By: Joyeeta Dutta Ray in Toronto, ON
As Toronto evolves into the world’s most multicultural city, so does its colourful communities, rising as a collective force to overcome challenges. This time, it’s the women who are initiating change. Meet a few dynamic South Asian immigrants who have stepped forward to pull up others in the community in various ways.
If Women Move Forward, the Whole Community Moves Forward
Shiuli Akhtar* (*name changed) stands as a symbol of pride for Sultana Jahangir, Executive Director at South Asian Women’s Rights Org. (SAWRO). She defines what Toronto’s grassroots member-led non-profit organization stands for: helping South Asian women, Bangladeshis in her case, come into their own in Canada.
Shiuli migrated to Toronto from Chittagong, Bangladesh in 2013, two small kids in tow. She had a degree in Chemistry but no work experience to talk of and little English skills. When she approached SAWRO for help, she was first enrolled in an English learning class, followed by a computer course. When her skills grew, so did her confidence. She got a break in a cosmetics firm in December 2014, only to be laid off 8 months later.
Not one to leave anyone stranded in the middle of the road, SAWRO pulled her into COSTI to switch lanes as a medical lab technician. Shiuli rose to the challenge, volunteered in a clinic for 3 months before she was absorbed into a full-time role. 4 years later, she lives her dreams in the same clinic with pride.
Sultana Jahangir, originally from Bangladesh, moved to Toronto from the USA in 2005, where she lived for about 7 years. Having faced injustices as a new immigrant under the Bush Administration, she understood the plight of her people in Canada.
“(Low-Income) women in the Bangladeshi community are very isolated. They are not familiar with writing resumes or Ontario’s employment process. It is hard for them to sustain precarious jobs as they are not protected by working rights. We have policies from the 1930s which do not apply in today’s environment.”
The work environment in Canada is going through drastic change. Full-time employment supported by good wages is giving way to temporary contracts that pay pittance. Women at the lower end of the job spectrum are hit hardest with little benefits and lesser job security. SAWRO helps them by working with labour rights and employment organizations for “systematic change”. Once these women sustain themselves, there is a profound difference. “They first get their voice and recognition in their own families,” says Sultana.
Today, after 5 years of service, SAWRO supports over 2000 Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Afghani and Indian women. About 346 were assisted with jobs. Plans are on to reach other marginalized groups now. “Every ethnic group has their own characteristics,” Sultana says. There is no one solution for all.
Driving Change by Giving Back
When Harpreet Sodhi migrated to Canada from India in 2001 to seek better opportunities for her family, little did she know that she would end up offering greater opportunities to others in the process.
A computer teacher for seniors back in India, Harpreet was used to training the mentally and physically challenged. Since she was “lucky to be gainfully employed”, she set about helping others through “Women That Give” - a non-profit group founded in 2016 by Fawzia Khan jointly with like-minded South Asian volunteers. The mission was to offer weekly workshops to help financially distressed and mentally disturbed women stand on their feet.
One of their greatest victories was Carol Mckeon, a mentally disabled woman under their care, who rose to take part in the 2017 International Paralympics Softball team, held in Toronto.
“Social isolation is a big factor that leads the disabled, abandoned and physically abused to depression and financial distress”, says Fawzia. “WTG uplifts these women by building their capacity and helping with job placements.”
“This land gave us the opportunity to grow so it’s important for us to give back,” says Harpreet. “We wanted to combine efforts to make a stronger impact as a unified force”, adds Fawzia.
Helping Women Professionals Fly Higher
For Bhuvneet Thakur, life changed with WINGS (Women’s Initiatives to Nurture, Grow and Support), a Mississauga-based non-profit organization. A student who arrived in 2016 to study at Humber College for a Business Accounting Diploma, Bhuvneet faced a roadblock once she finished her term. It was hard to find entry level jobs in her specialization.
“I realized the importance of connecting with professionals and carrying credible references,” she says. But for newcomers like her, networking is a challenge. “It’s hard to know who to talk with and how to start.” That is where WINGS steps in.
Started by Sanjukta Das, a Humber College Business Placement Advisor and Social Activist, who came to Canada less than a decade back from India, WINGS took flight with an enterprising board of women directors in 2014, to provide networking opportunities to empower women.
Bhuvneet secured a co-op placement with WINGS, and connected with other professionals, “magnifying her self confidence.” Shortly after, she got the much-needed break at Humber College itself. “I will continue volunteering at WINGS to help others reach their goals,” she states.
WINGS now plans its first Trade Expo on March 18th, 2018 as a tribute to International Women’s Day. It aims to bring together the rising number of South Asian women entrepreneurs and professionals at the Grand Convention Centre in Brampton. Funds from the proceeds will go towards a homeless youth shelter.
“Volunteering gives the chance to not just change one’s own life but also someone else’s”, says Bhuvneet. Good to see the baton pass on to younger hands.
