News Briefs (Sept/Oct 2023)

Hanlan's Under Attack

By Cass Kislenko

This summer saw a drastic and concerning escalation of anti-LGBTQ+ hate at the historic queer space of Hanlan’s Point Beach on the Toronto Islands. One video circulating on social media shows a pair of white men harassing beachgoers, with one threatening to “set you on fire while you’re sleeping,” as well as openly selling alcohol and cocaine.

Travis Meyers, co-founder of advocacy group Friends of Hanlan’s, says this is part of a “disturbing trend of increased slurs and hateful attacks towards queer people” at the beach that has been worsening for several years.

These incidents are part of a serious surge in anti-queer hate nationwide: Reported hate crimes against LGBTQ+ people in Canada have more than doubled since 2020, figures that are believed to represent only 22 per cent of the actual number.  

Earlier this summer a man targeted a University of Waterloo gender studies class in a knife attack that left one professor and three students injured. And now Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, who polls suggest could secure a majority government in the next federal election, has promised to “debate” the criminalization of gender-affirming care if elected. This echoes the rhetoric of far-right movements in the US that have rapidly escalated what Toronto-based queer organizer Luna Chen calls “a genocide” against queer and trans people.

In response, Friends of Hanlan’s hosted the first Hanlan’s Homecoming on August 19. The event invited queer people of all generations to celebrate the iconic LGBTQ+ history of Hanlan’s Point. Meyers says the estimated turnout was 1,400 people, and called the event “something really special.” He said the group is working with new Mayor Olivia Chow in the hopes of putting up plaques officially marking Hanlan’s as a queer space.

“She’s a great ally,” says Meyers. “She took the time to hear a century-long queer history lesson and has committed to working on solutions to keep the queer community safe and represented … I’m looking forward to what we can accomplish together.”

However, Chen says that the queer community can’t rely on police or the city for long-term protection and advocates for building mutual aid and self-defence networks instead. “We need queer liberation to actually be safe,” says Chen.

New TTC Board, Old Challenges

What can we expect from the new faces on the TTC board? We asked TTCriders executive director Shelagh Pizey-Allen what’s up. Here’s what she had to say:

The previous TTC board typically rubber-stamped directives from former mayor John Tory, and was generally unwilling to ask hard questions of TTC management.

But things could now change with members like Josh Matlow, who gained notoriety for criticizing city staff, and new Board chair Jamaal Myers saying a top priority is holding TTC management accountable for service reliability.

Myers was an activist before his election, worked for the TTC as a young person, and is a regular transit user in Scarborough. He will retain his role on the Toronto accessibility advisory committee, where he has lent his support to Wheel-Trans users who are fighting a change known as the “Family of Services,” which could force some people with disabilities onto conventional TTC buses, streetcars, and subways for parts of their trips.

New Mayor Olivia Chow is not on the TTC board but appointed the members. She campaigned on reversing service cuts, and in August announced service improvements coming into effect this fall, including the restoration of bus service levels to 99 per cent of pre-pandemic levels by November.

The biggest obstacle remains the transit funding crisis and the TTC’s reliance on fares. Mayor Chow appears to be making good on her pre-election promise to advance a commercial parking levy on big malls and box stores to create a long-term revenue source for the TTC. The city is also considering refusing to operate Eglinton Crosstown and Finch West LRTs (when they are finally ready to open), or negotiating on other provincial priority projects as bargaining chips with the provincial government in order to get adequate funding from the province.

Ontario Place Developer Re-pitches, TIFF Pauses Sponsorship Deal

By The Grind Staff 

After widespread condemnation in Toronto, the Therme spa company and its architects at Diamond Schmitt presented a scaled back proposal in August for redeveloping Ontario Place. Therme is trying to win over people outraged about the scheme to bulldoze mature trees and privatize much of the area for an upscale spa. The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), also under pressure, said it was pausing its relationship with Therme as a sponsor of the festival, an arrangement first announced in 2021.

Greenbelt Scandal Keeps Unravelling

More evidence has come to light showing how upper levels of PC Premier Doug Ford’s provincial government, including Ford himself, acted to remove Greenbelt lands at the request of housing developers, several of whom donated to the PC party. The RCMP has opened an investigation, and Housing Minister Steve Clark resigned in disgrace on September 4.

