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Psychiatric care lacking for institutionalised seniors


Don Weitz wears a T-shirt bluntly saying, “Fry rice - not brains.”

By David South

Today’s Seniors (Canada), November 1992

Seniors who live in nursing homes and homes for the aged are receiving an inadequate amount of psychiatric care, according to a study conducted by Toronto’s Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care. 

Dr. David Conn, director of psychiatry at Baycrest and an author of the report, says action must be taken to remedy this situation, since at least 80 per cent of elderly long-term care residents suffer from some form of mental disorder. 

The issue of psychiatric care for seniors is complex. There are many, often strongly-held, opinions about the nature of this care and what measures will genuinely improve the mental well-being of seniors in institutions. 

According to The Senior Citizens’ Consumer Alliance for Long-Care Reform, Ontario has the highest rate of institutionalisation of seniors in the world, with 7.5 per cent of seniors over the age of 65 and 15 per cent over 75 in institutions. The Alliance demanded in its reforms in Ontario that seniors’ mental health problems be taken more seriously and be included in any assessment for care. 

Baycrest’s report surveyed 1,148 medical directors and nursing directors in over 500 nursing homes and homes for the aged across Ontario. The 601 who responded reported that 37 per cent of their residents received no psychiatric care, while only 12 per cent received more than five hours per month. The most common psychiatric problems under treatment were depression, agitation, wandering and physical aggression. 

“Recognition of significant mental disorders in nursing homes is a recent phenomenon because geriatric psychiatry is a relatively new field,” says Dr. Conn. “The usual approach has been to reach for the prescription pad. We know now that antidepressants have been underused and tranquillizers overused.

“To deliver effective psychiatric care requires more than just psychiatrists - teams of psychiatric nurses can also be involved. Hopefully the staff of these institutions will become better educated as a result of this report.”

Dr. Kenneth Shulman, head of psychiatry at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, feels the worst neglect occurs in private rest homes. 

“There is general lack of accountability when it comes to geriatric psychiatric services.” Schulman advocates a coordinated, comprehensive regional network of services. 

Dr. Conn is sensitive to reports of sexual, physical and mental abuse of residents in some institutions. He says staff as well as residents of institutions can benefit from psychiatric consultations. “If more psychiatric consultants were available, the staff could also receive help in working out their problems,” he says. “Unfortunately the fee-for-service system doesn’t include paying for visiting staff.

“Being in an institution is not easy for anyone. It often means being apart from family, living with strangers, loss of freedom and having to live by the institution’s timetable.”

One of the most controversial of psychiatric treatments is electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). ECT involves placing electrodes on the sedated patient’s head and passing 100 to 175 volts of electricity into one of the lobes of the brain to induce grand mal seizure and coma. 

Opponents of ECT say the procedure can cause memory loss and confusion, and in some cases proves fatal. A 1985 Ontario government task force report recommended against using ECT in certain cases: “For patients whose work requires a clear and precise memory, ECT is probably contraindicated.”

But many other sources say that while ECT has been abused in the past and, like many other medical procedures, may not be a pretty sight, it is sometimes effective in combating depression. 

Dr. Conn confirms that the controversial procedure is still being used on seniors. “ECT is used on very depressed people,” he says. “It is a hospital-based service. The patient is admitted to a psychiatric unit of the hospital. We do it at Baycrest. It is only a last resort and has often been life-saving.”

Don Weitz, a senior citizen and spokesperson for Resistance Against Psychiatry, doesn’t mince words about what he says is the adverse effects of electroshock therapy and psychiatric practice in general. He wears a T-shirt bluntly saying, “Fry rice - not brains.”

“We have known about the adverse effects of shock for years,” says Weitz. “Research from the ‘40s and ‘50s was very clear that there was brain damage.

“What doctors mean by improvement is in fact post-injury euphoria - the brain will overcompensate with giddiness, and this only lasts for two to four weeks. Doctors seldom test people for more than two or three months afterwards.”

“What we know for sure is that within the institutions, they would rather give drugs or shock than talk to seniors. I think this should be called elder abuse - what else could it be? Is it such a mystery why people are depressed in institutions where they are abused? Psychiatrists have a vested interest in billing OHIP for pushing the button.”

