal” look like? Some examples, for our consideration, are:

  • A society that puts people – and inclusion – first, recognizing our inter-relatedness with all people, and all of creation

  • A society that does not pay $40 Billion in annual subsidies to the fossil fuel industry

  • A society that retro-fits housing and other buildings to reduce their carbon footprint

  • A society that uses public street space for additional forms of transportation, such as buses, bicycles and pedestrians

  • A society with a progressive income tax system that includes meaningful taxes on wealth and the elimination of tax loopholes

As Gandhi said, “ Be the change you want to see in the world.”

My question is about how I make this “new normal” happen?

  • How do I want to live as a person of the Christian faith in the “New Normal” – both individually and as a part of my faith community?

  • How can I be effective in advocating for an economy that puts people before profit, and includes people of all cultures and skin colours?

  • How will I live with respect for other people, and the Earth, in the “New Normal”?

  • How will I seek justice for the Earth and its people, love kindness, and walk humbly with the Creator?

“The next few months are precious. Things have changed quickly.

We can imagine the “New Normal”. Naomi Klein

[1]Tom Rand, The Case for Climate Capitalism, ECW Press, 2020


Return to “Normal” (6)

 Image from Wikimedia Commons.

The Day After: Animals

The Day After: Animals marks the first installment in an ongoing curated series from Canadian Dimension that asks contributors to imagine the perils and possibilities that will ground our collective response to or emergence from the COVID-19 crisis.

Canadian Dimension will ask Canada’s leading scholars to respond to questions of human-environment relations to consider our post-COVID future:

  • What opportunities make you hopeful and what risks do you see at the human-nature interface?

  • How can we build an ethic of care for socioecological systems?

For the first in this series that contemplates a new “normal”, go to:

A Return to “Normal”?(3)


Toward a More Caring Society: Practicing Empathy During a Pandemic

by: Amanda Harvey-Sánchez

In a society plagued by the logic of neoliberalism, which encourages a turn towards individual interests and an “every person for themselves” mentality, acts of empathy and collective action may seem rare. But mutual aid also demonstrates how collective interests and a capacity for empathy have not entirely disappeared, and we may still have an opportunity to build upon these promising actions.

More on empathy at:




A Return to “Normal”? (2)

Rejecting the death instinct in a pandemic age:

by Matthew Behrens, April 21, 2020

Image: Amanda Slater/Flickr

Matthew Behrens has shared his thoughts on what we choose to happen as we “return to normal” after COVID-19. He begins by writing that:

“The ongoing pandemic epoch has exposed a clear duality marked both by increasingly obvious and blatant inequalities, hypocrisies and systemic failures as well as beautiful, loving and creative responses in the form of mutual aid communities and direct action to save lives.

What happens when — or if — this epoch comes to an end is anybody’s guess, but there are clearly two paths forward, with a thankfully growing consciousness developed long before COVID-19 that our present path is one leading directly to disaster. Indeed, the 24-hour news cycle dominated by masked faces, hospital images and infection charts has almost obliterated from memory everything from January’s apocalyptic Australian brush fire scenes that served as yet one more warning about planetary peril to the grotesque armed invasion of Wet’suwet’en territory by paramilitary RCMP units.”


Which path will we, individually and as a society, choose to follow? The whole of Matthew’s article can be found at:




A Return to “Normal”?


Photo: Allan Baker – Lake Ontario beach at Morningside Creek

Do we really want to return to “normal” as the COVID-19 pandemic subsides? Is a return to “normal” in the best interest of humanity, or Planet Earth?

Yes, there’s plenty about this time of COVID confinement that I do not enjoy, and in my heart I wish that “social distancing” were over with, for example. However, what was “normal” before this time? Was it all-good? What would we have changed about life to make it richer and more meaning-full for ourselves and people in our communities?

Thanks to Prof. Dennis Bartels, I have set up a small chart of SOME of the differences that we are currently (April 2020) experiencing:

Before COVID -19                                             During COVID-19

Concern for gov’t DEBT                              No limits on gov’t spending

Opposition to carbon tax                           Environmental issues fade

Housing the homeless is an                      People without homes are being housed in hotels,

Intractable problem, cannot                    new shelters set up.

be solved, just tolerated                           Concern that “they” may infect “the rest of us”

Underfunding of daycare                         Gov’t establishes FREE daycare

                                                                          for children of “Essential” folks

As André Picard, the health reporter for Toronto’s Globe & Mail says: The big unknown question is, are we going to learn lessons from this? Or are we just going to go back to what we did before? ….I think there’s some real opportunities here to do things differently. I hope the bright side of this is that we really do take advantage of this crisis to do bold things and not just go back to the safe, not very effective way of doing health and social services.”

 What we are seeing during this pandemic are acts of kindness, and love for other people who are all part of our human family.

