Thursday, 28 May 2015

Michael Sam already has a legacy

Michael Sam has become an inspiration to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community everywhere. Drafted by his hometown St. Louis Rams, Michael Sam installs himself as a beacon to his various communities.

Originally projected to go as high as late in the first round, Sam saw his stock fall to the 249th pick overall. Should this be considered a disappointment? Absolutely. However, what is relevant is that Sam was drafted at all. Ultimately Sam never made the Rams roster. Following a tryout with the Dallas Cowboys he found himself outside the NFL.  But where the NFL failed, the Canadian Football League (CFL) has stepped up. The Montreal Alouettes' signing of Michael Sam instantly makes him the most famous athlete in today's CFL. Is this on par with baseball's Jackie Robinson or Hank Greenberg? Perhaps.

Sam has an opportunity to bring down walls that other openly gay athletes in traditionally 'macho' sports have not been able to do. Jason Collins has come out in the twilight of his basketball career. Professional wrestlers Orando Jordan and Fredrick Rosser (known by his ring name Darren Young) have yet to prove that they are anything more than mid-card draws. Despite being considered relatively small in stature and a step slower than the average DE-OLB swing man, Sam was able to put together a top tier career at the college level. He can still prove himself an all-star caliber athlete on par with Robinson and Greenberg.

I grew up in Toronto. My grandfather was an Argonauts' season ticket holder. He made a huge Argo fan out of me. His influence led me to follow the careers of men like Nate Burleson, Igor Olshansky, Doug Flutie, and of course, Michael "Pinball" Clemons. But as a member of the LGBT community, there was no one like Michael Sam in my youth. Michael Sam offers young men an opportunity to see themselves succeed at a professional level.

His college career proved him a man with a great degree of talent. He should be able to earn himself a shot on the Alouettes' defence. That could very well give him an opportunity to succeed. And if his college career was any indication he should be contention for the CFL's most outstanding defender.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Barriers to quality and accessible education

A 2001-02 study by the Ontario Human Rights (OHR) Commission found 100,735 students at the secondary level received special education programs and/or services in the publicly funded school system. It stands to reason that many of these students have gone or will go on to a post-secondary institution. Barriers to education can take a variety of forms. They can be physical, technological, systemic, financial, or attitudinal. They can arise from an education provider’s failure to make available a needed accommodation, or to provide one in a timely manner. In Eldridge v. British Columbia (Attorney General), the Supreme Court of Canada found that “once the state does provide a benefit, it is obliged to do so in a non-discriminatory manner.... The principle that discrimination can accrue from a failure to take positive steps to ensure that disadvantaged groups benefit equally from services offered to the general public is widely accepted in the human rights field.”

In order for persons with disabilities to receive equal treatment in education, they must have equal access to educational opportunities. The duty to accommodate includes identifying and removing barriers that impede the ability of persons with disabilities to access educational services. The OHR Commission’s Disability Policy affirms the duty of education providers to structure their programs and policies so as to be inclusive and accessible for persons with disabilities, and to take an active role in the accommodation process. Throughout the consultation, the Commission heard that students with disabilities continue to experience physical barriers to educational services. As stated by the KIDS’ Coalition: “Students may be unable to attend their local school due to lack of physical accessibility. Many schools are multi-level and the installation of elevators may be impractical or too costly. Parts of the school may be inaccessible due to lack of ramps, heavy doors, site elevation or playground features. Many schools do not have washrooms suitable for students with disabilities.”

It was the OHR Commission’s policy position, as outlined in the Disability Policy, that “when constructing new buildings, undertaking renovations, purchasing new computer systems, launching new Web sites, (or) setting up new policies and procedures... design choices should be made that do not create barriers for persons with disabilities.”

Where barriers already exist, the duty to accommodate requires education providers to make changes up to the point of undue hardship to provide equal access for persons with disabilities. If, after making the required changes, persons with disabilities are still unable to participate fully, education providers have a duty to accommodate any remaining needs up to the point of undue hardship.

Potential solutions could be had in the way of: (1) That the Ontario Building Code be amended to reflect the legal requirements set out in the Human Rights Code; and (2) that, irrespective of when the Building Code is amended, post secondary institutions comply with the requirements of the Human Rights Code and the principles outlined in the Disability Policy when constructing buildings, making renovations, and designing programs and services.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Karen Stintz wanders in to school board Territory

I have come out in support of John Tory's candidacy for the office of Mayor of Toronto. However, this should not suggest that I cannot appreciate the plans coming from other candidates. Sarah Thomson, in particular, I think has some very thoughtful ideas. But yesterday, Karen Stintz, the former Chair of the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), came out with an innovative and ingenious idea. She proposed opening access to city and school board owned fields.