But Dr. Shulman disagrees with blaming the atmosphere of institutions. “It is simplistic to think that the environment is responsible for aggressiveness or other problems,” he says. “These people are cognitively impaired - it could be medication-related or something else. These are complicated issues.”

For any nursing home workers who want further advice about psychiatry, Baycrest has produced a “Jargon-free” guide called Practical Psychiatry in the Nursing Home. 


Magazine Stories | Toronto 1992


By David South

Flare Magazine (Toronto, Canada) 1992

Time Machines

While many designers are telling us to don platform shoes and love beads, the man behind London-based Hi-Tek watches is looking even further back in time - drawing his inspiration from classic visions of the future.

Hi-Tek’s stainless steel timepieces bring to mind early futuristic films such as Lang’s Metropolis and Chaplin’s Modern Times with their grotesque exaggerations of modern machinery. That era’s confusion, fear, or simple wonderment at new technology influenced everything from toasters to steam trains.

For the equally economically and technologically turbulent ‘90s, Hi-Tek designer Alexander has captured this sense of techno-wonder with watches, sunglasses, and other hip accessories. One watch looks as if a Cuisinart hit it, leaving gears strewn across the face. Another has a retractable lid like an astronomer’s observatory. Yet another tells time with the blinker of a radar screen. Despite their made-exclusively-for-James-Bond appearance, all cost less than $190. Available at Possessions in Montreal, Body Body in Toronto, and D and R in Vancouver.

By David South

The Financial Post Magazine (Toronto, Canada), May 1992

Too Black

They’ve sold their hip clothing designs out of their basement and out of the back of their car. Now the young designers and marketers behind Toronto’s Too Black Guys can boast that their wares are being sold out of film-maker Spike Lee’s shop in Brooklyn, as well as five other funky U.S. stores from Washington to L.A.

Neither of the co-owners studied fashion - Adrian, 24, holds a BA in economics and Robert, 23, studied marketing at community college. Still, they have designed their own T-shirts, jeans, baseball caps and sweatshirts, and the message is at least as important as the medium.

“They forgot to ask my name and called me negro,” reads a typical shirt. Earl Smith, the manager at Lee’s Brooklyn shop, says he loves the clothes but adds that customers often ask his staff to explain what the thought-provoking garments mean.

Other stories from the 1990s:

An Abuse of Privilege?

Aid Organization Gives Overseas Hungry Diet Food

Artists Fear Indifference From Megacity

The Big Dump: CP's New Operational Plan Leaves Critics with Questions Aplenty

Casino Calamity: One Gambling Guru Thinks The Province Is Going Too Far

Counter Accusations Split Bathurst Quay Complex: Issues of Sexual Assault, Racism at Centre of Local Dispute

Do TV Porn Channels Degrade and Humiliate?

The Ethics of Soup: Grading Supermarket Shelves - For Profit

False Data Makes Border Screening Corruptible

Freaky - The 70s Meant Something

Health Care in Danger

Is the UK Rushing to Watch TV Porn? 

Lamas Against AIDS

Land of the Free, Home of the Bored

Man Out Of Time: The World Once Turned On the Ideas of this Guelph Grad, But Does the Economist John Kenneth Galbraith Know the Way Forward?

New Student Group Seeks 30 Percent Tuition Hike

Oasis Has Arrogance, A Pile of Attitude and the Best Album of 1994

Peaceniks Questioning Air-raid Strategy in Bosnia

Philippine Conference Tackles Asia's AIDS Crisis

Playboy ‘is not for sad and lonely single men’

Porn Again: More Ways to Get Off, But Should We Regulate the Sex Industry?

Safety at Stake

Somali Killings Reveal Ugly Side of Elite Regiment

Starting from Scratch: The Challenge of Transition

State of Decay: Haiti Turns to Free-market Economics and the UN to Save Itself

Study Says Jetliner Air Quality Poses Health Risks

Swing Shift: Sexual Liberation is Back in Style

Take Two Big Doses of Humanity and Call Me in the Morning

Taking Medicine to the People: Four Innovators In Community Health

Top Reporters Offer Military Media Handling Tips

Traffic Signs Bring Safety to the Streets

TV's Moral Guide in Question - Again

UK Laws on Satellite Porn Among Toughest in Europe

Undercurrents: A Cancellation at CBC TV Raises a Host of Issues for the Future

US Health Care Businesses Chasing Profits into Canada

Will the Megacity Mean Mega-privatization?

