Triumph of Justice Over Politicsv-1

Sunday January 14, 2024
Shahrema Persian Weekly Magazine
Medi Shams - Willowdale Resident


Most of us consider ourselves benevolent, civilized, democratic, justice-seeking, human-friendly, and advocates for the rights of the oppressed and the needy. However, in practice, we realize that we are not what we think, and to justify our actions, which in many cases are directed towards personal interests,  we resort to any door, whether open or closed.

Our Persian saying "Death is good, but for the neighbour" has a close meaning to "Not In My Backyard" (NIMBY) commonly used in English.

Without casting doubt on the humaneness of those opposing the proposed modular housing in Willowdale, we should be pleased that last week,  without being the intention of the court, justice triumphed over politics and prevented the strengthening of the "Not In My Backyard" mentality, setting a precedent for other areas.

Considering Lily Cheng's efforts to respond to the demands of some residents of Willowdale, the ward she represents on the city council, it might be necessary to keep in mind the term "Not In My Ward" (NIMW).

In June 2023, when the case was still ongoing in the Ontario Land Tribunal, Lily Cheng presented two motions; one with notice to relocate (MM7.20), and the other with no notice to improve the project.(MM7.43).

1- In the first motion, she requested that the project be relocated to another location in Willowdale. The current location, due to the existing green space and trees, will be designated a park, and benches will be provided around the trees.

2- In the second motion, she requested that if the first motion failed, the following conditions be considered:
- Modular supportive housing will not include safe or supervised injection services open to the public.
- Modular housing will be for seniors 59 years and older.
- A multilingual Community Liaison Committee will be formed to be working collaboratively with the City to address community concerns during the transition.
- Maximizing green space, and community space and adding lawn furniture around the trees.

The first motion was rejected with 18 negative votes, 2 positive votes (Lily + Ward 22), and 5 absentees.
None of the items in the second motion were approved either.

There is no doubt that Lily Cheng, as a conscientious and dedicated representative, made every effort to address the concerns of opponents of this project. However, if we consider the homeless individuals who are currently seeking shelter or living on the streets in Willowdale as part of the residents of this area, we should admit that Lily not only ignored their rights but also fell short in her duty towards them and has shown discrimination against them.
Especially since providing housing for the homeless is among the responsibilities of municipalities.

The lack of cooperation among councillors and prioritizing the demands of local residents, who generally oppose having such neighbours, will make it impossible to solve a problem that is growing in complexity every day.

In improving the situation for more than ten thousand homeless individuals in Toronto, the municipality approved the construction of modular units in 2020 and implemented its first phase by constructing two complexes in the Scarborough (20-Scarborough SW) and Dovercourt (9-Davenport) areas. The second phase pertains to three complexes located at 175 Cummer (Willowdale), 540 Cederval (14-East York), and 39 Dundalk Dr.(21-Scarborough C) which were approved with unanimous votes in March 2021.

The Cedarval complex, which also faced opposition from residents of that area, commenced operation in November 2022. Unfortunately, opposition to the Willowdale complex took on a different path. Over several years, it has become one of the central issues in municipal and provincial election campaigns.

Neighbourhood associations, neighbours, and one of the real estate developers, which incidentally has Iranian origin, have joined forces to oppose this project. They have appealed to the Ontario Land Tribunal and, up to this date, have prevented the implementation of this project.

For a while, the prefabricated units were placed in the TTC parking at Finch Station for six months. They were then relocated to a longer-term indoor storage facility at a cost of approximately $350,000, with a monthly rent of around $77,000. This delay has not only incurred a cost of over one million dollars for taxpayers but has also deprived 59 individuals of a place to call home.

Municipalities resort to Minister’s Zoning Orders (MZO) to expedite the implementation of such urgent projects. However, in the case of the Cummer project, due to opposition from Willowdale MPP, the Minister's approval was not granted.

In response to the question of what makes this neighbourhood different, John Filion, the former Willowdale councillor who was a staunch supporter of this project, says: " politics in the worst sense of the word."

Stan Cho, MPP, Lily Cheng, City Councillor, Daniel Lee, Provincial and Municipal election candidate, and Georgio Mammoliti, mayoral bi-election candidate and city councillor, have all opposed this project. Given that Ali Ehsassi, the Willowdale MP, has been an ally of John Filion, and both supported Markus Brian Fehr, their preferred candidate, in municipal elections, it should not be surprising that he did not intervene in this matter.

According to John Filion, a few residents of Willowdale, with a loud voice, actively opposed the project by forming the "Voice of Willowdale" group and by organizing protests.

The Bayview/Cummer Neighbourhood Association (BCNA) and five other associations mobilized its members, residents of the area, and seniors from the two neighbouring residential complexes. They fundraised, contacted the municipality, and participated in the Ontario Land Tribunal (OLT) as an applicant to actively oppose this project.

It's not surprising that Livant, the developer, has also opposed this project by contacting the municipality, providing financial assistance, and being the other applicant for a review in the court.

It appears reasonable for elected representatives to respond to the wishes of the resdent of their ward and those who have voted for them. However, considering that, in many cases, the majority of people remain silent, indifferent, or on the sidelines—whether during elections or concerning social issues—one may infer that politicians are swayed by a small, yet active, subset of individuals or groups wielding financial, political, or social influence. The anticipation of justice from such a system seems misdirected, fostering a sense of frustration.

Constructing homes for the most vulnerable segments of society, those without both voting power and a vocal presence in the current democratic framework consistently encounters resistance from neighbours and is anticipated to confront similar challenges in the future.

Oppositions of this nature are currently being justified, and will likely continue to be justified in various locations, employing a range of reasons and excuses.

 Examining what happened in this case, and comprehending our societal dynamics, democracy, and social justice are crucial enough to be explored in uture articles.

Farsi Version (Shahrema Weekly Persian magazin)

"We have to shut down a piece of our humanity so that we can continue on our way and pass by another human being who is in such a difficult situation."

The Modular Housing Initiative was comprised of two phases and was estimated to cost $47.5 million. Capital contributions consisted of $28.75 million from the City’s Development Charges Reserve Fund for Subsidized Housing and $18.75 million from the federal


Six Association in Opposition with the project

Stan Cho's letter to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing requesting the disapproval of the MZO






Last Edited 21/01/2024 - For all comments on this site