The Ontario Auditor General noted that “the owners of the 15 land sites removed from the Greenbelt could ultimately see more than an $8.3 billion increase to the value of their properties.”

Ford and then-Housing Minister Steve Clark apologized in August for a flawed process and put some lands back under protection, but Ford remains determined to open up large tracts of protected lands. Urban planning experts and the Auditor General have stated that meeting the government’s housing increase targets does not require removing lands from Greenbelt protection, as there are already enough other sites designated for housing in existing towns and cities in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.

Canada Stalling on Cage-free Egg Shift

Cages, which animal rights groups have long called out as inhumane, are still the norm for hens laying eggs in Canada and the U.S.

A few corporations in Canada, such as Whole Foods, report they have gone cage-free for their eggs, Loblaws and several other retailers have backed away from their past cage-free commitments. These moves are entirely voluntary for the companies.

“Unfortunately, there's not yet a single law in Canada either federally or provincially that regulates welfare conditions on farms, including housing systems for hens,” says Camille Labchuk, executive director of Animal Justice Canada. “We're working on this.”

The European Union (E.U.) banned battery cages in 2012, one of the worst types of confined spaces for the chickens. “This led to most of the industry transitioning to cage-free housing systems”, says Labchuk, citing it as a major win. But some of the industry shifted to “enriched cages,” which aren’t much different from the battery cages. There is now new legislation proposed for the E.U. to ban all cages from farming.

“The industry in Canada is moving away from battery cages,” Labchuck tells The Grind, “but [nearly] all of the transition is going into enriched cages.”

Some U.S. states are getting it right, she says. “Massachusetts and California both ban keeping hens in cages, as well as the sale of eggs within those states from hens housed in cages (i.e., from out-of-state farmers). They did this via ballot initiative, as these types of laws are deeply popular with voters.”

Egg costs in Canada have been going up recently due to ballooning grocery store profits and oil industry profits (which affect every part of the supply chain), among other factors. Egg prices are slightly lower in Canada than in most E.U. countries which are subject to the battery cage ban, though egg prices are on average cheaper in Germany than in Canada, according to


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Artscape in Limbo

After the non-profit arts organization announced they were on the verge of financial collapse in late August, Artscape may live on after all. Artscape works with real estate developers and other interests to provide below-market studio space and apartments for artists in Toronto, so it was a big deal when they announced in August they couldn't make their loan payments and that one of their lenders was taking steps to put them into receivership. Receivership would effectively end the organization and put their assets up for sale so the lender could recover their money. Reporting by the Globe & Mail suggested TD Bank was likely the lender taking this action.

After public outcry from the arts community and beyond, Mayor Olivia Chow announced on September 2 that, “With support from TD and the City of Toronto, @Artscape’s receivership has been delayed for at least 30 days. We’ve also convened a working group that includes City staff and philanthropic, business and community leaders to develop a sustainable solution.”

COVID, RSV, and the Flu Could Spread Quickly this Fall in Schools and Workplaces

Parents and children likely remember last fall for the awful triple-whammy of illnesses affecting communities. This fall, with people gathering indoors in larger numbers, could bring a repeat, health experts warn. COVID-19 is still a very serious illness (especially for immunocompromised individuals) and is circulating widely. Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is as well, and of course, colder weather in the fall brings a rise in influenza, “the flu.”

“We are expecting this fall to see a heavy respiratory virus season,” says Toronto Public Health’s associate medical officer of health Dr. Vinita Dubey. Findings are based on what’s been happening in the southern hemisphere, as they’ve just gone through their fall and winter. Hospitals and doctors are bracing for the next wave, while also dealing with health care underfunding.

People can protect themselves by following hygiene measures such as masking in crowded indoor spaces. Masking is especially crucial in places where immunocompromised people have to go, such as public transit, grocery stores and pharmacies. Handwashing is also important, especially for avoiding the flu.

Flu shots will be available this fall, as will a new COVID-19 vaccine that protects against newer variants. Check with your local health authority, such as Toronto Public Health, for more info.

People can also protect themselves by advocating for better ventilation in indoor settings, as all three viruses can be transmitted by airborne droplets, and better ventilation can reduce the risk of getting infected.