Will Niagara Falls Become the Northern Vegas?

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False data makes border screening corruptible


“Big Brother” system could violate rights of Canada’s visitors

By David South

Now Magazine (Toronto, Canada), May 21-27, 1992

New technology that can spew out a person’s life history in less than six seconds is now available to Canada’s customs and immigration officials.

And while Canada customs and immigration officers say this toy is a boon – replacing the need to memorize names of so-called undesirables – civil rights workers and refugee activists point out that the gizmo could have serious consequences, with little recourse.

The technology is called PALS, or primary automated look out system, and is already in operation at airports in Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Winnipeg, Ottawa and Vancouver.

PALS’ operation is based on the use of computer-readable passports. Canada is one of several countries that have started including computer strips on passports and identity cards. Officers use PALS by either keying in a special number printed on the passport or identity card or using a scanning machine to read the strip.

The system went into effect at Toronto’s Pearson airport on January 20, after a three-year pilot project in Vancouver, adding Canada to the 11 countries that have machine readers for passports. Under the old system, customs officers combined judgement, questioning and the most-wanted list to decide if a passenger required further interrogation and search.

During a demonstration of the system, customs officials at Pearson airport boast about the system’s role in apprehending a drug smuggler in PALS’ first week of operation.

Sinister sign

But to civil libertarians with experience of such systems in other countries, PALS has a sinister implication. Many say that PALS spews out what is fed into it. And depending on the country involved, what is fed into it may not necessarily be true.

While customs emphasizes PALS’ role in apprehending popular targets like drug smugglers, terrorists and child kidnappers, its reach also includes people who have smuggled in too many cigarettes or bottles of alcohol, convicted criminals who have finished serving their time, immigrants, refugees and a range of petty offenders.

All of these face a second interrogation and detention based on what their governments have decided to incorporate into the computer strip. And it is this that worries civil libertarians and refugee workers.

Consider the case of a legally sponsored Portuguese immigrant who arrived at Pearson just after PALS had been introduced. He was detained based on information stored in PALS. His immigration lawyer Ali Mohideen recalls how the man was held because of a cheque that he bounced in his native Portugal about eight years ago.

Ed Lam, director of research for the Canadian Ethnocultural Council, feels customs and immigration already have “too many powers.” He regularly receives complaints from visible minorities and immigrants who feel they are singled out for harassment at the airport.

“This is big brother. Legal protection is not enough,” he argues. “It leads to costly court battles with the government. I would like to see an ombudsperson or complaints bureau set up. As for refugees turned back at the border, we will never hear from them.”

False data

Other critics, especially those in the US, where a PALS-type system has been in operation for more than a decade, worry that the system will simply accept information given by tyrannical governments.

“It is hard to trace false information to a foreign government,” says Jeanne Woods, legislative counsel to the American Civil Liberties Union, which monitors abuse under the United States system.

“People have been accused of being communists or terrorists who have denied it. The El Salvadoran government is one example of a regime which has called prominent human rights activists and lawyers terrorists.”

She would like the Canadian Parliament to pass a law similar to one passed last November in the US requiring the state department to report to Congress when somebody is denied access because they have been called a terrorist, so that the origin of the information can be tracked.

The Canadian database draws its information from several sources, according to customs spokesperson Suzanne Bray. The sources include immigration records and the Police Information Retrieval System, which is a database shared between customs and the RCMP.

Bray refuses to divulge any other sources, citing security, but both RCMP and customs operate their own intelligence services, sharing information with their counterparts all over the world, especially the US. Information is also drawn from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and its sister organizations such as the CIA. However, CSIS spokesperson Ray Boisvert says they have adequate safeguards against false information provided by countries known to be human rights abusers.

“CSIS does look at bias in intelligence reports,” he says.

The US equivalent of PALS has been criticized after several cases of abuse were detected. Gara LaMarche, executive director of the Fund for Free Expression, a project of US-based Human Rights Watch, has documented abuse on political and ideological grounds.

