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Toronto In Review: March

City workers make concessions, ban on brothels overturned, Occupy Toronto back in the news

by Toronto Media Co-op

A monthly news roundup
A monthly news roundup

On March 26, an Ontario Court of Appeals decision struck down a ban on brothels. It modified the law against living off the avails of the sex trade so that sex workers can hire staff and, as activist Valerie Scott has memorably pointed out, have housemates and give presents to people without risking their arrest. But in a split decision, the court upheld the “communication” law under which, according to Ryerson Professor Emily van der Muelen, the majority of arrests are made. Keisha Scott of Maggie’s, a Toronto-based organization run by and for sex workers, described it as “a letdown for the most vulnerable sex workers who are largely street, Indigenous and transgendered sex workers.”

To avoid a conflict with Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) First Nation, the Ontario Government paid Toronto-based mining company God's Lake Resources $3.5 million to abandon their claim to part of KI territory. Three weeks earlier, members of KI had attended a protest in Toronto to help build support in their struggle to defend their land.

Ninety per cent of the City of Toronto's  indoor workers have accepted a new contract. Unlke library workers, who were on strike for a short period before ratifying a new deal, inside workers accepted an agreement without a strike action. The deal saw the union make major concessions on job security and the elimination of some benefits. The remaining ten percent of part-time workers have ratified their deal, and City council will vote on it soon. Airline pilots and machinists at Air Canada were prevented from going on strike after the Conservative government ordered them back to work. It was the third time that the government had threatened or passed back-to-work legislation against federal workers in the last year and a half. Two of the three unions affected have launched a charter challenge against the legislation.

A roving "Torture Tour” visited several sites in the Toronto area that are complicit in torture, including knowingly deporting people to countries where they will be tortured. The tour took place in the wake of revelations that Public Safety Minister, Vic Toews, gave CSIS permission to share information that could lead to torture, and to use intelligence derived from torture.

Activist and political prisoner Peter Hopperton was released from jail on the morning of March 15th, after serving 107 days in custody. He had previously been sentenced for one count of counseling to commit mischief while organizing against the G20 summit in June 2010. Another G20 target, Byron Sonne, saw his trial wrap up in March. Sonne, who has been vilified by Crown Attorneys for his interest with G20 security preparations, will return to court for a verdict on April 23.

Some Occupy Toronto members, frustrated with Occupy's General Assembly (GA) workings, held the first of a series of Alternative General Assemblies aimed at using better facilitation and decision making systems. Meanwhile Occupy Wall Street celebrated its one year anniversary in New York by having people retake Zucotti park and get arrested.

Occupy Toronto also blockaded the street in front of Toronto Police's 52 Division for a number of hours in response to the arrest of several of its members, and the vicious beating of at least one individual, by two bicycle officers on March 30th at a weeks long mini-occupation next to City Hall. The violence comes in the wake of a rash of police shootings and violent indicents in the last few years, including the death of Michael Eligon, who was shot point blank by officers as he wandered the streets in a hospital gown. One of the deaths has resulted in a charge of second-degree murder against Const. David Cavanagh. Despite 'outrage' from the TPS Union, who claim they have 'lost faith in the system', it is the first time one of their own has ever been charged for any of the numerous killings of city residents by Toronto Police officers.

The final nail was slammed into Mayor Rob Ford's Transit coffin, as City Council rejected the Mayor's Sheppard subway plan by voting to approve a Light Rail plan on the route. Ford, who notoriously attempted to delay the vote after a day-long debate on the issue, expressed frustration with council's will, shouting that Toronto voters gave him a mandate to build "subways, subways, subways!" Councillor Doug Ford, the Mayor's brother, was even less tactful, making a number of derisive comments about city governance, calling it a "nanny state" and publicly turning on former allies.

Bidding for the 88.1FM frequency, which was repossessed by the CRTC from Canada's first and longest running campus community radio station, has closed. Radio Ryerson was the sole applicant pushing to keep the license from being bought by commercial radio stations. The group, which argued that the station should continue to be used for the community and Ryerson campus, as well as to support local emerging artists, faces fierce competition for the spot on the broadcast dial. Around 20 other radio stations are bidding for the license, with a hearing set for sometime in May.

Activists lamented the cut off of $5 million in provincial funding to fight bed bugs, $1.2 million of which was in Toronto. The funding, which went to providing nurses and inspectors for bed bugs, is being cut from this year's Ontario budget.

The world's longest surviving lesbian and gay bookstore was saved from the graveyard of other independents such as Pages, This Ain’t the Rosedale Library and Dragon Lady by concerted community action. March was the beginning of a new era at Glad Day Bookshop. A consortium of 20 community members had their first taste of life as bookstore owners, after purchasing the struggling store from retiring owner John Scythe, who had owned it since 1991.

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