With COVID-19 dominating the front page of every Canadian news outlet, here’s a recent round-up of non-pandemic related news.

Ontario’s transit routes are growing fast

The Province of Ontario is aggressively moving forward to implement its Scarborough Subway Extension and Eglinton Crosstown West Extension projects. The move reflects Ontario’s commitment to making transit faster, reducing congestion, and connecting people and businesses to their destinations sooner. 

The new rapid transit plan includes four major subways altogether: Ontario Line, Scarborough Subway Extension, Yonge North Subway Extension, and the Eglinton Crosstown West Extension.

“We are building a modern, efficient rapid transit system that provides benefits for all transit riders and taxpayers,” said Minister of Transportation Caroline Mulroney in a meeting with Federal leaders in March.

Legislation to advance the four subway projects was proposed on February 18 by Minister Mulroney. The Building Transit Faster Actwas introduced as a workable strategy to remove obstacles in the way of the “planning, design, and construction process.” 

Such obstacles had previously delayed past projects, including the subway construction.

Ontario announced last April its historic transportation vision, costing the province $28.5 billion. On March 10, Premier Doug Ford, joined by Minister Mulroney, invited the Federal government to help fund at least 40 per cent of the rapid transportation plan being constructed in the GTA. 

The province has joined a “coalition of municipal partners” supporting the construction plan. Metrolinx and Infrastructure Ontario (IO) have already applied on March 10 to begin the first phase of work for the two projects. 

U of T group pleads with university to divest from fossil fuels 

Leap U of T, a student climate change activist group, has started an online petition calling on the university to distance itself from fossil fuels by committing to a number of environmentally themed actions. 

Amongst the six demands, the petition appeals U of T to declare a climate emergency, commit to achieving zero-net carbon emissions by 2030, as well as increase environmental and sustainability education on campus.

Launched in collaboration with other climate justice organizations, including the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG Toronto), the petition boldly questions investment practices by the University of Toronto Asset Management Corporation (UTAM). 

The petition calls on UTAM to “withdraw from, and henceforth not pursue, investments in companies that explore for or develop reserves of fossil fuels.”

The petition further demands that U of T’s Long-Term Capital Appreciation Pool (LTCAP) and its Expendable Funds Investment Pool (EFIP) both become subject to “a system of decarbonization consistent with Paris Agreement targets for Canada.”

U of T’s LTCAP pool represents the university’s capital assets; its EFIP pool is an endowment fund.

The university responded to The Varsity through a spokesperson, saying it remained “committed to playing a leadership role in addressing climate change” through researching, teaching, and reducing campus carbon footprints. 

In their response to The Varsity, U of T also noted UTAM’s efforts to reduce the endowment and pension fund’s carbon footprint by 40 per cent over the next decade. 

Leap U of T’s petition was published on their Facebook page, where students, staff, and faculty may still review other recommendations and submit signatures until April 2, 2020. 

Peel School Board called out for “racism and discrimination” 

A report on racism in the Peel District School Board (PDSB) was released on March 13 by Minister of Education Stephen Lecce. 

The report findings slammed inaction by the Peel Board’s senior administration and trustees, citing their failure to call out anti-Black racism in schools. 

Three reviewers who were sent to investigate the Peel Board found unaddressed issues in their leadership and equity practices. The report also detailed a lack of diverse staff, and barely any Black guidance counsellors. 

“The accounts of systemic racism and discrimination documented in the report are deeply troubling and will not be tolerated,” said Minister Lecce in a statement. 

The report was released after a request was made for “assistance and intervention” by the former Chair and Vice-Chair of the Board of Trustees in November 2019. Once the panel of reviewers began investigating these complaints, many more underlying problems arose. 

Only some of the grievances highlighted in the 46-page document include: 

  • Lack of racialized teachers or racialized curriculum narratives 
  • Minor issues leading to Black-students’ arrests and stigmatization
  • “Degrading, inappropriate, and racist comments” made by teachers and principals towards Black students 
  • Disproportionate number of Black students facing suspension and drop-out

According to the report, many of those suspensions do not meet standards set by the Ministry of Education. When it came to arrests, small issues were escalated “unnecessarily […] involving police for minor issues leading to arrests and stigmatization of Black children at a very young age.” 

The report revealed that Black children were leaving the Peel Board “because it is not safe for them.”

The review also reported concerns of Islamophobia felt by Muslim students and community members. Accounting for the largest religious group in the PDSB community, 22.4 per cent of secondary school students, Muslim students described “conflict referable to prayers in PDSB schools and the presence of White supremacists at a meeting of the Board of Trustees.”

Concerns about anti-Semitic language and displays were also recorded in the review. 

“After decades of inaction, I want to see swift implementation of my directions to drive the necessary and positive change that students deserve,” said Lecce. 

The Ministry of Education plans to monitor the Board’s implementation of the recommendations made in the report. Lecce pledged to “hold (PDSB members) to account to deliver transformational change that will put every student on a path to success.”

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