Commentary by: Pradip Rodrigues in Mississauga, ON
Last week the Quebec government released details on how it planned on disbursing $36.4 million to struggling newspapers over the next five years. This money is to help smaller newspapers that are especially hit by a steep ad revenue decline. The idea is to help newspapers make that inevitable digital transition. Print news media will have until Jan. 15 to present their plans and vision for a digital future. Those publishers with foresight will prevail, the rest will simply fold up and fade into the sunset. They don’t call print media a sunset industry for nothing.
This plan would help only legitimate newspapers that can provide proof in black and white that they have devoted their time and energy toward truly supporting and chronicling the life and times in their respective communities.
Federal help not in the cards as yet
Last September, Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly outlined government’s vision for cultural and creative industries in a digital world which would help those in the television industry but it didn’t include the moribund print industry. A federal boost to the Canada Media Fund is set for 2018, to cover the shortfall caused by the drop in money from the private sector.
Late last month, a deal between Torstar Corp. and Postmedia Network Inc. saw them selling newspapers to each other and in the process close 21 of the 22 community newspapers, this costs 244 jobs, many of them professional journalists.
Over the past few years, hundreds of journalists all across north America have lost their jobs as newspapers close down, merge or transition to digital.
Journalists face a bleak future
To be a journalist in the current climate, one may as well be a tech whiz or be able to tweet at great speed. Few newspapers that have transitioned to digital are turning a profit because for some strange reason no one wants to pay for anything on the net and gone are the days when households subscribed to newspapers. In the case of many community newspapers, you can’t get people to pick it up for free.
The only media house in Canada whose future isn’t in jeopardy happens to be CBC a fully taxpayer funded enterprise costing us big bucks- $1.04 billion in 2015 and given the intense competition it faces, an additional $150 million by the end of 2017.
While there is enough justification put out by successive governments why the CBC is important, there have been few who’ve made a case about the importance of keeping community newspapers alive.
There is even less of a case being made in regard to ethnic newspapers in major cities across Canada and that is more a result of short-sightedness on the part of publishers or the fact that many of them start newspapers simply out of spite for a fellow community businessman or to promote themselves or their other real businesses or perhaps even to run for public office one day.
When it comes to South Asian newspapers the situation is comical and often farcical, there are dozens of newspapers some of which exist in name and are published occasionally, others have upto 80 or 90 or even 100 percent of their news that is about India, Bollywood or just lifts from the web. Community news coverage is an after-thought if at all so it is unlikely that a majority of these so-called ethnic publications could qualify for any government help in the near future.
Government help could be too late
It is a matter of time before pressure is brought upon Ontario and other provinces to help out ethnic community newspapers given the large and growing immigrant community. Already there are influential South Asians who are mobilizing to rally for the cause of ethnic community newspapers. Unfortunately or rather fortunately, only a handful of genuine ethnic community newspapers, some of which are on life support will receive government funding. The criteria for receiving these funds would require these newspapers to make a case for their survival and provide proof of being a community newspaper and of course having professional journalists helming these newspapers would help the cause.
Few ethnic newspapers are quality products
I spoke with an influential and politically active South Asian recently on the state of the South Asian ethnic media and he mentioned he could only think of a handful of newspapers worth reading, the rest in his words were ‘garbage.’
Even if Ontario were to follow Quebec’s lead on supporting community newspapers and help them transition to a digital future, it will already have been too late. Hundreds of journalists are been forced to make a humiliating exit from the profession given the reality. Some have taken to writing blogs nobody reads or emails to long lost relatives hoping to be included in their Wills. But for the vast majority of laid-off journalists, the only meaningful writing they’ll do is writing their professional obituaries.
It is harder for community newspapers to ever entice talented journalists to invest their time and talent because they don’t see a future for the newspaper and would either opt for public relations or something online.
When it comes to ethnic newspapers, the situation is even more hopeless. It’s a Catch-22 situation, publishers cannot attract or retain talent because they are either unable or unwilling to pay their writers according to industry and Canadian standards, with the result, the quality of community coverage is minimal or negligible. So even when Ontario decides to spent up to a million dollars on ethnic publication, few if any will qualify. It is harder to manufacture proof of community coverage than it is to fudge circulation figures.
Smart mainstream media houses are meanwhile bolstering coverage of ethnic communities and are hiring token South Asian journalists in the hope that they can be ready for government handouts if and when it comes. Meanwhile ethnic community newspapers across the country with a few exceptions will continue to flounder. Mercifully it won’t be a loss to the community because there is little community news in the first place. By default it will be the big players that will benefit from any provincial or federal financial help. I for one won’t be around when all of that happens.- CINEWS
Republished under arranagement with Canindia News.
By: Ted Alciutas in Vancouver, BC
Died in Columbia of Apparent Heart Attack
The first and only Filipino-Canadian senator died today (November 16, 2017) in Medellin, Columbia where he was attending a parliamentary meeting.
The Ontario senator was in the South American country for the ParlAmericas Annual Plenary Assembly, along with Liberal MPs Robert Nault and Randy Boissonnault, NDP MP Richard Cannings and Conservative MP Bev Shipley.
Tobias ‘Jun’ Enverga, Jr. was 61. His wife Rosemer Enverga was with him when he died according to his senate office.