I’ll conclude with a quote from Bill McKibben, who wrote this in the May, 2020 edition of Sojourners Magazine: The day will come when we can easily return to church, to the store, to the hairdresser – for that we will be able to thank the scientists, and the brave doctors and nurses, who did what they had to do during this emergency. But their courage will have been wasted if nothing deeper changes in how we treat one another and the planet.”

Let’s not “waste” this opportunity.

Symbolic gestures can make a difference


Take Responsibility

By Jim Taylor, published March 2, 2019

I wore a pink shirt last Wednesday. Pink is not my colour. It makes me look like cotton candy with a beard.

But Wednesday was anti-bullying day, so I wore pink.

It feels like a futile gesture. After all, what difference will it make if one old man wears a pink shirt for one day? School yard bullies won’t see it at all. Neither will patriarchal males in India and Africa who think of women as something inferior, to do with as they please. Nor will my pink shirt influence the behaviour of egocentric rulers in Riyadh or Moscow, Washington or Damascus.

Short answer — no difference at all.

Someone else’s problem

 So why bother?

 I hear that response often, when I get into discussions about the state of the world. Everyone agrees — okay, most people in my circles agree — that something needs to be done about wealth inequity, where the three richest Americans have more wealth than the 160 million citizens, 50 per cent of the country’s population, at the bottom of the economic pyramid.

And about climate change and melting glaciers before very valuable real estate in Florida disappears under the seas. And about court processes that turn chronic offenders loose because an overworked cop got the date wrong on a traffic ticket. The answer always seems to be, it’s too big for me to tackle. There’s nothing I can do.

Therefore, that’s what I’ll do. Nothing.

Guaranteed failure

Let’s turn the question around — what will doing nothing accomplish? The answer is also obvious. Nothing.

What you do may not make a difference. But what you don’t do definitely will make a difference.

You may not be able to rescue a child trapped in a burning house. But if you don’t try, you guarantee that child’s death.

Driving safely won’t eliminate accidents; there are other drivers on the road too. But not driving safely will surely increase accidents.

Treating people with respect will not eliminate conflict. But not treating people with respect will certainly increase conflict.

You may remember the oft-told story of a little girl going down the beach throwing stranded starfish into the sea. An observer told her she was wasting her effort. There were far too many starfish for her to throw into the ocean — they’d all die.

“This one won’t,” she replied, flinging another starfish into the waves.

“Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it,” Mahatma Gandhi advised the world.

Insignificant beginnings

The pink shirt movement itself is evidence that doing something is better than doing nothing.

Anti-bullying day started in Canada. With less than one per cent of the world’s population, Canada’s efforts can’t possibly be significant — the argument currently used by opponents of a carbon tax. After all, bullying is universal. Even chickens do it.

Yet 180 countries around the world now mark anti-bullying day in February.

Even more insignificantly, anti-bullying day started with just two high-school students in Nova Scotia. David Shepherd and Travis Price saw older kids bullying a younger student who wore a pink shirt at the opening day of school. So, on their own, they bought 50 pink T-shirts, and handed them out.

“I learned that two people can come up with an idea, run with it, and it can do wonders,” Price, then 17, told the Globe and Mail. “Finally, someone stood up for a weaker kid.”

The spread of anti-bullying day confirms that symbolic acts can have a positive effect.

The worst result

 The U.S. calculates that one out of every four children will be bullied during adolescence. Bullying rarely stops after a single incident; 71 percent of bullied students continue to be bullied, with a strong correspondence between being bullied and suicide.

Again, Canada brought this reality to international attention.

Amanda Todd, a 15-year-old Canadian victim of cyberbullying, committed suicide in October 2012 at her home in Port Coquitlam, B.C. Shortly before her death, Todd posted a YouTube video that used hand-lettered flash cards to describe her experience.

The video went viral. More than 12 million people have seen it.

Just six months later, 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons attempted suicide in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Her parents switched off her life supportmachine in April 2013.

The two women’s suicides pushed cyberbullying into prominence. In 2012, Todd was the third-most Googled person in the world, surpassing even Hollywood stars. In 2013, 38 countries held vigils in her memory.

So wearing pink on anti-bullying day may seem like a futile gesture. But it affirms that doing something is better than doing nothing.


Copyright © 2019 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved. To send comments, to subscribe, or to unsubscribe, write


Homeless in Toronto – left behind

The following article was originally published on at:

Homelessness requires a state-of-emergency response

Crowded conditions in one of the second-tier shelters in Toronto shows rows and rows of cots where 200 people sleep. Photo courtesy of Cathy Crowe.

Graphic secret video footage released this week showed Toronto shelter conditions that are inhumane and clearly violate international human rights.

In 1998 the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee declared homelessness a national disaster. Toronto City Council and municipalities across the country made the same statement.

