Know Your Politicians! 2014 Municipal Elections

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On Monday, October 27th, Thorncliffe residents will be voting for a city Mayor and Ward 26 Councilor. Thorncliffe Reach-Out Teach-In (TRT) did some research to find out about the candidates who want to represent us in city council. Please note TRT is not endorsing any candidate.

Check out TRT’s Know Your Politicians Pamphlet.

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Know Your Politicians – October 25th, 2014

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Know Your PoliticiansWhat do we know about the politicians asking for our vote on October 27th?
How worthy are they of serving us as tenants, students, workers and parents in Thorncliffe?

TRT did some research to find out about the candidates who wish to represent us in city council. The positions of each candidate and TRT’s analysis was shared at a community event organized at the TNO Youth Centre. A pamphlet was also created by TRT and distributed to every apartment in the neighbourhood.

The event began with a presentation by Jason Kunin, a high school teacher and Toronto activist, who spoke about the candidates running for Mayor and school trustee. Next, Syed Muhammad and Sadia Khan, both organizers with TRT, delivered a presentation which highlighted the issue of class inequality in Ward 26.On one extreme are average yearly incomes of $250,000 for Leaside, while on the other end is Flemingdon, with the average income of $21,000. Thorncliffe falls close to the lower end at around $38,000. This income inequality determines the kinds of housing conditions families live in, and the kinds of children’s sports facilities and school conditions parents can fundraise for.

Somehow the candidates running in the election missed this reality about this ward. What they couldn’t ignore, however, is the tendency of politicians in Ward 26 to focus unfairly on issues in Leaside while neglecting the concerns of residents in Thorncliffe and other racialized communities. Perhaps this is not surprising. Since the creation of this ward, the councilors have consistently been white.

Another speaker at the event was a high school student, Hamna Naeem.  She noted that “it’s just that the politicians don’t look like us, their wallets don’t look like ours either.” The money spent on this campaign by the top two candidates, John Parker and Jon Burnside, is more than what the average Thorncliffe family earns per year!

TRT organizer, Zabia Afzal, noted during her talk that two things become very clear from this. “One, that anyone can run in an election, but not everyone has a real chance of winning it. And two, that voting actually happens twice in this democracy: first, when you sign a cheque to donate money to your favourite candidate, and second, when you cast a ballot for them on election day. Candidates who get more of the first kind of vote have a better chance of getting more of the second kind.”

What does all of this mean for elections and for democracy? It is crucial to recognize when politicians (who are rich themselves, more often than not) present the interests of the rich as the interests of everyone. Class inequality means that everyone’s interests cannot be served equally. As long as this inequality exists it will benefit the rich over the poor in elections, as it does in every other aspect of life.

Iftaar in solidarity with the people of Waziristan

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P1050310On July 19, 2014, TRT and CADiP (Campaign Against Drones in Pakistan) joined hands to organize an iftaar discussion and dinner at the Jenner Jean Community Center in solidarity with the victims of the war on the people of Waziristan. Under pressure from the West, the Pakistan military launched Operation Zarb-e-Azab, allegedly to root out militant havens in the region. This came after a decade of smaller operations and drone attacks in the area that have killed tens of thousands and displaced nearly 5 million. Zarb-e-Azab alone has left more than 600,000 homeless, but the operation still continues with no end in sight. Heavy bombardment and use of artillery gunships means that the region has been completely destroyed. Those displaced by the war are living in poorly managed camps, longing to return home. Read the rest of this entry »

Reaching and Teaching

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TRT holds tutoring sessions for people of all ages. Photo courtesy of TRT.

Every Sunday, over thirty students aged 4 to 28 and even adults attend a free tutoring program called Thorncliffe Reach-Out Teach-In (TRT) at 47 Thorncliffe Park Drive.

TRT started one year ago by young adults who were members of other local social justice organizations to raise awareness on issues such as tenants’ rights issues. TRT started off as a tutoring program, but is starting to provide a variety of workshops to expose their youth to important skills that “everyone should have”.

TRT also hosts workshops for parents to learn more about their rights as a resident and as a Toronto citizen. Topics of previous workshops include educational gap between Thorncliffe schools and Leaside, the neighbouring community, schools – one cause of the issue being lack of involvement of parents at schools, which is because parents don’t have much time from working long hours and trying to make their financial ends meet.
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Highrise hell for low-income families in Toronto

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TRT's Rubena Naeem Speaks with U of T researcher Emily Paradis - Courtesy Toronto Star
TRT’s Rubena Naeem Speaks with U of T researcher Emily Paradis – Courtesy Toronto Star

Overcrowding, elevator breakdowns, broken door locks, persistent pests, peeling paint and the ever-present worry about paying the rent.

That is the growing reality for families with children living in Toronto’s aging highrise apartment towers that dominate the city’s low-income neighbourhoods, according to a University of Toronto study being released Wednesday.

