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In Jane-Finch, leaders fume at ‘terrible betrayal’ after Metrolinx goes back on plan to donate land for community centre
July 24, 2020
Ben Spurr

Leaders in the Jane-Finch neighbourhood say they’re outraged by news Metrolinx is scrapping plans to donate land for a community hub in their area, while opposition parties called on Premier Doug Ford’s government to step in and reverse the decision.

As the Star reported Wednesday, Metrolinx, the provincial transit agency for the GTHA, told the local city councillor last week that it wouldn’t make land near a new Finch West LRT maintenance and storage facility available for an arts and culture centre that local groups have been planning for years.

Despite previously signalling its intention to make the land available for the project after the $1.2 billion LRT’s completion, now scheduled for 2023, the agency said it intends to sell the property instead.

Butterfly GoPaul, a resident member of Jane Finch Action Against Poverty, said Thursday Metrolinx’s decision was galling but not surprising. She said it follows a pattern of government authorities underinvesting in her community, where more than three-quarters of residents are visible minorities and more than a quarter live in low-income households.

“This is how they consistently treat Jane and Finch,” she said. “They look at racialized working poor communities as a joke. And this community’s not a joke.

“We wanted something beautiful and something that our community deserves,” she said of the proposed Jane Finch Community Hub and Centre for the Arts.

A rendering of the proposed Jane Finch Community Hub and Centre for the Arts.

GoPaul noted that at least two arts programs in the area have closed down in recent years, despite local support. She said it’s exhausting for community members to pour their energy into plans to improve their neighbourhoods only to have their efforts “taken away” by unsupportive government partners.

Tiffany Ford, a former Toronto District School Board trustee who grew up in the Jane-Finch community and was involved in previous discussions about the hub, said Metrolinx’s reversal was “shocking.”

 “It really isn’t fair,” she said. “It’s been so many years that we’ve been talking about this.”

Ford said local residents saw the community centre as reasonable compensation for having the Finch LRT maintenance and storage facility located in the heart of their neighbourhood. The facility will include a train yard, electrical substation, and 9,000-square-metre garage and office building.

“Nobody wants a train yard in their community,” Ford said. “The community’s already stigmatized.”

The proposed community hub would be located on a 32-metre-wide strip of land north of Finch Avenue West and south of the LRT garage, between Norfinch Drive and York Gate Boulevard. Although no firm agreement was ever signed, Michelle Dagnino, executive director of the Jane Finch Centre, a registered charity in the area, said in a statement that Metrolinx “repeatedly” committed to set the strip of land aside for the hub.

A rendering of the exterior of the proposed Jane Finch Community Hub and Centre for the Arts.

A 58-page feasibility study drafted by the Jane Finch Centre and other groups in November 2019 after consultations with nearly 1,500 people listed among the hub’s possible amenities a theatre, recording studio, swimming pool, and community kitchen, as well as a business incubator, youth lounge and mental health services.

“Metrolinx going back on their pledge would be a terrible betrayal to this community, especially at a time when this neighbourhood is still reeling from the impacts of COVID-19,” said Dagnino.

In a statement, Tom Rakocevic, the New Democrat MPP for the area, said “Jane and Finch families are counting on this community hub, and the decision to abruptly change course on this visionary project is a devastating blow.”

Rakocevic (Humber River--Black Creek) described Metrolinx’s decision as “cruel” and urged Premier Ford “to do the right thing” and direct Metrolinx to overturn it.

Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca also issued a statement, accusing Ford of “turning his back” on families in the Jane-Finch neighbourhood.

“This is just the latest in a growing list of blows Doug Ford has struck at vulnerable and racialized communities including cuts to the Anti-Racism Directorate, the Black Youth Action Plan and after school programs,” Del Duca said. He called on Ford to “honour the original plan.”

As public opposition mounted Thursday, Metrolinx spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins issued a statement saying the agency remains “100 per cent committed to getting this community hub built.”

While Metrolinx still intends to sell off the land, which the city estimates is worth between $7 million and $9 million, Aikins said the agency is exploring “a variety of innovative options to support this important community hub project.” But she noted any solution “will need to follow all standard directives and ensure value for tax dollars.”

Aikins suggested a community centre could be included in a future private development built on the site through Metrolinx’s transit-oriented development program.

The Ontario Progressive Conservative government, which has exercised close control of Metrolinx, attempted to distance itself from the Jane-Finch controversy Thursday. Asked whether the province ordered the agency to not donate lands for the community hub, Christina Salituro, spokesperson for Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney, said “at no point did (the ministry) direct Metrolinx to not support” the project.

“Metrolinx has stated that they are 100 per cent committed to building the community hub. To achieve this, we expect Metrolinx to bring forward options that align with standard procedure and ensure value for tax dollars,” Salituro said.

In a statement, Mayor John Tory pledged to hold Metrolinx to its commitment to get the community hub built.

“I am confident there are many ways for Metrolinx and the provincial government to work with the City of Toronto to make this important project for the Jane-Finch community a reality,” he said in a statement.