“I offer my condolences to the family who is obviously in mourning and in grief right now,” says Dr. Rey Pagtakhan when reached from his home in Winnipeg.
“The community suffered a loss,” adds the retired parliamentarian, the first Filipino-Canadian elected to the House of Commons. The two never met each other.
Enverga was appointed to the senate by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2012 for the province of Ontario. He was first elected as a school trustee for the Toronto Catholic School Board.
The former banker’s appointment was hailed by the Filipino community but he became a lightning rod for a vicious campaign by his criics.
Among the fiercest criticism came from Toronto’s Balita newspaper who constantly ridiculed the senator for his alleged incompentency for the job.
He was labelled the ‘karaoke senator’ by Balita’s Romeo P.Marquez for his first speech in the senate where he alluded to Filipinos as good karaoke singers.
Balita followed his every activity in Toronto and suburbs and hammered on his alleged failure to account for monies raised by the Philippine Canadian Charitable Foundation (PCCF) a charitable organization that he was involved with before being appointed to the senate.
Senator Enverga with Toronto Mayor Tory and Councillor Pasternak in a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Eventually Enverga filed a libel suit against the paper, its publisher Tess Cuispag and Romeo P. Marquez for defaming him. Last year, Enverga won a judgement against the defendants and as awarded $350,00 in damages, one of the largest award in Canada.
Cusipag went to prison
Cusipag was also sentenced to 31 days in jail for contempt of court for violating the injunction imposed in connection with the libel case. She served 13 days of her sentence and released.
It is not known if the award has already been already paid as of this writing. Queries to Enverga’s senate office and his lawyer were not answered.
Enverga emigrated to Canada in the early 1980s after earning a bachelor of arts degree in the Philippines. He was 28 years old.
He took an MA at York University and his tenure at the Bank of Montreal lasted for three decades.
Enverga, who hails from Lucena, Quezon province, is survived by his wife Rosemer and three daughters Rystle, Reeza and Rocel.
Published under arrangement with the Philippine Canadian News.
Commentary by: Nick Fillmore in Toronto
News outlets in Canadian communities are falling like bowling pins.
At least 171 media organizations in 138 communities closed between 2008 and this January, according to the Local News Research Project, a project led by Ryerson School of Journalism. By comparison, only 51 new outlets opened.
The loss of media is so severe that a special report submitted to the House of Commons Heritage Committee was entitled: “Local news poverty in Canadian Communities.”
“Local news poverty, we argue,” is greatest in communities where residents have limited or no access to timely, verified news about local politics, education, health, economic and other key topics they need to navigate daily life, ” project co-ordinator April Lindgren writes in Policy Options.
Small communities such as Markdale, Ont. and Canmore, Alta. lost their local papers while cities Guelph, Ont. and Nanaimo, BC were among the largest centres to be hit.
Newspapers have been crucial for the development of Canada for more than three centuries. But ‘free’ news from for-profit papers is coming to an end.
Daily papers are failing because millions of dollars of advertising they used to have has either moved to the internet or has just disappeared. Because an ad that brings in $1,000 in a paper sells for about $100 on the internet, the newspaper corporations are so far unable to make a go of it in a digital world.
Corporate-owned news organizations around the world are trying to find a formula that will allow them to be profitable. However, they have made little progress in the dozen years since internet-based companies started stealing their ads and readers.
Hundreds of Canadian communities are now poorly served when it comes to local news by underfunded and under-staffed internet news sites, give-away newspapers and even bloggers.
Nonprofit media can be the solution
However, Canadian communities still should be able to have reliable newspapers. They need to explore creating community-controlled not-for-profit papers.
Nonprofit newspapers have financial advantages over for-profit papers. A commercial paper is expected to churn out at least 15 per cent profits or investors will take their money elsewhere. Business executives at corporations command salaries into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The manager of a nonprofit might earn $90,000. Ad sales staff at daily papers earn a large salary; not so at a nonprofit. A for-profit paper pays taxes. A nonprofit pays few taxes and can engage in fundraising activities.
Other factors: The internet is the future for many news organizations, but many people prefer to hold a newspaper in their hands. A printed publication tends to have more authority than an internet site. And, finally, advertisers like to see their ads in print.
There are no nonprofit daily newspapers in Canada, but hundreds of public interest organizations operate on a nonprofit basis.
The U.K. Guardian is the most prominent not-for-profit newspaper in the world. Last year, the award-winning but financially-strapped Philadelphia Inquirer switched to the not-for-profit model. Both organizations have large endowments.
I believe not-for-profit newspapers are highly desirable if a group can develop a break-even budget. I believe this is possible in Canada.
Set up a research group
If folks feel there’s a need for a newspaper in their community the first step would be to bring together 15 or 20 people who represent a cross-section of citizens. The group could conduct a survey to determine whether people in the community support the idea.
An important early task would be to have experts help you develop a project model to see if the concept is financially viable.
Warning: Don’t focus too much on journalistic content in the early stages. Instead, the most important thing to determine is whether the model you develop is financially viable.