“The US public has a right to hear dissenting views under the first amendment of the Constitution,” he says. “I don’t think improving the technology of border control violates civil liberties, but keeping a massive database of information which includes people’s political associations is bad.”

Similar concerns are expressed by John Tackaberry of Amnesty International in Ottawa, which is only now beginning its own analysis of PALS. “We have concerns over data input, who controls information and basic civil liberties.”

Even as Canadian civil rights activists take stock of PALS, Canada customs is planning to use it to check cross-border shopping by expanding the system to all land entry points.

As for those visitors who feel wronged by PALS, they may have a problem seeking redress from such organizations as the Canadian Human Rights Commission. A spokesperson says the CHRC can only help those who have been admitted to Canada. And visitors turned back at the border are not considered admitted.

Sherry Gerstl, a customs superintendent responsible for the implementation of PALS at Pearson, says that people can also appeal to the Privacy Act to see information that is kept on them. But two fact sheets explaining how this can be done are located in a corner, pretty much out of public view.

Bray acknowledges that “honest” passengers could face the prospect of a search with PALS, but given its positive attributes, she says, passengers involved in such delays should simply “grin and bear it.”

"False data makes border screening corruptible": Now Magazine 1992

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Land of the Free, Home of the Bored


Underwhelmed by Bill Clinton’s Democrats

By Nate Hendley and David South

Id Magazine (Canada), November 14 – 27, 1996

Toronto – It’s Tuesday, November 5 – American election night. A crisp autumn evening greets our search for the political philosophy buried in the US Democratic Party. Is it really the liberal heart of the United States as legend has it, or is it, as critics charge, a carbon copy of the arch-rival Republicans?

Inside the University of Toronto Women’s Club, the 80s chintz has given way to stars and stripes. A broad-mouthed woman with a bright red suit jacket and big, blonde hair greets the arrivals to the election party sponsored by Democrats Abroad, a group of expatriate American citizens living in Canada. Flags hang from the ceiling, political posters and Clinton/Gore in ’96 buttons are scattered throughout the club’s rooms. The dull cocktail party ambience contrasts with tonight’s occasion: a victory party to celebrate the rare re-election of a Democratic president. The wealthy looking and nearly all-white supporters of the Toronto chapter of Democrats Abroad – the organization boasts 600 members Canada-wide – spend the evening sipping wine and politely cheering as election results flash on three TV screens.

The tepid atmosphere is subdued in the extreme: nobody gives out war whoops, dances on tables or misbehaves as the election results trickle in. The reaction to Clinton’s win reflects a tepid Democratic campaign notable for conservative proposals, silly promises and an abandonment of the kind of liberalism the Democrats once stood for.

Conservative Clinton

Clinton’s enemies might accuse him of being a leftist, but in truth he’s been one of the most conservative Democrats to occupy the White House this century. Clinton’s less-than-liberal achievements in his first term include more crimes punishable by the death penalty, a promised additional 100,000 police on the streets, “V-Chip” technology in television sets, an intensification of the war on drugs and an abandonment of federal responsibility for welfare. Clinton’s re-election campaign featured promises to encourage school kids to wear uniforms, a vow to get even tougher on drug use by such measures as forcing teenagers to pass urine tests before issuing them driver’s licenses, and a recommitment to eliminating the US federal deficit.

The mostly monied professionals at the party are well aware of Clinton’s rightward turn since taking office in 1992, but put the president’s conservative leanings down to pragmatic politics.

“Am I disappointed in Clinton?” asks Bill Cronau, the past chair of Democrats Abroad and self-professed liberal. “Sure, but I’m not surprised that Clinton became more conservative. He is a Southerner after all.”

Arkansas-born Clinton used law and order issues “to chop GOP off,” adds Cronau, an insurance manager for Manulife, on the president’s theft of the Republican’s thunder.

The closest thing at the party to an actual living American politician is Tom Ward. Ward, with a detached air and the glow of a politician, soon attracted an audience when he entered the room. Ward twice ran unsuccessfully to become a Democratic congressman for Indiana, and agrees that overall Clinton has been “a disappointment as a liberal.”