We won a federal homelessness program but not a national housing program. Despite the federal Liberal government’s promises of a National Housing Strategy, homelessness has worsened in nearly every community across the country. It remains a disaster and Toronto is the epicentre. There is not one crane hovering over Toronto’s skyline that is there for social housing.

  • Close to 7,000 men, women and children remain in emergency shelters.

  • Roughly 1,000 people are forced to sleep year-round in a second tier of shelter including the now 33-year-old volunteer and faith-based Out of the Cold program, overnight drop-ins for women and the ironically named “respite” centres.

  • The city is now relying on disaster relief structures as respite centres.

  • The city issues eviction notices to people who are visibly squatting outside in parks or under the Gardiner Expressway.

  • Deaths mount with four violent deaths recorded by the third week of January.

  • 181,000 people are on Toronto’s Centralized Waiting List for social housing. The wait list is at minimum 12 years for a one-bedroom. Another 14,000 people await supportive housing.

  • Renovictions rise as landlords take advantage of a 1.1 per cent rental vacancy rate.

In December an array of groups formed the Shelter and Housing Justice Network. Operating under the mantra of “Shelter rights, housing rights, human rights” the collective’s number 1 demand is that the City declare a state of emergency as it relates to the homelessness crisis in the city.

Toronto City Councillors Kristyn Wong-Tam and Gord Perks, both who have strong backgrounds in social justice, support community advocates call for homelessness and the housing crisis to be declared a state of emergency.

From their motion that will go to City Council January 30, 2019:

“We are just a few weeks into 2019, and already four Toronto residents, who experienced homelessness, have lost their lives on our streets. A homeless Indigenous man died in an alley. Crystal Papineau died trapped in a clothing donation bin; she was also homeless. Hang Vo was crushed by a garbage truck, as she lay sleeping in a laneway. She was 58 years old and homeless. Another young homeless woman died of an overdose in a 24-hour respite facility.”

The Province of Ontario Emergency Response Plan defines an emergency as “… a situation, or impending situation that constitutes a danger of major proportions that could result in serious harm to persons or substantial damage to property or other health risk”. It goes on to say that “These situations could threaten public safety, public health, the environment, property, critical infrastructure and economic stability.” It is clear to us that Toronto’s situation meets several of these criteria.

The Government of Canada’s Emergency Management Act states “A government institution may not respond to a provincial emergency unless the government of the province requests assistance or there is an agreement with the province that requires or permits the assistance.”

It is imperative that we, as a Municipal government, declare that homelessness is a humanitarian crisis, which we do not possess the resources to manage alone in Toronto. We must call on the Provincial government to assist us. The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services is tasked with this response, under the Emergency Response and Civil Protection Act. Should the Province also find itself without the resources to adequately contain the crisis, a Provincial Emergency should be declared so that the resources of the Federal Government may be brought to bear.


1. City Council affirm its commitment to complying with its obligations under International Human Rights Law to take all appropriate measures to address homelessness as a human rights crisis.

2. City Council declare homelessness a human rights disaster akin to a Municipal Emergency or a national emergency and an urgent human rights crisis, and seek assistance from the Province under the Emergency Response and Civil Protection Act.

3. City Council request the Provincial government to apply to the Federal Ministry of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, and alert the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development and his Parliamentary Secretary, to seek the establishment of an intergovernmental table with participation of those affected and their representatives tasked with addressing the housing and homelessness crisis in Toronto, and in any other similarly affected municipalities throughout Ontario.

4. City Council convene an emergency meeting with representatives of the federal government including the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister, the Provincial Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, and persons who are homeless and precariously housed in Toronto and their representatives to develop an urgent plan of action.

5. City Council request the Office of Emergency Management take immediate steps to augment services for homeless individuals and seek the support of the Red Cross in managing the harm inflicted by the housing and homelessness crisis.”

Toronto Mayor John Tory has refused the community’s calls to declare a state of emergency in the past and he hasn’t budged this year either.

Watch for news on the city council vote January 30. If you’re in Toronto please help us fill council chambers. Please sign this petition.

In addition Councillor Wong-Tam’s petition will be presented to council.

Cathy Crowe is a street nurse, author and filmmaker who works nationally and locally on health and social justice issues. She has fostered numerous coalitions and advocacy initiatives that have achieved significant public policy victories. Her website is Follow her on Twitter @cathyacrowe.

Photo provided by Cathy Crowe

Our Choices Will Determine if We are Toronto the Good

An op-ed in the Toronto Star, written by Devika Shah, Adina Lebo and Cameron Watts, published on January 23, 2019, spoke about the choices that Torontonians are making. It argues that if Toronto truly is a “world-class city” or “Toronto the Good,” we must choose to move beyond slogans to action. Too many Torontonians are hurting.

This raises the question about how we are taking care of our neighbours, as many of our faith communities call us to do.

The opinion piece can be accessed at: