Our Community Deserves Fair Auto Insurance

It’s 2018 and the Downsview community still pays some of the highest auto insurance rates in the country.

I raised the issue of auto insurance company discrimination towards our community as far back as 2012 when I co-hosted a crowded town hall meeting with Ontario NDP leader, Andrea Horwath. Local residents were angry about sky-high premiums and a lack of government action on this important issue.

At the time, the Ontario NDP conducted research on the matter and showed that the same person would pay a premium of $1,153 if they lived at Lawrence Park, but $2,517 if they lived at Jane-Finch. I dug deeper and found that we faced this cost discrimination despite the fact that our neighbourhood had neither the highest rates of vehicle crime nor accidents.

With pressure from the NDP, the government promised a reduction of 15% on auto insurance rates. In 2016, when the government was criticized for not delivering on the reduction, Premier Wynne referred to her promise as more of a “stretch goal”.

In early 2017, with pressure for action mounting, the government released the Marshall Report.  Local disability and personal injury lawyer Juan Carranza is skeptical of this report, saying “The government’s report does little to address the power imbalance between insurers and accident victims and assumes the insurance industry will act out of the goodness of their hearts.”  Mr. Carranza further cited a lack of transparency around auto insurers’ profits and the amount of money they spend fighting to deny the claims of accident victims.

A year after the report’s release, local residents have yet to see an improvement in the auto insurance system. Once again, this past March, I co-hosted a local auto insurance town hall meeting with Ontario NDP leader, Andrea Horwath, to give our community the opportunity to voice their concerns on this important issue. Residents packed the room and watched online, expressing frustration with the government and stating that their insurance rates continue to rise.

Andrea Horwath spoke strongly for better government oversight, stating “An NDP government will deliver the 15% savings the Liberals refused to deliver and we won’t allow your postal code to determine how much you pay.”

Auto insurance relief is long overdue, especially in our community where families struggling to pay the bills also pay the country’s highest auto insurance premiums. In fact, many local residents who can afford a car cannot afford the insurance, so they face needless hours of daily commute times to distant jobs. The auto insurance industry is government regulated and the people deserve better government oversight and accountability rather than broken promises and “stretch goals”.

A Difficult Journey to Freedom

The Vietnam War (1955-1975) was a terrible battleground of the Cold War. For many, knowledge of this conflict comes through an American perspective in movies and other sources. For our Vietnamese friends and neighbours, this tragedy was intensely personal and represented the loss of everything dear to them.

In those final days of the war, as the outcome became increasingly clear, many families in the South Vietnamese military and those with the means to travel fled the country to find safety abroad. Those who left in 1975 represented the first major wave of Vietnamese immigrants to arrive in our country.

Doctor Kien Le, President of the local Vietnamese Association of Toronto (VAT), was part of that first wave at age 12. Though many years have passed, Doctor Le still has vivid memories of the war’s final days, “My father was a high ranking officer in the South Vietnamese Fleet. On April 29, 1975, the day Saigon fell, my family was aboard a battleship. When we heard word that the presidential palace was overrun, we knew the country was lost.”

That day, Doctor Le’s ship and many others regrouped at an American base in the Philippines. From there, families boarded a cargo ship headed to a military camp in Guam where they would wait for months as the international community decided their fate.

In July 1975, Doctor Le’s family arrived in Toronto, first living in a downtown hotel where he keenly remembers the excitement of seeing his first Caribana Festival. His family moved to the city’s east-end where they rented the second floor of an Italian-Canadian family’s home and enrolled in the local catholic school. He still recalls the support his family received from a Canadian family, the Catholic Church and other community organizations during their transition into a new life.

Today, Doctor Le is an accomplished medical doctor and an active volunteer within the Vietnamese community. In February, the VAT co-hosted a special Lunar New Year event at our local Northwood Community Centre that memorialized the 50-year anniversary of the Tet Massacre where the Vietnamese communists’ violation of a ceasefire led to the deaths of thousands of civilians. Through his efforts with the VAT, Doctor Le hopes to make a difference in the lives of Vietnamese-Canadians while speaking for human rights and freedom in Vietnam.

The second wave of Vietnamese immigrants began in the late 1970s. Fleeing the communist regime, families risked their lives in small boats on the open seas.

