Toronto community groups demand more input on transit projects at Queens Park protest

Dozens of demonstrators from seven community groups across the city were at Queen’s Park Wednesday speaking out against the way Metrolinx and the provincial government approach transit planning. 

Building public transit should be done with community consultation, groups say

Community groups from across Toronto say they are being ignored in the transit planning process for projects in their neighbourhoods. They demonstrated in front of Queens Park on Oct. 6, 2021. (Paul Smith/CBC)

Dozens of demonstrators from seven community groups across the city were at Queen's Park Wednesday speaking out against the way Metrolinx and the provincial government approach transit planning.

The groups are calling on the province and its regional transit agency to make the health and well-being of local communities a priority and to listen to them when it comes to building transit projects in their neighbourhoods.

"Our voice has been lost in this transit planning process," said Eon Song on behalf of Save Jimmie Simpson, one of the groups at the protest. He said the groups might have different goals but all want environmental reviews for projects and for Metrolinx to do meaningful consultations with communities.

The current plans for the Ontario Line, the Yonge North Subway Extension and GO expansion will harm the communities' greenspaces, small businesses, schools and homes and was done without public or stakeholder consultation, the groups wrote in a news release. 

The groups said legislation introduced in the fall of 2020, the Building Transit Faster Act, and Ministerial Zoning Orders (MZO), which allow the government to authorize development regardless of local rules, have been used to overrule cities. The government of Premier Doug Ford has used MZOs more frequently than any other government recently in power to push through projects.

Who protested and why 

Save Jimmie Simpson 

A grassroots community group in Riverside and Leslieville asking for the section of the Ontario Line running through its community to be built below ground in order to protect the health and environment of the community, including the neighbourhood's Jimmie Simpson Park.

Friends of Small's Creek

Residents in the Upper Beaches and East Danforth area who are trying to stop Metrolinx from widening the Lakeshore East rail corridor, which will clearcut over 200 trees, many of which are over 100 years old, in the Small's Creek and Williamson Park ravines starting this month, to allow for a proposed fourth track. 

Keep The Subway on Yonge

A Thornhill neighbourhood group asking Metrolinx to reconsider building the Yonge North Subway Extension under the Royal Orchard neighbourhood and keep the line on its previously approved route underneath Yonge Street. 

Pape Area Concerned Citizens for Transit 

A grassroots community group in East York made up of residents impacted by the proposed Ontario Line, who are asking Metrolinx to hear and consider residents' concerns while moving forward with the line.

Other groups attending include the Lakeshore East Community Advisory Committee, Don't Mess with The Don and First Parliament. 

Dozens of protesters attended the Build Transit Better rally at Queens Park on Oct. 6, 2021. (Dalia Ashry/CBC)

A group representing residents from Thorncliffe Park concerned about Metrolinx's proposed 175,000 square-metre railyard in their community, SaveTPARK, did not come, but speakers addressed their concerns. 

Out of all the Toronto neighbourhoods considered for the project, SaveTPARK says Thorncliffe Park was chosen for Metrolinx's Ontario Line railyard because it is the poorest and least white.

"The Thorncliffe issue is outrageous," said Rima Berns-McGown, MPP for Beaches-East York, in a speech at the rally. 

She called Mextrolinx's decision to build in the community and potentially force businesses like Iqbal Foods to move "extremely racist," and said it is especially important to listen to racialized and working-class communities like Thorncliffe Park. 

Metrolinx spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins said the Ontario Line needs a new railyard and the goal was to have the least impact on businesses, jobs and residents.   

"In spite of the impacts it's going to have on that neighbourhood, it has the least amount of the impact," said Aikins on the Thorncliffe location.   

When asked by CBC Toronto how Metrolinx would like to address concerns that there haven't been enough consultations, Aikins said Metrolinx has been tasked with building transit needed for decades and is building $80 billion worth of projects, "pretty much at the same time." 

She said building in older, densely populated communities like Toronto is difficult, but Metrolinx has been building transit for a decade and knows what is needed to communicate with groups. Aikins said the agency has been opening community-based offices to answer questions, and has been doing public consultations, maildrops, news bulletins and posting stories on its blog. 

As for, the concerns over Jimmie Simpson Park, Aikins said both the Jimmie Simpson Recreation Centre and Park would not be touched by Metrolinx and the Ontario Line would not affect them. 

In Smalls Creek, she said Metrolinx will have to take down some trees but has promised to replace every one taken down with three. 

Everybody wants transit, but no one wants it to impact their backyards, she said. 

A spokesperson from the Ministry of Transportation, Natasha Tremblay, said by email the ministry will continue to work closely with transit partners, including the City of Toronto, while building transit and that Metrolinx ensures residents' concerns and feedback are heard and incorporated into its plans. 

"Our government fully expects that Metrolinx remains accountable to the communities they are serving and carries out thoughtful, meaningful consultation where work is underway."

with files from Dalia Ashry