Some of what Stintz is proposing will seek assistance from the private sector to repair and improve fields. While not a guarantee to work, this would be welcome, as it would finally get away from the Miller-Ford record of raising property taxes and begging the higher orders of government for more public cash.

More importantly, Stintz is proposing consolidating operations between city and board owned sport facilities, while also limiting a board's ability to sell property in areas where fields are scarce. While this weighs into an area that is arguably out of the reach of the Office of the Mayor, Stintz should be commended for finally standing up to school board chairs, in particular Toronto District School Board (TDSB) Chair Chris Bolton and his allies like York Centre Trustee Howard Kaplan, who have long advocated spending while selling key assets. The Miller-Ford administration was always too fearful to wade into such waters.

The fact is, citizens do not care who owns their public fields. They just want them to be there when the need them. Having the City and the four school boards work together is absolutely necessary to make this happen. This will prevent future Mayor and school board representatives from having to turn their pockets inside out in front of the Premier; something we have seen far to much of during the tenures of both Bolton and Ford.

Kudos to Ms. Stintz. I still intend to vote for John, but I do hope this is an idea that he is willing to implement should he become the next Mayor.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Justice for pedestrians

I've often said, "For all the talk in the City of Toronto about 'the car' v. 'the bike', this is a city that is not very pedestrian friendly."

I am all for a discussion of better cycling infrastructure and making a commute easier for drivers. But let us not forget the other individuals here. Pedestrians make up a large cross section of our city. As one myself, I walk anywhere within approximately ten blocks (in any direction) of my home.

From the moment we, as pedestrians, step onto a sidewalk we are competing with those operating some form mobile that can cause us harm. Cyclists, who are subject to the Motor Vehicle Act under the law, often operating their vehicle on in what should be a pedestrian-only lane; the sidewalk. Many pay very little regard for to those walking.

Worse still, is every single intersection in the City. Now we are forced to compete with cyclists AND motor vehicles. Where cyclists have chosen to ignore all standard laws, drivers simply do not care to pay attention.
Since moving back to Toronto from Sudbury in six years ago I have felt this is an accident waiting to happen. But what prompted me to write this today?

Well yesterday, my wife was hit by a car.

Yes. You read that correctly.

She was lucky enough to come out of this altercation more or less okay. But this incident should be a lesson to drivers and cyclists across this city. LOOK BOTH WAYS!

Pedestrians are vulnerable. Just because we cannot injure you, does not mean you cannot injure us. Do not merely watch out for oncoming traffic, but also for those crossing at legitimate cross walks.

Government can help too; especially in school zones. The Toronto District School Board and the City of Toronto have a responsibility to citizens to protect them when other citizens will not take the responsibility to do it for them.

I am calling on the City to better post speed limits and stop signs at four way stops. The police should also make sure to properly ticket those infringing upon the motor vehicle act. This includes cyclists on sidewalks. Polices services can also assist by posting more crossing guards in and nearby school zones.

It is unfortunate, but government must remember: an individual is smart, but people are stupid. They do not pay attention and they do not care. Yesterday proved this.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Oh, Doug Ford...

Doug Ford, the campaign manager of scandal ridden brother and Mayor of Toronto Rob Ford, has done something very important. He has opened up the world to the trials and difficulties of what it means to be a parent of or an individual living with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Given his comments regarding the subject this was clearly not his intention.

After showing up twenty-five minutes late for a meeting his office organized Doug Ford, who is also the councillor for Ward 2 – Etobicoke North, made a number of very offensive comments regarding the residents of a residential group home known as the Griffin Centre.

The Griffin Centre houses developmentally disabled youth with mental health issues. Some of the youth residing there happen to have ASD. Given the particular concerns with some of the residents there may be an occasion in which emergency services must be called in to provide assistance. This should not be considered unusual. Given the amount of time emergency services had found themselves at the Mayor’s personal residence I would have expected Councillor Ford to understand the necessity of an emergency service professional from time to time. However, that does not appear to be the case. Following a strange campaign-style comment regarding the city needing more subways (side note: the Ford plan for transit would not include a subway extension to anywhere in Etobicoke) Councillor Ford has seemingly made up his mind long before the meeting had begun. Following the verbal abuse from residents of the Kipling Avenue and West Humber Boulevard Area, Griffin Centre staff was forced to hear their local councillor attack them, stating, “We can’t have fire truck and police cars and EMS there all the time and eight cars parked on the street. You’ve ruined the community.”

He continued, “You can’t destroy a community like this. People have worked thirty years for their home... My heart goes out to kids with autism. But no one told me they’d be leaving the house. If it comes down to it, I’ll buy the house myself and resell it.”