It is the first attempt to define and measure inadequate housing, hidden homelessness and the risk of homelessness among families in these communities, where about half of the city’s tenants live.

Preliminary findings from the research, released last fall, showed that as many as nine in 10 of these families are at risk of homelessness.

The full study paints a broader picture of the housing crisis facing these low-income families by delving into their immigration status, income, education, health and social networks.
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Employment Rights – March 16th, 2014

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Know Your Rights16When big businesses continue to make billions in profits even in times of widespread joblessness and governments keep repeating their promises of creating jobs, how can we believe that either of them really want to eliminate unemployment and poverty?

In fact, as Professor David McNally argued, unemployment and poverty are conditions deliberately created and maintained in the economic system we live in, capitalism. In order to maintain their high profits, businesses pay their workers the lowest wages possible, to maintain which they need people to be desperate enough to settle for whatever they are offering. There must always, therefore, be more people looking for work than jobs available.
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Civil Rights in Canada – March 9th, 2014

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Know Your Rights16When the Prime Minister of this country has declared that “Islamicism is the biggest threat to Canada” how can Muslim immigrants feel safe? As residents of Canada, we are all supposed to be guaranteed certain basic rights, like freedom of religion, freedom of association, freedom from arbitrary arrest, right to due process if we are arrested. All of this means little when an entire religious community is targeted as a threat by the government. From the recent Quebec Charter of Values seeking to prevent Muslim women from wearing hijabs to the Thorncliffe community’s very own fight to establish a mosque and to allow Muslim students to hold Friday prayers at school, it is clear that the rights of Muslim communities are under attack.
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Does class come in the way of education?

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“fix the class system to fix the school system” by Noaman Ali (Basics Community Newspaper) and Sadia Khan  (TRT)
“fix the class system to fix the school system”
by Noaman Ali (Basics Community Newspaper) and Sadia Khan (TRT)

Free Learning

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Shocked by the gross inequalities in Ontario’s education system and the way it is hurting the futures of students in working class communities like Thorncliffe, in 2013 TRT decided to organize its very own tutoring program.

Two years of running this program have confirmed for us that while necessary, numeracy and literacy skills are not sufficient. In order for the children and youth of such marginalized communities to understand and change the world around them, we must create an environment that fosters critical thinking and builds capacities so that they may realize their potential as agents of social justice.

TRT’s team of qualified teachers work with students from grade 1 and up, including parents. We encourage our older students to give back to the program in the form of providing free tutoring for younger kids and becoming community organizers.

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image(11)Tutoring Grade 1-2

TRT also provides a platform to host skills workshops that are open to high school and post secondary students and anyone who is interested in participating. Largely intended to cultivate leadership capacities amongst the youth and democratize access to skills and knowledge, these workshops are offered by PhD students, professors and activists from around the city. We offer workshops on topics such as writing, presentations/public speaking, researching, facilitating meetings, designing posters, popular theatre and more.

TRT provides an important space to community residents to learn about, discuss and debate local and international issues. It regularly organizes Know Your Rights Workshops, film screenings and community potlucks. At these events, we are joined by respected academics, lawyers and activists who help us to clarify our understanding of what is happening around us.

When: Every Sunday

Time: 12pm – 2pm

Where: Jenner Jean-Marie Community Center, 48 Thorncliffe Park Drive

** Please note that the Community Learning Centre only runs during the school year. Our first session for the upcoming school year will be on September 27th, 2015.**

Education inequality shocks Thorncliffe Park residents

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Community seeks to organize against inequality
by Noaman G. Ali

Sadia Khan, a teacher and organizer with the Thorncliffe Reach-Out Teach-In group addresses parents and students about education inequality. (Photo: Azfar Zaheer)
Sadia Khan, a teacher and organizer with the Thorncliffe Reach-Out Teach-In group addresses parents and students about education inequality. (Photo: Azfar Zaheer)

“It’s shocking! I am shocked!” said a parent attending a community meeting in Thorncliffe Park held last Sunday, December 22.

She was responding to a presentation by Sadia Khan, a teacher and community organizer, about educational inequality between public schools in Thorncliffe Park and those in neighbouring Leaside—schools that are about ten minutes apart by car.

Over 30 parents, students and other community members attended the meeting, organized by Thorncliffe Reach-Out Teach-In (TRT), about the causes of educational inequality and building community power through solidarity in order to address the issues that face the community.

Khan showed how nearly 75 percent of students who had taken the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT) at Marc Garneau College Institute, the high school that serves Thorncliffe Park and Flemingdon Park, passed in 2012. In contrast, over 95 percent of students at Leaside High School passed. Marc Garneau has an overall Fraser Institute ranking of 5.4, whereas Leaside has a ranking of 8.3.
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