Think about how groups and businesses in the community might contribute. Reach out to local journalists and media outlets to see if they would like to become involved in the project.
My recommendation is that groups create a nonprofit corporation. This way any surplus at the end of the year would go back into the project. A lawyer can create a nonprofit organization for about $700.
An important decision: One of the biggest questions concerns is how to distribute the paper. Traditional door-to-door delivery could be costly but, if the project can afford it, this is the best way to go.
However, groups could use a much cheaper distribution system. What I call the "mini-paper" would have small pages – 8 1/2 x 11 1/2 inches - just about the same size as Maclean's magazine – distributed to subscribers by e-mail.
Subscribers would print out the paper in the morning. The group would provide a simple binding system that readers would use to hold the pages. It might be best to limit the size of any one edition to 24 pages or less.
The huge advantage of the mini-paper is that it would not require newsprint and there would be no distribution expenses.
In case subscribers prefer to access the information on-line, all of the articles and other information published in the mini-paper would be posted behind a paywall on a website.
The big question for any group is figuring out where the money is going to come from.
I think it should be possible to run a nonprofit paper with about one-third of the revenue coming from advertising, one-third from subscribers and sustained donors, and one-third from fundraising.
Many sources of funding
Note: I have considerable experience as a fundraiser and I would be pleased to provide fundraising advice to any group free of charge. Here’s a summary of funding possibilities:
My strong advice to a group is to not launch a new paper until you have lined up funding for at least your first full year.
I know a number of Canadian nonprofit experts and journalists who would be pleased to help develop a project. Several knowledgeable U.S. organizations, such as Institute for Nonprofit News and the Poynter institute would provide advice.
The creation of even one sustainable, independent newspaper project anywhere in Canada would be a huge, unprecedented accomplishment. It could be the forerunner of other papers that would once again provide our communities with a reliable source of news and information.
Nick Fillmore was a CBC journalist and producer for more than 25 years, and is a founder of the Canadian Association of Journalists. He currently works as a Toronto freelance journalist who specializes in writing about media issues.This piece was republished under arrangement with J-Source.
By: Ted Alcuitas in Vancouver
The ‘paper son’ who became a community leader and literary pioneer
“Knowledge does not set you free – it enslaves you.”
Strong words from a strong man.
Jim’s insatiable appetite for history and what he learned motivated him to “create a new reality”, giving birth to such organizations like the Asian Canadian Writers’ Workshop (ACWW) which he co-founded.
The 68-year old Wong-Chu died on Tuesday, July 11, 2017 after a stroke he suffered earlier this year.
In his last TV interview (February 2016) he told Sid Chow Tan of Access TV that there was “no inspiration” for him when he started the seminal literary grouping, Asian Canadian Writers’ Workshop back in the 70s.
"There was no inspiration – it was euphoria and discretion,” he recalls the beginning of the movement to create a space for Chinese Canadian writings.
“Bellyaching” with him at the time was Paul Yee and SKY Lee who later rose to prominence with their writings.”
“ We asked ourselves : What if? And Why not?”
“None of us were writers and we didn’t know the basics. We started from scratch.”
The ‘paper son’ who never finished Grade 11 first dabbled in photography before pursuing a degree in Creative Writing at UBC.
“I was working in a cafeteria and photography was just like making coffee,” he told Tan in the interview.
He finished a photography course at the Vancouver School of Art, now called Emily Carr University of Art + Design.
His collection of photographs of Chinatown taken from 1973-1981 lay dormant until 30 years after when he realized he had a treasure trove of historical significance.
The 80 photos (out of 500 negatives) was shown in an exhibit at Centre A Gallery in October 2014.
It was accompanied by his own poems and Paul Yee’s.
Born in Hongkong in 1949 two years after Chinese Canadians were granted the right to vote, Jim came to Canada as a ‘paper son’ by an aunt when he was four.
Paper sons and daughters adopted false identities at a time when Canada restricted Chinese immigration.
It was not until he was seven years old that his aunt told him – “I am not your mother”.
That discovery completely devastated him, knowing that he did not belong neither to the country he was raised or the country he was born into.
Up and until his death this month, Jim was still haunted by the ghosts of his past.
“It feels like you’re not a part of everything around you, that your participation is not welcome and not well-received…” he told writer Nikki Celis of The Georgia Straight on April 16, 2016.
“In my late teens and early 20s, I was very confused. You’re constantly haunted by this idea that you’re not legal. It destroyed me totally as an individual,” he says, stone-faced. “That’s identity for you—when you talk about identity to the infinite extreme, it feels like you’re a fake.
Giant of a man
Jim Wong-Chu was quite literally a giant of a man.
He stood not all of 5’ -5” but he could talk to you about almost anything – from books to history and politics and everything else.
Some called him the ‘Moses’ of the Asian Canadian literary world for finding and nurturing emerging writers and eventually having their works published.
The list includes Paul Yee, Wayson Choy, SKY Lee, Evelyn Lau among others.