Hospital Privatization Fight Continues with Sept. 25 Rally

The Ontario Health Coalition, with 500 member organizations, is organizing a major rally to call attention to the ongoing privatization of hospital services in Ontario by Doug Ford’s PC government. Ford underspent the health budget by $1.7 billion last year, according to Ontario’s Financial Accountability Office. This is happening, the Health Coalition notes, while nurses, doctors, and other professionals leave the public system and hospital emergency rooms close. At the same time, the province is signing long-term contracts with private service providers. The rally begins at Queen’s Park at noon.

First Nations Lead March Against Unwanted Mining on Sept. 27

Five First Nations from Northern Ontario, working together under the banner of the Land Alliance, are coming to Toronto for a march on September 27. They have been calling on Premier Ford to stop mining activities which are happening on their lands without their consent. Members of one of the Nations, Grassy Narrows (Asubpeeschoseewagong Anishinabek), have also been visiting Toronto for years for the Grassy Narrows River Run march, calling on colonial governments to clean up the tonnes of mercury that were dumped into their river decades ago and help the community deal with the toxic effects.

Educational Support Staff Facing Extreme Violence in the Classroom, Says Union

Ninety-five per cent of education support staff in Local 527 of the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union (COPE 527) report experiencing violence while working at schools in the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB). The union reports that the number of violent incidents has been increasing, and that workers have taken to “wearing kevlar jackets, bite guards, and shin guards.” In a survey, workers also told the union they are often discouraged from submitting incident reports. “Lack of provincial funding, critical staffing shortages, and limited access to mental health supports are all contributing to the crisis in our schools,” the union writes in a statement posted to its website.

[Note: The Grind arts & culture editor’s day job is with COPE Ontario. He was not involved in the writing or editing of this article.]

Elementary and Catholic Teachers in Position to Strike this Fall

Teachers in Ontario’s elementary schools and in Catholic schools are going to be taking votes on whether to go on strike, as bargaining for new contracts with the province stalls. The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) will take strike votes from mid-September to mid-October, and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) on October 18 and 19, according to their websites. “No progress has been achieved at this table on any key issue including salary, supports for special education, violence in schools, hybrid learning, benefits, or addressing the crisis of retention and recruitment in the education system,” reads a statement from ETFO.

What We're Reading Online

This summer, under pressure from corporate legacy media, the federal government introduced legislation to make tech companies such as Meta and Google pay fees for sharing news links. The tech giants responded by blocking news links and deactivating Canadian news publishers’ accounts on a number of their platforms, including Facebook and Instagram. This means you’re probably seeing a lot less news on your feeds. There’s still lots of quality journalism being published online, so here we’re sharing recent articles we’ve learned a lot from, focussing on smaller online publications. Check them out, sign up for newsletters, and bookmark some sites. We’re going old school!

Tenant organizing played crucial role in stopping renoviction at 1570 Lawrence Ave W, by Fernando Arce, Media Co-op

LTB sides with landlord to expedite AGI hearings, blindsides tenants, by Fernando Arce, The Hoser 

Energy Corps Reaping Super-Profits While Canadians Suffer, by Adam D.K. King, The Maple 

Why Should We Care About The Political Leanings Of Hospital Board Members?, by Terra Loire Gillespie, The Maple 

Amazon donation to UofT follows ‘greenmail’ strategy of media companies, by Marc Edge, Canadian Dimension 

Wages did not cause Canada’s inflation crisis, by Mitchell Thompson, Canadian Dimension

I’ve Tracked Canadian Strikes For The Last Two Years. Here’s What I’ve Learned About Strike News Coverage, by Emily Leedham, PressProgress 

Precarious work took over the economy—but workers are fighting back, by Jason Foster, The Breach 

What needs to change in Canadian crime reporting (interview with Desmond Cole), by Matthew DiMera, The Resolve 

Toronto Media's Uncomfortable Coziness with Police, by Jeremy Appel, The Orchard 

‘This is our church’: Why Indigenous fire-keepers want to spread their sacred flame across Toronto, by Camilla Faragalli, The Green Line 

First 100 Days (of Mayor Olivia Chow’s Time in Office), ongoing column by Neville Park, the Local

These short articles appear in the Sept/Oct 2023 issue.