The comment about forcefully purchasing the house and reselling it is an odd one. Anyone with a conservative belief of personal property and the need to keep government out of such business would oppose such action. Councillor and Mayor Ford have previously professed a belief in such policy. However, that appears to have been one of the many lies they have found themselves caught in.

The comment regarding autistic children is just plain offensive. This is where it gets personal for me. I am the parent of a five and half year old little girl who loves to sing and dance and is incredibly intelligent and happens to be on the ASD spectrum. Believe me when I say when you attack her you attack me. And when you attack one member of ‘autism nation’ you attack us all.

Ford Family; you have mobilized some of the most determined people around. We are the parents of and those living with ASD. And year will be hearing from us. Ford Nation will come and go, but autism nation is not going anywhere.

We will be seeing you on the campaign trail.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Stintz throws her hat in the ring

Karen Stintz, the Chair of the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) and frequent thorn in the side of Mayor Rob Ford, has publicly declared that her name will be on the ballot in next year’s mayoral election. She joins the City’s current Mayor and fellow fiscal conservative David Soknacki, former Budget Chief, as declared candidates.

Long considered a potential fiscal conservative candidate for Mayor, Stintz has positioned herself over the Ford years as one who can put her name forward as a credible anti-Ford conservative voice. Her role as Chair of the TTC has given her the ability to differentiate herself on key issues such as subways and taxation.
In an interview Stintz chose to exclusively give to the Toronto Sun, she declared, “We’re different people [she and Ford] with different views around what it means to work for the city and work for the people. If Ford get’s re-elected we will stand still for four years.”

Differentiating herself from Ford will not be easy out of the gate. She has already recruited Don Guy to lead her campaign team. Some may remember Guy as the political savant behind former Premier Dalton McGuinty’s three consecutive election victories.

“The David Miller years are still fresh in people’s minds and I think many people fear going back to a [David Miller mentality], which I believe would take us back. So it a question for the city, ‘Are we going to go back, stand still or move forward?’”

This is the message Stintz made a point to send many currently in Rob Ford’s corner. This is the message she will attempt to reiterate during the course of her run. She is not Rob Ford. She is does not come the now internationally renowned Ford family baggage. However, she is more than prepared to defend the mutual Ford-Stintz record of both achievement and failure on the transit file.

The only question remaining is whether or not there are enough Torontonians looking for another candidate willing to stand on the Rob Ford record.

If nothing else, I do believe Torontonians are looking for an alternative. I am not fully certain who that may be. However, I suspect neither Stintz nor Soknacki is that individual.

Olivia Chow, the New Democratic Party Member of Parliament for Trinity-Spadina, and of course, John Tory, former leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, are also rumoured to be mulling runs for the top seat.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Accepting Autism

In my twenty-seven years I feel like I have overcome quite a bit. I was diagnosed with a learning disability when I was twelve. I was diagnosed as meeting the clinical definition of depression when I was fifteen. Over the years this has been expanded to include an anxiety disorder and a ‘chemical imbalance’. At seventeen I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in my right knee – more commonly occurring in individuals three or four times my age. However, none of those experiences prepared me for a meeting I was to have regarding my daughter on an otherwise uneventful Thursday morning.

I sat in this small room with two doctors as they went through their various assessments of her behaviour and why they felt her worthy of the official diagnosis of “Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) – high functioning”; also known as, Asperger Syndrome. As a parent, there was nothing that could have prepared me for sitting in this room while doctors told me that my perfect little girl may not be perfect. My heart sank, and frankly, I just had an overwhelming sense of fear. That is a word that has taken many aback, but let me explain.

When I heard those words about my child for the first time all I could see was those people that would treat her differently because they couldn’t see past that word: “AUTISM”. Would she ever be able to fall in love? Would she get married? Would she have children?

These are all things I want for her. It breaks my heart to think these life landmarks may be more difficult for her to come by.

After nearly two month to consider her future and talk to others; most importantly my wife, with children or family somewhere on the spectrum I have come to some realizations. The first and most important being that she is still the same girl she always has been. She is a lovable, playful, outgoing child who just wants to dance and sing. She is also going to be helped by this official diagnosis. The Toronto District School Board will now be legally obligated to meet her additional needs, where they were initially sitting on their hands during her first year. And, of course, that is just the beginning.

Meeting my daughter’s needs will be a much more involved process than meeting my own was. My learning disability required a little bit extra time on tests and gave me the opportunity of a credited study hall. Both my wife (who is luckily acting as my rock during this trying time) and I will be advocating for our daughter in some capacity for our entire lives. But frankly; there is no other person in this world I would rather advocate for.

For other parents in a similar situation reading this, please share your stories with me at