Madeleine Thien, the recent winner of the Governor’s Award for Fiction and the Giller Prize was hired and mentored by Jim to be editor of Ricepaper magazine even before anybody knew her.
“I remember going to met Jim and being amazed at all the knowledge at his fingertips, all the stories and memories he had,” Thien recalls in an interview for B.C. Bookworld.
Jim lamented the lack of visible minority writers in mainstream literary festivals and saw the need for one that showcases visible minority writers.
“In the past, many of the mainstream literary festivals were good at recognizing diversity and inclusiveness but as we are seeing, including one or two token visible minority writers is hardly a way to illuminate the writing of a community.,” he told BC Bookworld in September 2014.
He was the driving force behind LiterAsian, an annual literary festival launched in 2013.
The first of its kind in Canada, LiterAsian seeks to promote and celebrate works of Asian Canadian writers through readings and workshops.
This year’s event will be on September 21-24 during which the recipient of the now-renamed “Jim Wong- Chu Emerging Writers Award” will be announced.
One of the most enduring legacy of Jim is Ricepaper magazine published by ACWW.
It was started as a newsletter in the 60s and its first editor was architect and author David Wong who went on to write ‘Escape to Gold Mountain’, a graphic novel about Chinese immigration to North America.
Now a webzine publication, Ricepaper celebrated its 20- year anniversary in 2015 with an anthology – AlliterAsian: Twenty Years of Ricepaper Magazine co-edited by Jim Wong-Chu, Julia Lin and Allan Cho.
This was Jim’s last anthology although he revealed in his Access TV interview that he was working on a book about Chinese immigration in B.C. for the provincial government. The publication of that book nor its title has not been confirmed.
Wong-Chu also spearheaded a Chinese Canadian radio program called Pender Guy and collaborated with Todd Wong to start Gung Haggis Fat Choy .
Among Wong-Chu’s books:
Chinatown Ghosts (Pulp Press, 1986)
Many-Mouthed Birds (D&M, 1991) co-editor.
Swallowing Clouds: An Anthology of Chinese-Canadian Poetry (1999)
Strike the Wok: An anthology of contemporary Chinese Canadian fiction (Toronto: TSAR Publications, 2003) edited by Lien Chao and Jim Wong-Chu.
AlliterAsian: Twenty Years of RicePaper (Arsenal Pulp 2015) co-editor with Allan Cho and Julia Lim.
Ted Alcuitas is the editor and publisher of the online newspaper-philippinecanadiannews.com. He has known and collaborated with Jim for a number of years as a board member of the Asian Canadian Writers’ Workshop.
By: Nick Saul in Toronto
The first thing you notice when you walk into the light-drenched main room at Calgary’s The Alex Community Food Centre is the promise written in loopy script above the open kitchen: “Good food is just the beginning….” Or maybe it’s the bright chairs in Crayola red and blue and green. Or the large family-style tables where everyone gathers to eat delicious homemade meals together. Wherever your eyes happen to land, it’s clear the entire centre is designed to make people in this diverse low-income community feel at home.
At a time when public discourse is deeply polarized, when scarcity rather than generosity frames so much of our collective conversation, when many of us have never felt more disconnected from one another, a beautiful and welcoming public space comes as something of a surprise. Yet there’s nothing accidental about it. The Alex and our other partner Community Food Centres and Good Food Organizations across the country, finding ways to create inclusive, thoughtfully designed spaces is a core priority.
Nobody needs to explain why to Ellen*, a participant in the Diabetes Cooking Group at NorWest Co-op Community Food Centre in northwest Winnipeg: “This place will change your spirit,” she says. “As a newcomer, sometimes you feel discriminated against. But this place lifts you up, pushes the negative thoughts away.”
Creating spaces where people can come together and feel respected, spaces that not only make room for diversity, but actively embrace it, is central to the movement we’re building. It’s an approach rooted in the belief that the physical — how a place looks, feels, flows — plays a big part in determining the social — how people feel, treat one another and work together. When low-income community members step into The Alex or NorWest, Dartmouth North or other Community Food Centres, they see fresh, bright, well-kept rooms, comfy chairs to relax on, maybe fresh flowers on the tables, art or murals on the walls, books and magazines to flip through. Signs direct people to the resources they need. The smell of good food—fresh bread, homemade soup — wafts out of the kitchens. The sounds of laughter and maybe even a bit of live music animates the rooms.
For many low-income community members who live in small apartments or shared rooms, who might work long hours for low pay, who have to spend far too much time in the demoralizing work of negotiating the social service or justice system, Community Food Centres offer not just a nice place to spend time, but a true respite. And at its best it can shift their experience away from deprivation and toward something more interactive, respectful and engaged.
“I feel comfortable as soon as I come in the door,” explains Peter*, who comes for the community lunch program at Dartmouth North CFC. “It’s not like a soup kitchen. For a brief time, I feel like a king. And the food looks like it comes out of a magazine!”
