Locals object to Indigenous healing lodge in Scarborough neighbourhood

Residents in southwest Scarborough say an Indigenous healing lodge planned for their neighbourhood is a bad fit for the area, and is being forced on their community without proper consultation. The organization building the lodge is holding an information session in the area Wednesday.

Organization building the lodge to hold information session for residents Wednesday

Tak Wan, in the playground at Cliffside Public School, which is about 100 metres from the proposed site of an Indigenous healing lodge. He and other residents say the lodge shouldn't be so close to schools and playgrounds. (Grant Linton/CBC)

Residents in southwest Scarborough say an Indigenous healing lodge planned for their neighbourhood is a bad fit for the area, and is being forced on their community without proper consultation.

"It's related to crime and I don't want the crime rate to go up in my community," Tak Wan, one of the residents who's opposing the project said Monday. "I don't feel it's safe for that kind of facility to be here."

He also objects to to what he says is a lack of communication with locals. 

"We are not even being consulted," he said. "I'm just upset that we were not even told what was coming until the very end of this project."

The healing lodge has been in the planning process for about two years, according to Thunder Women Healing Lodge Society president Patti Pettigrew, whose organization is behind the project. The society will be holding a community meeting Wednesday at the Birchmount Bluffs Neighbourhood Centre to answer residents' questions.

Patti Pettigrew, the president of the Thunder Woman Healing Lodge Society, says the location is ideal because of its access to social services and transportation, and because of the high Indigenous population in Scarborough, as well its proximity to the lake. (Grant Linton/CBC)

The lodge would offer temporary accommodation and counselling for about a dozen women who are either before the justice system, or are re-integrating into society after their incarceration has ended, according to Pettigrew.

The six-storey building would also contain permanent  apartments for another 12 women who have completed re-integration counselling.

Pettigrew said the vacant lot on the southwest corner of Cliffside Drive and Kingston Road is an ideal location for several reasons: It's in a part of the city with ample social services and good transportation connections.

This vacant lot at the corner of Cliffside Drive and Kingston Road is the proposed site of the new Thunder Woman Healing Lodge. (Grant Linton/CBC)

It also has a high number of Indigenous people and it's close to the lake, "which is very important to us as native women," she said. "We're the protectors of the water."

But residents note that it's also close to two schools — Cliffside Public School and Birch Cliff Public School.

"There are so many possible ways they could do this elsewhere but they chose this area — the worst location possible," said resident Jim Studeny.

"I know they'll be having visitors and they may bring other kinds of elements to the area. It's just a wrong scenario for it to happen," he said.

"I worry about the kids in the area. They're easily influenced and they could get amongst the wrong people. The people who did their time, I feel bad for them but why place them here, now?"

Long-time resident John Ciccone says he'll move if an Indigenous healing lodge is built in the neighbourhood. (Mike Smee/CBC)

One of the people who'll be at Wednesday's meeting is Coun. Gary Crawford, who represents the area.

He said he's hoping to help the two camps find some common ground.

"I felt it was critically important that they reach out to the community because in fact this healing lodge will be part of the community and we want it to be a success if it does happen," he said.

Local Coun. Gary Crawford says he'll be at Wednesday's community meeting to try to help find some common ground between the two sides. (Grant Linton/CBC)

The $12-million project requires approval from the city's committee of adjustment later this month, at which point the public will have more opportunities to express their reservations or support, he said.

Aside from safety, residents also said they're concerned about the increase in traffic the lodge could bring to the neighbourhood.

Heather Candon said more condo construction recently has increased the number of cars in the area.

"I don't feel safe in the neighbourhood," she said. "We have serious traffic issues in this neighbourhood."

John Ciccone said he feels so strongly about the issue that he'll move if the project is eventually cleared by the city.

'Look for somewhere else'

"If this is going to happen I'm going to look for somewhere else," he said.

But Pettigrew countered one of the lessons of the recently completed National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women is that native women need stronger supports within the wider community.

"The over-incarceration of Indigenous women, the massive amounts of youth suicides amongst Indigenous children, the over-representation in the foster care system — all of those things contribute to the need for healing in our community," Pettigrew said.

"That's why I'm doing this.

"I would ask them to keep an open mind, to not base your opinions on fear, but to perhaps, you know, employ some  compassion when you're thinking about this."