Andrew Dang, a volunteer with the local North York Vietnamese Canadian Seniors Association, was part of this second and much larger wave of Vietnamese immigrants. At age 6, Andrew’s family sold everything they had to pay for a cramped trip on a camouflaged fishing boat, “There were 91 of us on a small boat. We spent three days at sea without proper food and were robbed clean of our few remaining belongings by pirates. Most families who attempted this dangerous journey never reached shore. We were the lucky ones.” he recalls.

His family arrived in a refugee camp in Thailand. For six months, they lived on the generosity of the locals and international donations until landing in Montreal in 1980 and moving to Toronto shortly thereafter. Andrew recognizes the sacrifices made by his parents, “They worked long hours in factory jobs so my brother and I could have a better future.”

The North York Vietnamese Canadian Seniors Association meets on the weekends at Grandravine Community Centre to socialize, exercise and play chess. They are also taken on field trips to enjoy the natural beauty of our province. Andrew is a proud volunteer of this association of which his father was a former president, “Our older generation sacrificed everything for their children and grandchildren. It is their time to relax after so many difficult years.”

In 2015, the dangerous journey that millions of Vietnamese families undertook following the end of the Vietnam War was commemorated in Parliament as Journey to Freedom Day Act. This worthy recognition received all-party support and celebrates both the role Canada played in welcoming refugees as well as the important contributions that the Vietnamese community has made here in their new Canadian home.


Our Grey Cup Champion

On November 28, 2017, the Toronto Argonauts won the 105th Grey Cup. Our community’s very own Jamal Campbell was an offensive lineman on the team, and he proudly brought the cup to our community on January 23, 2018, sharing a message of hope and perseverance with Elia and C.W. Jefferys students.

In 2009, I helped kick-start the creation of a football team at C.W. Jefferys by securing support from the Ford Foundation and interest from the school administration. I had hoped to give students a new opportunity for mentorship and access to a new sport that required strong teamwork and discipline. The Toronto Argonauts helped put the final pieces of the puzzle together and a new high school football team was born in our community. The team played for an exciting four years, but ultimately ended in 2013. I often wondered what came of this team, so full of hope. Enter Jamal Campbell.

Our new local hero, Jamal was a 16 year old student at C.W.J. at the time. Athletic and at a towering 6’4″, he played basketball on the school team. He still remembers the surprise and excitement at the school when the chance to try out for a football team was announced, “I watched football on TV but I was never really exposed to the sport until then. There was no way I would pass up the chance to play.”

Jamal says that opportunity to play football was a blessing, “High school football taught me discipline, time management, and healthy living. Playing on the team was a reward and not a right, so we had to keep our grades up and attend practices. We were reminded that we were students first and athletes second. Less than one percent of athletes make it pro, so you need an education to fall back on. What I gained from football opened a door for me to go to university.”

Jamal was granted admission to York University in 2011 and tried out for the York Lions, “I met players who had been playing since they were 8 years old so I had a lot of catching up to do. I was red-shirted in my first year and used the time to build and strengthen my body. I really pushed myself to excel and became a starter on the team in the next year.”

In March 2016, Jamal’s years of football were put to the test at the CFL Combine, an important event where top Canadian university talent compete at a camp in front of CFL scouts and coaches. On May 10, 2016, Jamal was drafted by the Toronto Argonauts, beginning his professional career in Canadian football.

Jamal won the Grey Cup in 2017, and on his day with the Cup he brought it home to his old schools, Elia and C.W.J., York University and even the corner of Jane and Finch. He spoke proudly of his tour here with the Grey Cup on January 23, “I brought the Cup back to the place I started. This is a win for our community and all of those who supported me. I want the youth in our area to know you can overcome any obstacle and reach your dreams through determination and perseverance.”

Current C.W. Jefferys Athletic Director, Tracey Galbraith, rejoiced in Jamal’s success and is interested in exploring football again at the school. She discussed some of the challenges the earlier team faced such as sustaining the morale of forty players during a rigorous schedule in the starting years of a team. Tracey is hopeful for the future and believes Jamal’s achievements will galvanize student interest.

Congratulations to Jamal, our local hero. His win is a shining example of what can happen when we give our students new opportunities and invest in their success.