Of course, good food is central to creating these positive, friendly places. Step into The Local CFC in Stratford, ON, and you’ll find yourself in the heart of the kitchen. There’s always a group standing around the big open island mixing or chopping, baking or cooking. The pleasure of cooking and sharing a good meal allows community members to find connections that cut across barriers of language, race, class and culture.
For instance, The Alex CFC recently collaborated with the United Way to organize a potluck at the centre that brought together Aboriginal and Filipino leaders to address a history of conflict between their communities. Individuals ate together, then held a talking circle, and drummed together – activities that helped them focus on the connection between their communities, and sparked a promise to work together more in the future. At the Regent Park CFC in downtown Toronto, the Bengali women’s cooking group celebrated Independence Day by showcasing their substantial cooking chops to others in the neighbourhood. And at the newest Community Food Centre in Hamilton, one of the first programs on offer is an Intercultural Community Kitchen with food from many cultures, and staff and volunteers who speak English, Spanish, Kurdish and Arabic.
In our Annual Program Survey, 95% of people told us they feel part of a community at their CFC — at several centres, that number hit 100%. By creating dignified, safe and engaged spaces where good food fosters belonging, we are striving to challenge the dominant narrative of fragmentation and division. We’re creating the kind of connected, inclusive and diverse future we want to see.
“I want to make friends. I want to belong. I want a community,” Rebecca*, another participant from NorWest's Diabetes Cooking group. “I found it here.”
Nick Saul is the co-founder and President/CEO of Community Food Centres Canada. This piece was republished with permission.
By: Sam Minassie in Toronto
"The World in Ten Blocks" is a two part documentary that offers viewers an in-depth look at one of the most diverse neighbourhoods in Toronto. Bloorcourt is home to a wide range of immigrants from across the world, which is inherently reflected in the small businesses that line its busy streets. Marc Serpa Francoeur and Robinder Uppal originally moved into the community back in 2011 while studying Documentary Media at Ryerson University. Inspired by residents' stories of resilience, they created a linear film, as well as a virtual tour that allows users to interact with shop owners. New Canadian Media conducted an interview with the two filmmakers via email.
Q: What were the biggest influences behind your decision to study Documentary Media?
A: Documentary has been a long-standing interest of ours going back to high school in the early 2000s, where we made our first short doc for a school project. As our interests in social justice, politics, and environmental issues evolved and deepened, documentary film increasingly emerged as the ideal form to bring together our varied skills and passions, including creative writing, journalism, videography, and photography. Moving into documentary work in the online sphere has only broadened these syncretic possibilities.
Q: The interactive tour provides a very unique experience, where did the inspiration for this idea come from?
A: As the children of immigrants, many of the themes explored in the project have long been close to our hearts. "The World in Ten Blocks" actually began as our joint thesis work in the Documentary Media MFA program at Ryerson University in Toronto, for which we originally moved to the city. The documentary is set in the community where we both lived when we started the project, and having gotten to know a few of the immigrant small business owners in the neighbourhood and heard their incredible stories, the idea for the project started to percolate. After producing a 34 min linear film, we began working in earnest on the interactive experience after graduation in mid-2013.
Two of the main underlying motives with this project are to share the diversity of the neighbourhood and to honour the immigration experiences of some of its small business owners. After experiencing projects like Hollow, Welcome to Pine Point, and others, we decided that an interactive documentary would be be the most compelling way to situate those stories in an engaging, user-driven exploration of the geography and history of the neighbourhood.
Q: There seemed to be a lot of thought and hard work that went into the project with Robinder even learning how to code, what would each of you say were the biggest challenges of the project and why?
Making the documentary is just one part of the process; finding an audience is a huge challenge in its own right, and often even the best-funded work falls very flat in this area. As independent producers working in the still relatively unknown realm of interactive doc, we felt that a "media partner" with an established audience who could promote and distribute the project would be a huge hand up for us. Looking at the Canadian media landscape, The Globe and Mail seemed the best fit, especially because we wanted to reach audiences not just in Toronto but across the country. As emerging creators without much of a track record, we were fortunate that the folks at The Globe were willing to give us a chance, especially given the lack of precedent for a partnership like ours (i.e. it's the first major interactive documentary they've hosted). While they didn't fund the project, we see a lot of potential for independent creators and media organizations, big and small, to partner in the delivery of in-depth documentary content that goes far beyond the scope of traditional news coverage.
Q: There are small mentions of the negative effects large corporations have on small businesses, most evident with “Wire’s Variety” which was closed by the time the documentary was released. In your opinion, what can the city do to support Bloorcourt’s independent businesses?
A: From our perspective, some of the most serious structural challenges for independent small businesses in Bloorcourt and throughout Toronto are problems that the city could go a long way toward addressing. Most notable is the lack of commercial rent control, combined with the ability of landlords to decline to renew leases entirely at their own discretion. The city has the capacity to address both of these concerns, and failing to do so will have serious consequences for our communities.
As real estate prices rise, there's often nothing that prevents a landlord from dramatically increasing the rent from one lease cycle to the next. This is a very real threat for all of the city's small businesses who rent and do not own the properties where they operate. Without some measure of rent control for commercial leases—which, keep in mind, is found in some jurisdictions—runaway commercial rents will lead to increasing numbers of downtown Toronto storefronts taken up by corporate chains, destroying the diverse character of neighbourhoods like Bloorcourt.
