North York Women’s Shelter’s new facilities bring opportunities

In spring of 2019, North York Women’s Shelter (NYWS) will open the doors to its newly renovated facilities that are set to be kid friendly, culturally competent, and include a community hub. NYWS is nestled in between Downsview Park and Sheppard West station – making it connected to a local scene and accessible to the rest of the city’s resources.

Established in 1984, NYWS continues to be a safe place for women and children impacted by violence. As research on how to best help survivors of gendered violence advanced, NYWS took federal funding opportunities to redesign and renovate the facility to better serve their residents.

Executive Director, Mohini Datta-Ray, described the new shelter as “future oriented” with a focus on providing survivors a holistic approach to healing and giving women the tools they need to take the next steps in their lives.

It will be a 24,000 square feet shelter with 17 bedrooms and 17 bathrooms with 30 beds, with the capacity for an additional 10 beds if their operational budget targets are met. This is a huge improvement from the 3,000 square feet shelter with only six bedrooms and three bathrooms for 30 beds that left residents crowded and prevented necessary programming.

Traditionally, women’s shelters are at a confidential and discrete location. Shelters are usually intended to be outside the purview of the community and to exist in isolation of the neighbourhood.

“It’s a new model – we’re breaking the paradigm. The model is that we are both a shelter and a community service hub,” Datta-Ray explained. The community hub will service not only those in the shelter but women within the community who need a safe space and cannot leave their situations.

The shelter itself will be built to accommodate children, have a kennel for residents’ dogs, and a wood-burning oven for women of different cultures to bake bread. Its new community hub will have partnerships with different groups like the Black Creek Community Health Centre, Black Creek Community Farm, and other service groups to ensure that clients can access the resources they need.

As Toronto becomes more expensive and funding for ending violence against women continues to be erratic and dependent on governments, it is important to not only give survivors the resources they need to survive but also to thrive.

The new NYWS has a large 1000 square-foot multipurpose room that can be a space where women can self-organize and be political. Alongside providing services, NYWS aims to foster a peer-support system so women can be politically active and demand more from their politicians to enact lasting change.

“We realized that you can build 40 thousand shelters but you will never address the issue because you are just continuing to address the symptom of the problem,” Datta-Ray explained. The new space will help empower residents to advocate for institutional changes to end violence against women.

Editorial: TEDxDownsviewWomen

On November 29th, our neighbourhood will host its own TEDx entitled, TEDxDownsviewWomen Conference “Showing Up.” It will showcase women who are change makers, creators, performers, and inspirational women from different walks of life right here in Toronto.

           2018 has been informally deemed as the “Year of the Woman.” It is a year where the #MeToo movement has exposed the sexual violence and harassment in industries like Hollywood but also here in Canadian politics. It is a year where the dangerous and toxic “incel” culture (a culture that is deeply misogynistic) has been cited as an inspiration for the attacker in the Toronto Van Attack in North York that killed ten people including eight women. 2018 is also the year where a record number of women, nearly 40%, were elected into Queen’s Park as MPPs.

           Women have been spearheading change and on November 29th they will have the opportunity to present and explore the ways in which they have influenced change in their personal circles, fields, and local communities. Speakers and performers include women from diverse backgrounds like planetary science, gender and equity disciplines, medicine, entertainment, and business.

           This is the first TEDxDownsviewWomen event and the diversity of the participants reflects not only the different women who are enacting change but also reflects the strides that women right here in country and city are making.

To learn more, check out the event at https://tedxdownsviewwomen.com.

Ford threatens to use notwithstanding clause to override court ruling

On Monday September 10th, Justice Edward Belobaba ruled Bill 5, the Better Local Government Act, unconstitutional. Bill 5 is the controversial bill that would nearly halve council from 47 to 25 in the middle of the 2018 election.

Later that Monday at 2pm Premier Doug Ford took an unprecedented step and vowed to amend the Better Local Government Act to include the Notwithstanding Clause in a new bill titled “Efficient Local Government Act.” Prior to this week, an Ontarian provincial government has never included this clause to bypass a court ruling – it is seen as the “nuclear” option of our constitution that has been used only a handful times across the country.

This clause would allow Premier Ford to bypass Charter Rights and Freedoms in Section 2 and 7-15. In short, the clause allows Ford and the Progressive-Conservatives to suspend our Constitutional rights in order to ensure that Toronto city council would stay at 25 councillors.

The Notwithstanding Clause suspends sections that include freedom of thought, religion, expression, association, peaceful assembly, belief, and the right to life, liberty, unreasonable search and seizure, and other Charter items that are cherished by Canadians. The clause allows the legislation to be free from judicial review or challenge for up to five years.

If Efficient Local Government Act passes it will make future uses of the clause much easier – other bills that infringe on your Charter Rights and Freedoms will be easier passed. The Notwithstanding Clause can lead to bills that infringe on your freedom of practicing your religion, your right to not be subject to cruel and unusual punishment, and your right to be equally treated before and under the law.

Our judicial system, which includes the Supreme Court of Canada and its judges, are integral to upholding our Constitutional rights. Ontario’s democracy consists of three branches – the Executive (the Premier and their cabinet), the Legislative (the elected Members of Provincial Parliament), and the Judicial. Ideally, these work in tandem with each other to ensure our democratic and constitutional rights and freedoms.

The three branches should have equal power – however, with a majority government, the Legislative and the Executive branches effectively work as one. Therefore, without a healthy Judiciary, the government works without any checks or balances.

Casual uses of the Notwithstanding Clause allow governments to trample on our constitutional rights in favour of political gain. The careful review of our bills is integral to our democracy and democratic process – we must stand up against Ford’s glib use of the Notwithstanding Clause. The ramifications of this can be severe.