‘Don’t ban people from the streets’ – Reply to Mayor Ford

I wish to comment on one item; the Councillor Shiner motion to “put a ban on camping, dwelling or lodging on city streets into a bylaw”. I urge caution with this.

Right now we have the Occupy Toronto movement camping at St. James Park and I do support their message that something needs to be done at every level of government to move toward more income equality than we have at present in every one of Canada’s provinces and cities. This can be seen in Toronto with so many people forced to panhandle and even live on our streets. The media tells us also that more families than ever are forced to make ends meet by obtaining some of their food from food banks – which were supposed to be temporary when they were begun in the ’80’s. We have an economic structural problem in Canada that will not be solved by the outlawing of panhandling and sleeping and camping on our streets. As a society we must reverse the economic inequality that has been created by legislators at all three levels of government. I speak for example of the Harris cuts to welfare and ODSP in the 90’s which has made it increasingly impossible for recipients of social assistance to pay rent and buy food for their children. These rates have hardly been increased since the 90’s.

I don’t know if you realize it but Canada is a signatory to United Nations declarations that state that adequate food and shelter are human rights. Canada, our provinces and our cities have not lived up to the international agreements that we have signed. As a society and as governments we have done a lot of talking for too long about eliminating child poverty – which affects at least one in five of our children – and of course their families. It is time to stop talking and to act. But the forced removal of people from our streets is the very last thing we should be considering. If you pass this bylaw without providing for decent shelter and adequate food for these, our neighbours, then what will be done with these people. I believe they will be arrested and imprisoned – which is no solution at all for the taxpayers since the cost of incarceration is somewhere between $100 – $200 per day. I also ask how Toronto City Council can be considering the sell-off of TCHC homes when there is a ten year backlog of families waiting for social assisted housing. The Federal and Provincial governments need to return to creating ‘affordable housing’ for everyone in Canada and especially in Toronto. There is a long standing proposal to have all levels of government spend 1% of their budgets on affordable housing. We need to do this instead of building expensive prisons and expensive war planes!

Let us instead demand that the federal and provincial governments enact legislation immediately to raise social assistance rates to livable levels as well as raise the minimum wage to a livable level, and spend 1% of their budgets on ‘affordable housing’. This can easily be paid for by reinstating the marginal tax rates on high income and wealth that used to exist – and during which the rich suffered no hardships. For Toronto a surtax can be placed on property taxes for dwellings above $1 million or whatever City Council deems to be a fair level.

Do these things before you bring in a bylaw that criminalizes poverty!

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About Murray Lumley

Board member of Conscience Canada; Christian Peacemaker Teams Reservist; retired teacher; grandfather
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