He also agrees the president has moved far more to the right than previous Democratic presidents such as Jimmy Carter or Lyndon Johnson. Still, Ward, who has lived in East York since 1989, gives Clinton liberal kudos for his attempted passage of health care reforms. Yet Clinton’s proposed health care plan fell apart in 1994 following intense debate and criticism from the Republicans. Ward says he would try to introduce Canadian political ideas such as universal health care and stricter gun control were he to return to Indiana for a third run at Congress.

Canada or Clinton?

Joan Sumner, a psychologist originally from New York City, says she was initially impressed by Canada’s health care system, and by Clinton’s attempt at passing similar legislation in the US. But now she’s having second thoughts.

The Republicans, under Ronald Reagan and George Bush “decimated the health care system in the United States,” she says. “To run a medical practice became like running a business. It became difficult to collect from the insurance companies, who were reluctant to pay for psychiatric care.”

Sumner, who works with people who have “closed-head injuries,” has lived in Canada for 11 years. At the time she arrived, she found Canada’s health care system in good shape. “Now it’s a disaster and going from bad to worse. Truth be told, I am thinking of looking back across the border, especially with Clinton’s second term. The federal Liberals and the provincial government have no commitment to the people of Ontario.”

She complains about the extent of America’s influence on the Canadian political system.

Mike Harris, she fears, is borrowing his ideas from conservative Republican governor Christine Todd Williams in New Jersey. She would prefer Harris to look to liberals like former New York governor Mario Cuomo for inspiration. Unfortunately, Cuomo’s version of liberalism is out of fashion in both Canada and the United States these days.

While nearly everyone at the party expresses displeasure with Clinton’s turn to the right, few can explain why they supported him over his Republican challenger, Bob Dole.

In one corner is a bearded man in a white sweatshirt littered with Clinton/Gore campaign buttons. This super-supporter is Tim Wilkins, a Toronto social worker originally from Florida. When asked what policies attracted him to support the Democrats, Wilkins becomes flustered and unable to give any specifics.

“Been with the Democrats since 1988,” says Wilkins. “I could not identify with the Republicans at all. I think Bush was a very poor selection, and when he selected Dan Quale as his running mate, I thought ‘my Lord, you’ve just blown that ticket.’ The Republicans are just too right-wing, completely out of touch with Americans. And that’s an example of what’s happening tonight. Bob Dole and (running mate) Jack Kemp are completely out of touch. They have no agenda, no economic plan.”

Clinton and Chretien

Byron Toben, a Montreal Democrat, thinks a Clinton win will cement the close personal relationship between Clinton and prime minister Jean Chretien.

“Clinton and Chretien have something of a mutual admiration society going,” says Toben, who does immigration work, helping US citizens to move to Canada. “Clinton and Chretien are both on the same wavelength.”

Anne Kerr, the Canadian-born wife of Tom Ward, also agrees. She says Clinton’s victory is important to Canada because Liberals have more in common with the Democrats than the Republicans.

True enough, both Chretien and Clinton represent parties traditionally viewed as left-of-centre. Both men ran on vaguely liberal platforms for election, and both turned sharply conservative after deciding that deficit-reduction was more important than social spending or government activism. The federal Liberals in Canada and the Democrats in the United States now support conservative agendas that aren’t too much different than the platforms of their right-wing rivals. The biggest difference between the two nations, as Ward points out, is that the United States now lacks any major left-wing party such as the New Democrats. The Greens, running as a left-wing alternative to the Democrats, with consumer crusader Ralph Nader as their candidate, pulled in slightly more than a half-million votes on November 5. That is more than other minor parties such as the Libertarians or US Taxpayers Party, but hardly enough to convince Clinton to turn sharply leftwards in his second term.

Disappointment with Clinton’s first term aside, the Democrats Abroad party briefly jolts awake towards the end of the evening when Clinton’s re-election is confirmed. Champagne corks are popped by the club’s wait staff, but nobody is in a hurry to grab a glass. The mood becomes slightly effervescent as tipsy Democrats grow more animated, only to be hit with some mind-numbing post-victory speeches by the group’s executive. After a few toasts, the moment passes and a steady stream of Democrats slips out, thankful their man had won over Bob Dole, becoming the first Democratic president to win a second consecutive term in office since Franklin Roosevelt in 1936.