Unlike with residential tenancy, a commercial landlord can simply refuse to renew a lease at their discretion, despite the considerable investment that a tenant may have made to improve the space, building a customer base, etc. Just this past weekend (May 27th), one of the participant businesses in the project, Courense Bakery, closed suddenly when their landlord refused to renew their lease (apparently because they intend to sell the building). This is a big blow not only for the owners and staff, but for the neighbourhood as a whole, whose successive generations have patronized that bakery for some 35 years.
In addition, we also found out this week that participant business Pam's Roti will be forced to relocate (for the third time), as her landlord is refusing to renew her lease, ostensibly because he intends to install a Subway franchise in the same space. Pam and her husband have invested tens of thousands of dollars in improvements and renovations to the space, and it remains to be seen whether the landlord will compensate them. This touches on a third major issue, which is that very often small businesses lack strong legal counsel when it comes to designing the terms of their lease. Furthermore, it's not uncommon for a tenant to be too intimidated to pursue damages in court, given the generally more substantial financial resources of the landlord. The city could contribute to addressing these power dynamics by providing an ombudsman or legal advisor to review leases, a collection of resources/guides, or other types of legal support for small businesses.
Q: What is the most important lesson you took away from this experience and why?
A: Working on "The World in Ten Blocks" over the last five years has been a profound and life-changing experience for both of us, and we've learned lessons about a great many things along the way. We learned early on that things which seem stable can change very rapidly. For example, the closure of Wire's Variety took us by surprise—we were out of town for a few weeks and returned to a business shuttered after 33 years—and putting Wire's story together was far more difficult because of that. The overarching lesson for us as documentary filmmakers has been to never take for granted the ability to come back and film another day.
Q: What are some other upcoming projects people should look out for?
A: A new project that we're about a year and a half into focuses on a police abuse incident and its legal aftermath. It's set in Calgary, which is where we're from originally. The vision is for a serialized multimedia web piece that will be more reportage and a less immersive experience than Ten Blocks, although there's something of a through-line content-wise as the victim is a young immigrant. Our concept is to offer various levels of engagement: short videos that cover the main beat of a given instalment, with more expansive materials (documents, audio-visuals, etc.) for those that want to dive deeper. In some ways, the project feels like an obvious direction for us as we've long been interested in exploring the shortcomings of our civic institutions, and feel that narrowing in on this particular story will shed light on some of the profound dysfunction of a law enforcement and legal system that lacks fundamental safeguards to prevent the abuse of power.
We also just launched the last installment of League of Exotique Dancers Interactive, the interactive companion piece to the feature doc of the same name that opened Hot Docs 2016. This project presented a different challenge in that we were hired hands who were handed an existing body of material to work with (video, personal archives, score, etc.) and asked to come up with something compelling... which we think we did!
Also, in terms of the future of The World in Ten Blocks, the project has been invited to the prestigious Sheffield Doc/Fest in the UK, which is exciting because it has long been a goal for us to share the diversity and relatively high degree of inclusivity that we enjoy here in Toronto with audiences in Europe. The project will continue to be exhibited at a number of local events, galleries, and festivals, including a six-week installation as part of Making Peace (a multi-year international traveling exhibition) that will be up until the end of June.
One thing that has always been very important to us is to have the project seen and used in schools. To that end, we're really excited to have embarked on an ambitious outreach and knowledge mobilization program that focuses on junior and senior high school students, and utilizes the project to explore diversity, foster inclusivity, and engender appreciation for the historical contribution of immigrant communities to Toronto. We have some stellar collaborators on board who will take the helm to produce an educational guide for use in the classroom, and develop educator- and community-oriented workshops and presentations. We've even had a number of educators get in touch who have already started using the project in their classrooms going back to soon after the launch at the end of 2016, which is very exciting!
In partnership with Apathy is Boring, New Canadian Media will be posting first-person accounts from the 150 Years Young Project, a campaign that highlights the positive impact youth are making throughout their communities.
Stephane Mukunzi, PACE Magazine
“It all comes back to the idea of bringing communities together. The spoken word collectives, the singers, the artists, the painters… they are all present in Ottawa. We just don’t have centralized spaces where people can go to see Ottawa artists and critical thinkers. And that’s what we are trying to achieve with PACE”.
As a twenty-three year-old videographer and photographer, Stephane Mukunzi was fed up with receiving the same old rejection letter after submitting work. After realizing there was no community of young artists in Ottawa’s art scene, Stephane decided to create one himself. He gathered together a group of young creatives and they developed PACE Magazine, a place where young artists and critically minded people could express themselves. Inspired by London’s DIY magazine culture, Mukunzi and his team wanted to maintain the classic element of print media while combining it with innovation and online presence. PACE aims to dismantle the hierarchical nature of art and ensure the representation of indigenous artists, black artists, artists of colour, women artists, immigrant artists, and anyone who may have turned away by the fine arts community.
