Kevin Rupasinge

Fear and Learning is Loathsome     January 2023

On November 17, students at Birchmount Park Collegiate experienced a near fatal stabbing incident. Karen Hume, the fifth Principal in the last two and a half years, provided first aid to the victim until paramedics arrived. Students in the grade eleven class had to step over a pool of blood as they made their exit. When I drove by en-route home, the school was surrounded by police and emergency vehicles. It was the second such occurrence since April.

On December 15, TV Ontario’s Steve Paiken dedicated half of his show to the topic of increasing violence in public schools. First, he interviewed Tia Ryan Matthias, a high school student attending York Memorial Collegiate Institute. She indicated that the violence at her school “…is chaotic. There’s so many things, so much destruction that each and every one of us encounters every single day. There is not much we can really do about it but just hope that it goes away.” Matthias indicated that fights happen daily in the hallways, classrooms, and washrooms and she was constantly afraid of lockdowns occurring when she might not be able to find a classroom with a teacher in it.

Fourteen teachers walked out in protest at York Memorial C.I. on October 31, 2021. According to staff and students, there were not only fights between students, but suspected drug deals and a restroom fight club. Staff members were verbally abused, harassed, and physically assaulted. Three staff members that walked out in protest were particularly worried about their names being present on a student-written jump-list.

(Editor’s note: Fourteen teachers walked out in protest at York Memorial C.I. on October 31, 2021. According to staff and students, there were not only fights between students, but suspected drug deals and a restroom fight club. Staff members were verbally abused, harassed, and physically assaulted. Three staff members that walked out in protest were particularly worried about their names being present on a student-written jump-list.)

Matthias is of the opinion that the possibility of violence makes it harder for her to concentrate on her studies and assignments and feels that a police presence would be helpful. Following the interview, Paiken moderated a panel of five. The panel included a retired elementary school teacher, Eitan Lafeur of the Ontario Secondary School Teacher’s Federation (OSSTF), a community activist, a PhD. who has authored several studies on elementary school violence, and a mother, Anna Sidiropoulos, who has two sons attending Birchmount and sits on its Parent Teacher Council. A representative of the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) was invited but chose not to attend.

The takeaway from the panel discussion was that school violence is on the increase and is not just affecting students, but also teachers, as they are increasingly the targets. Further that the uptick in incidents is systemic and not just “a Toronto thing.” Following the show, I reached out to Sidiropoulos to get her perspective. It was noteworthy that many of the parents Sidiropoulos spoke to felt that a police presence was warranted. However, the experts strongly opposed such a move and had the opinion that police in schools would not lead to positive outcomes.

The comments from Lafeur, the Teacher’s Federation representative, was that more resources (money) would serve to address the issue. This is and has been a constant and seems to be their mantra—more money or as they now say: “greater investment and more resources” is the solution. This is a false narrative when over 25% of the Government of Ontario budget, exclusive of teachers’ pensions, is spent on the education sector (Sun Life Global Portfolio 2019). The more disturbing part of the panel discussion was that increasing violence is becoming normalized by students who have just become used to it and in many cases may not be telling their parents.

Sidiropoulos sits on two school councils: John A. Leslie Public School and Birchmount Park Collegiate, and has done so for several years giving her some insight into to the way the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) conducts itself. The School Council that she chaired for many years requested a community meeting to discuss school violence with no response. Additionally, when asked to comment by the CBC, the Government, Public & Community Relations Executive Officer for the TDSB, Ryan Bird, responded, “I don’t think there is the bandwidth to deal with it this evening.”

Presently, four security cameras sit uninstalled at Birchmount Park Collegiate and a security audit of the school, requested by the school council after the first stabbing incident, has yet to be conducted. These responses or, lack there of, begs the question—what will it take for the TDSB to act?

March 2022

We’ll All Feel the Pain of the Scarborough RT Shutdown

An SRT Train; (above) pulls out of McCowan station headed for Kennedy station to link up with TTC’s line 2. A bus heads southbound on Morningside (right) in the now familiar dedicated bus lane.

Opening a new transit line is not something that happens very often in Toronto. Shutting one down is even rarer – and that’s exactly what is going to happen next year in Scarborough.

 In 2023, the TTC’s Line 3 Scarborough Rapid Transit (SRT) is slated to be closed permanently. It is old, unreliable, and may become unsafe – even if the TTC invested more than $500 million to keep it running for another decade. 

The Scarborough subway extension is scheduled to replace the SRT by 2031. Until then, the TTC’s plan is simply to run shuttle buses to replace the 35,000 daily trips currently handled by the SRT. Most of these trips are between Scarborough Centre and Kennedy; by the TTC’s estimates, travel time will balloon from 10 minutes to 15 to 23 minutes if shuttle buses share the road with car traffic.

This minimal plan will be painful for everyone – unless elected officials bring forward a comprehensive vision to mitigate the impacts. 

These transit delays will make the TTC less appealing, and transit riders that can afford to will switch to driving. This is bad news for existing drivers since more cars means more congestion. Worse, the TTC expects at least 75 shuttle buses per hour are needed to match the SRT capacity – a bus on the road every 48 seconds – which is bad news for everyone, whether you take transit, drive, walk, bike, or live nearby.

We need more viable mobility options, not fewer, to plan for a connected and vibrant Scarborough. 

Repurposing the SRT train guideway into a busway is the best way to speed up the shuttle buses, keeping transit users and drivers happy. However, it will take a couple of years to retrofit the route for buses instead of trains. 

Installing on-street dedicated bus lanes and transit priority traffic signals from Kennedy to Scarborough Centre will ensure that TTC can stay competitive as a transport option. It might seem like repurposing a car lane into a bus lane will cause congestion, but doing nothing would be worse as transit riders switch to driving.

A plan to provide mobility options should include a safe cycling route, with protected bike lanes or multi-use trails to give another choice for local trips, keeping extra cars off roads and freeing up bus seats.

Another huge opportunity is integrating TTC fares with the GO network, which would immediately give Scarborough access to an entire other rapid transit rail network. Most transit riders refuse to pay a double fare to use both GO and TTC, but if the fares were integrated so riders only paid once, people would immediately have another transport choice without crowding onto shuttle buses or getting into a car.

In the words of Zain Khurram, an SRT customer and member of the group TTCriders, “Politicians must act now to keep Scarborough connected.” TTCriders recently published a report outlining actions that governments could take to mitigate the impact of the SRT closure, available at www.ttcriders.ca.  

Scarborough’s economic and social recovery from the pandemic will depend on reliable, quick, cost-effective transportation options. While the SRT closure is going to be a loss for Scarborough, it is an opportunity to add mobility options in the short-term. Long-term, once the subway opens and the busway is no longer needed, that transportation infrastructure could be transformed into a new iconic destination: an elevated park running across the borough, like New York’s High Line.

It all requires our elected officials to be proactive and come up with a robust plan—without one, everyone will feel the pain of seven years of shuttle buses.

Kevin Rupasinghe is a sustainable transportation advocate, Scarborough resident, and holds a Masters in Cities Engineering.