Id Magazine was published in Guelph, Canada in the 1990s.

Books by Nate Hendley: 

Al Capone: Chicago's King of Crime, Five Rivers Chapmanry, 2010

American Gangsters, Then and Now: An Encyclopedia, ABC-CLIO, 23 Dec. 2009 

The Big Con: Great Hoaxes, Frauds, Grifts, and Swindles in American History, ABC-CLIO, 2016

Black Donnellys: The Outrageous tale of Canada's deadiest feud, James Lorimer & Company, 2018

Bonnie and Clyde: A Biography, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2007

The Boy on the Bicycle: A Case of Wrongful Conviction in Toronto, Five Rivers Publishing, 2018

Crystal Death: North America's Most Dangerous Drug, Five Rivers Chapmanry, 2011

Dutch Schultz: The Brazen Beer Baron of New York, Five Rivers Chapmanry, 2011

Edwin Alonzo Boyd: Life and Crimes of Canada's Master Bank Robber, James Lorimer & Company, 2013

Motivate to Create: A Guide for Writers, Five Rivers Chapmanry, 2010

Publications by David South: 

Southern Innovator Magazine Issue 1: Mobile Phones and Information Technology 

Southern Innovator Magazine Issue 2: Youth and Entrepreneurship

Southern Innovator Magazine Issue 3: Agribusiness and Food Security

Southern Innovator Magazine Issue 4: Cities and Urbanization

Southern Innovator Magazine Issue 5: Waste and Recycling 

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Counter accusations split Bathurst Quay complex: Issues of sexual assault, racism at centre of local dispute


By David South

Now Magazine (Toronto, Canada), August 26-September 1, 1993

At the foot of Bathurst where the street disappears into the blue shimmer of Lake Ontario, a complex of apartment dwellers is bitterly divided over issues of public safety in a contest fraught with the tensions of race, class and gender.

Here in the seven-year-old neighbourhood of four co-ops and two municipally funded Cityhome buildings, activist opinion has hardened into factions with widely divergent views on one question – how safe is the Bathurst Quay community?

One group, an ad hoc collection of residents and concerned others is calling for an inquiry to investigate a list of alleged instances of sexual assault and harassment against women going back more than three years. Some of these say they cannot speak publicly for fear of retaliation by a coterie of violence-prone youth in the area.

And they say that they will not release the names of the alleged victims until confidentiality is assured by an independent inquiry.

But neighbourhood youth workers and some residents say this group hasn’t come forward with enough evidence to back their allegations, and that they are playing judge and jury. This collection of individuals, they say, are at best insensitive to the problems of Cityhome youth – many of whom are black – and at worst racist.

Forgotten youth

A year ago, Cityhome management commissioned a consultants report after residents reported the alleged gang rape of an 11-year-old girl, the presence of youth gangs with guns and drugs, and the sexual assault of young girls in the community centre.

The document, concluded in February, argued that the gang had disappeared, but admitted that it couldn’t come to any conclusion as to the validity of the accusations.

Some argue that the list of allegations is an over-reaction to the energies of under-class youth, and that what is essential is keeping communications with them open. Calling the police every time there is a problem, they say, only exacerbates tensions.

“My analysis of the situation is that there are a bunch of adults who have forgotten what it’s like to be youth,” says a community leader who prefers to remain nameless.

“There are youth who are angry, have done stuff, I see a lot of threatening happening, and it’s not by young black youth. It’s by articulate, middle-class white women. It’s sexist, ageist and racist.”

But members of the pro-inquiry group – many of whom belong to the safety committee of the Bathurst Quay Neighbourhood Association (BQNA) – say this point of view, which looks so politically correct, in reality favours young men over young women.

One resident who has been monitoring the situation and who fears physical assault if identified, says it’s important to link racial discrimination and sexual harassment, but women’s fears, she says, shouldn’t be sacrificed to make links with troubled youth.

“Community workers have made choices to privilege male youth,” the resident says. “Racial oppression and sexual oppression are bumping heads, but when young males engage in acts of crime they have to account for their actions. The safety group went many times to the community centre board about abuse in the neighbourhood, but the discussion was repressed. The racism charge is a silencing tool, preventing people from speaking out.”