The PACE team decided to give voice to those who haven’t had a chance to speak to Ottawa, and within the first year of launching, it is clear they have found voices that Ottawa is eager to hear. The magazine has published two print editions, created a website for creative content, and held two successful launch events that featured local photography, spoken word, and art pieces. After this continued foray into Ottawa culture, Stephane fully rejects the idea of Ottawa as a boring city and believes that the many creative scenes, are there to fill cultural needs if you are ready to integrate yourself into them. Looking for that first step? Check out the latest issue of PACE at http://www.pacemagazine.ca/
Khoebe Magsaysay, Artist/Filmmaker/Animator
“It’s really important to embrace and accept your disappointments and failures because they make a strong foundation for your future endeavours.”
Filipino-born Khoebe Magsaysay immigrated to Ontario when she was ten years old. After high school, she enrolled in the Honours Bachelor of Animation program at Sheridan College, and began a time of huge personal growth. At university, she learned to persevere through challenging times, cultivate her talent, and refine her skills as a filmmaker, animator, and artist.
Khoebe landed an internship in New York City for the summer between years three and four of her undergrad at Gameloft, a notable gaming company. Following her internship, Khoebe produced a short film, and the process of making it was very stressful and complex. The film, titled “NIHIL”, is about Adina, a character who is the epitome of perfection. Through a series of events, she comes to question her reality. The success of the film won Khoebe the Via Rail Award for Best Canadian Student Film at the Ottawa International Animation Festival (OIAF), which is considered one of the most prestigious international animation film festivals in the world. Khoebe has continued to excel in her field, working in Toronto at ToonBox Entertainment.
The 150 Years Young Project: In celebration of Canada's 150th birthday, Apathy is Boring is teaming up with community organizers and city ambassadors to recognize positive contributions by youth. Follow the hashtag #150yy for more!
In partnership with Apathy is Boring, New Canadian Media will be posting first-person accounts from the 150 Years Young Project, a campaign that highlights the positive impact youth are making throughout their communities.
Mathura Mahendren, Toronto for Everyone
“I thought I was going to move away from the city, but something keeps drawing me back in. There’s a change for the better coming, and I want to be a part of that.”
Mathura has seen and had opportunities to learn about the strength of community-driven growth. While she proactively takes on roles and responsibilities that allow her to be the proverbial “fly on the wall”, the work she has done, and continues to do for community development, is difficult to dismiss for its impact. Over the past few years, Mathura was given the opportunity to work on Global Health initiatives in Malawi and The Gambia towards implementing sustainable and community-developed innovations in health promotion and education.
As someone who struggles with dichotomies and, instead, operates primarily within the grey-spaces, Mathura stresses the importance of embedded learning experiences in Global Health initiatives. She discusses this concern in the face of work being done with the intention of establishing a “one-size-fits-all” solution to Global Health problems. Her opportunities, she explains, have helped her appreciate the nuances and complexities of individual narratives and how they fit together towards large scale concerns.
Today, Mathura is working actively with the Toronto for Everyone initiative to jumpstart the city towards a more inclusive community that all can feel a part of. Spearheaded by the Centre for Social Innovation, the initiative organized a farewell event at the end of February to honour Honest Ed’s legacy as being an establishment of inherent inclusivity.
Salima Visram, Soular Backpack
“I believe that every human requires food, water, education, access to healthcare, and economic empowerment. I hope that Soular is able to become the catalyst for individuals and communities to develop these essentials for themselves.”
Salima was raised in Kenya and came to Canada for her university education at McGill where she studied International Development and Business. She founded Soular in 2014 after learning that kids were using kerosene to power the lights they used to study with in the evening. Kerosene, when exposed to in large quantities, increases the risk of cancer and several other health problems. These issues also lead to poor performance in school, with many kids unable to move on to secondary education.
Knowing this, and brainstorming several interventions, Salima presented the Soular Backpack – a backpack with solar panels, a battery, and now a lamp that is charged over the course of the day for students to use in the evenings. Her initial Kickstarter campaign was able to fundraise $50,000 towards making this project a reality and get the first 2,500 backpacks on the ground in Kenya. She is hoping that, by the end of May 2017, Soular is able to provide 4,000 kids across Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda with backpacks.
Salima believes that it is important to consider financial sustainability for not-for-profit organizations so that they are able continue working towards their mission independently. She is, therefore, using a one-for-one model to pair buyers from established economies to support the users in East Africa. Salima hopes that Soular is able to expand its impact to the rest of Africa and establish itself towards supporting the education of these students.
The 150 Years Young Project: In celebration of Canada's 150th birthday, Apathy is Boring is teaming up with community organizers and city ambassadors to recognize positive contributions by youth. Follow the hashtag #150yy for more!
Phil Gurski worked for more than three decades in Canadian intelligence, including 15 at Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), and is the author of the Threat from Within and the forthcoming Western Foreign Fighters (Rowan and Littlefield). He blogs at http://www.borealisthreatandrisk.com/blog/
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit