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Healing lodge for Indigenous women in conflict with the law wins approval amid controversy
July 26, 2019
Laurie Monsebraaten

Toronto’s first Indigenous healing lodge for women in conflict with the law has been given the green light.

Scarborough’s committee of adjustment approved the proposal Thursday despite an emotionally charged community meeting last month and objections by nine residents at Thursday’s meeting who raised concerns about parking, increased crime and declining property values.

Four supporters, most of whom are also area residents, urged the committee to approve the project and were thrilled by the decision.

“I don’t even have words to describe it,” said Patti Pettigrew, board president of the Thunder Woman Healing Lodge Society.

“I’m just elated. And I am so grateful. This is going to help a lot of women,” she said, tearing up with emotion after the meeting.

The decision, which gave the nod to a set of minor variances for the building, is final, pending appeal to the Toronto Local Appeal Body, which replaced the Ontario Municipal Board in 2017. The board can dismiss an appeal or order a full hearing.

The healing society says the facility, proposed for the corner of Kingston Rd. and Cliffside Dr., poses no community safety threat and is one way to address last month’s damning report on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

The 24-bed program is aimed at helping women on parole or on probation who are transitioning back into society, as well as those who are on bail and not convicted of any crime, the society’s lawyer Alex Lusty told the committee.

A proposed healing lodge slated to be built on Kingston Rd. and Cliffside Dr. is shown in an architect's sketch.

The proposed six-storey building includes commercial space on the ground floor with single rooms and apartments on the upper floors. It will provide restorative care, supportive housing and gathering spaces for cultural programming, including an outdoor sweat lodge and fire pit, Lusty said.

It would be the first of its kind in Ontario and only one of three in the country.
Area Councillor Gary Crawford, who was not able to attend the meeting, said the decision means “the project is moving forward.

“Let’s see where things go in the next 20 days,” he added, referring to the appeal period. “The committee has made the decision based on the application before them and I understand they were very respectful of everybody who was there.”

But tempers flared after the meeting with several residents charging the committee of ignoring their concerns.

“You have 24 people there who have committed crimes (and) you have two supervisors,” resident Paul Chamberlain told reporters after the meeting. “How are they going to take care of that situation? These people are going to have drug traffickers. They will be there like bees to honey. It’s just a big mistake and they haven’t thought it through.”

During a raucous community meeting in June, residents complained about lack of notice of the project, even though a public meeting was not legally required.

While some residents said the project needs more parking for staff -- just one space is included -- others worried about a lack of area services for the women, and fears for children in nearby schools. Those concerns were echoed in 17 letters of opposition submitted to the committee.

However, in more than two-dozen letters of support, others said the project should be approved in light of the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation report.

“Creating safe, healing spaces for Indigenous women is what reconciliation looks like,” wrote Toronto East York resident Michelle Kushni.