Three arrested

Another resident of one of the Cityhomes, whose daughter was assaulted in the laundry room over two years ago, says she and other women have to deal constantly with taunting by local youth.

“We are known as the broad squad,” she says. “Three or four of us will defend each other in the courtyard. A lot are afraid to walk at night.”

Three of the youths accused of harassing tenants were arrested Sunday (August 22) for a hat-trick of armed robberies on Bathurst, according to Keith Cowling of 14 Division. Two are residents of Bathurst Quay, while a third, from nearby Maple Leaf Quay, regularly visits the area.

Pro-inquiry forces say they are stung by charges of racial unfairness, and say they want prominent womens’ and black community groups as investigators to ensure, as their pamphlet explains, an “anti-racist, anti-sexist and anti-classist” resolution.

“It seems to me that whenever you say something, you are called a ‘racist’," says Marlene Irwin, chair of BQNA and contact person for the pro-inquiry group.

“I feel we are doing male youth more of a favour (by calling for charges to be laid) than those protecting them for assault, harassment and break and enter,” she says.

Much of the attention of the ad hoc group focuses on the Harbourfront Community Centre (HCC) – a small, portable building, clean, unvandalized and decorated with posters depicting African-Canadian history.

Last month, a former youth worker who left the HCC circulated a hard-hitting document summarizing her experience at the centre. She says in it that there is an “apparent ‘normalizing’ of violence within the youth community that has been supported by various adults living and working in the community.”

She was, she says “physically assaulted at work. There was a general environment of abusiveness that frequently resulted in forceful behaviour.” There was, she says, daily physical, sexual and verbal bullying and manipulation by the young men towards the young women.

Washrooms and the office, she says, were dangerous places for young girls.

But HCC executive director, Leona Rodall, sitting in her office – a small janitor’s closet – with tears rolling down her face, denies that she allowed young women to be abused.

“The BQNA safety committee refused to meet with us,” she says. “We have nothing to hide, but what can we do if we don’t know what the incident is and when? Children’s Aid said there is nothing they can do without names and dates. If safety committee members have information of assaults by minors, they are liable to inform the CAS.”

The problems faced by youth in the community involve racism and poverty, and this means some aren’t Sunday-school types, she says.

Rodall supports an inquiry if it clears the air and investigates the validity of the alleged assaults.

HCC staff believe they are being singled out for blame for the community’s social problems because they are the only service there, and that some residents don’t like the mandate and approach of the HCC, where youth take priority and those charged with criminal acts are not excommunicated.

Youth worker Robin Ulster says some of the residents insult the youth. She argues that the conflict is a two-way street. She says the issue of public safety is being defined much too narrowly by those arguing for an inquiry.

“It should take into consideration the safety of youths who experience racism and poverty,” she says.

“All these incidents of young women being touched, or pushed into the washrooms, I haven’t seen it,” she says.

One black youth worker at the HCC who helps with the girl’s club, Tamara (she prefers not to use her last name), says rather than being harassed, the young women are very independent and confident.

Yuppie attitude

Residents are causing a self-fulfilling prophecy, by backing troubled black male youth against the wall. People who think the easy solution is to rely on police are expressing a “yuppie WASP attitude”, she says.

Black and white youth interviewed at the HCC say they don’t recognize the scenario the complainants paint. One of them, David, a 12-year-old who has lived in the community since its beginning seven years ago, says it is far safer than other Cityhomes he’s lived in, but “Some of them are prejudiced, nosy people.”

Toronto Councillor Liz Amer, who sits on the board of the HCC, says while she has helped women transfer out of the neighbourhood, the numbers have been no worse than in other Cityhomes.

“I know from time to time people do run into problems with neighbours,” says Amer. “The centre is trying to provide recreation services, not police.”

But Francis Gardner, chair of the tenant association at the Bishop Tutu Cityhome says many people are underestimating the menacing impact, particularly for women, of local teenage boys clustered outside the entrance.

“It’s easy to trivialize the loitering. But you have to step over their feet, and this lurking – they give young women the once over.”

"Counter accusations split Bathurst Quay complex": Now Magazine, September 1993.

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