Parents, school board protest loss of crossing guard near location of Toronto van attack

Parents and school Toronto Catholic District School Board officials are pressuring Toronto police and Mayor John Tory to reinstate a crossing guard who worked metres from where the Toronto van attack occurred.

Study showed intersection at Kempford Avenue and Yonge Street doesn't need guard, police say

Delareese Mackenzie says not having a crossing guard means more worry for parents. 'I mean, lights can only do so much.' (Greg Ross/CBC)

Parents and Toronto Catholic District School Board officials are pressuring Toronto police and Mayor John Tory to reinstate a crossing guard who worked metres from where the Toronto van attack occurred.

Michelle Bell, whose son goes to St. Cyril Catholic School, is worried that removing a crossing guard at Kempford Avenue and Yonge Street could not only affect her child's safety, but also hurt the overall sense of security in the community.

"It's going to take a long time for people to get over what happened," she said. "So removing that extra safety is not a good idea. Not at this time."

Parent Delareese Mackenzie says the traffic in Toronto warrants a crossing guard. She says she worries for her son, who will be going into Grade 6 this September. 

"It puts more worry on the parents — having them have to cross these busy streets alone," she said. "I mean, lights can only do so much."

School board pushing to get guard reinstated

The crossing guard was removed by police on May 30 without warning or consultation.

Maria Rizzo, vice chair of the Catholic school board, says the decision was callous and insensitive, given the close proximity of the intersection to where the van attack occurred in April, killing 10 people and injuring more than a dozen others.

"I expect more from our public service, especially the police," she told CBC Toronto.

Rizzo says families are still experiencing distress from the van assault that happened only two months ago.

The intersection at the corner of Kempford Avenue and Yonge Street, where students have to cross six lanes of traffic. (Greg Ross/CBC)

"[The attack] easily could have occurred at 3:30 p.m. and not at 1:30 p.m.," she said. "I think the impact of that has caused a great deal of anxiety to the people who work at the school, to the parents and families involved and the kids."

Earlier this month, the Toronto Catholic District School Board discovered that police conducted a three-day study, which concluded that there was not enough pedestrian traffic to warrant a St. Cyril crossing guard.

Trustees then drafted a letter to Mayor John Tory, signed by the board chair and the director of education, requesting that guard be reinstated in September at the beginning of the school year.

Meaghan Gray, social media relations officer for the Toronto Police Service, said the intersection doesn't warrant a crossing guard, according to the unit commander of traffic services. 

She said the study looked at more than just pedestrian traffic —including signage, types of pedestrians, the history of collisions and any other factor that could be considered a measure of road safety at that particular intersection.

People visiting the memorial at Yonge Street and Finch Avenue one month after Toronto's van attack. The makeshift memorial has been taken down and replaced. (Makda Ghebreslassie/CBC News )

Gray also said that the school can ask police to assign a new crossing guard, although assessments aren't considered at the beginning or end of the school year. Crossing guards are only assigned during the school year.

She also said requests are granted in terms of need.

'What's the life of a child worth?'

"There are hundreds of schools in the city and we just don't have the resources, financially or human, to accept every single request that comes in."

Don Peat, the mayor's director of communications, told CBC Toronto the city is asking the police for an explanation.

Maria Rizzo, vice chair of the Toronto Catholic District School Board, says crossing guards give communities a greater sense of security. (Greg Ross/CBC)

Rizzo says there's a crossing guard working in her neighbourhood near St. Robert Catholic School — an area that she believes has much less traffic than Kempford and Yonge.

She thinks money might be at the root of the police decision.

"I don't know what occurred, except to say that perhaps the budget may have influenced the process," she said.

"But what's the life of a child worth?"

With files from Greg Ross