In early-May, we launched a campaign to help Thorncliffe Park residents advocate for moving an Ontario Line maintenance and storage facility (MSF) away from a proposed site with important ethnic retailers. The neighbourhood is made up primarily of Muslim residents from South Asia. The 2 Thorncliffe Park Drive shopping plaza features Iqbal Foods, the primary Halal grocery store within walking distance in the area. This campaign is important because of the poor community engagement conducted and lack of transparency of information provided by Metrolinx. An MSF is also known as a train yard and we will be using this term instead as it is more clear for the general public.
The Ontario Line
The Ontario Line will traverse the neighbourhood and Metrolinx announced in an April 8th blog post that the plaza was selected for the train yard. The same blog post announced a virtual meeting for April 15th to address this topic among others. According to community advocates, there was little warning or consultation on the site selection for the train yard.
Poor community consultation
What’s more is that the virtual meeting was held during Ramadan, the most sacred month in the Muslim calendar. Thus, community participation was hampered due to observation of this holy period. Comments at the virtual meeting were limited to 160 characters. As a sense of the community’s frustration, 753 comments were posted.
The train yard site is a hybrid of sites 1 and 2 (Figure 1) and were chosen based on, among other factors, the following criteria: ease of acquisition of properties, land size, minimizing community impacts and minimizing impacts to businesses and community organizations. Thorncliffe Park community advocates are calling for Metrolinx to release all the site selection documents and criteria in detail, with a return to site considerations that include community consultation.
Figure 1: The nine options for the Ontario Line MSF/train yard (Source: Metrolinx/Steve Munro)
A dynamic situation
There are two rezoning applications in the vicinity of Site 3 that are going to Toronto city staff and councillors in the near future. (1, 2) In our communications with Metrolinx, they have stated the high impact of job losses in Site 3. Metrolinx also committed to compensating and relocating businesses, however it is unclear where in the Thorncliffe Park community the relocated business would go.
A Voice for Transit is concerned about the lack of proper community consultation on this important decision and asks for greater transparency on the site selection rationale. Under Bill 245, Accelerating Access to Justice Act and the Building Transit Faster Act, there are minimal community consultation requirements, at best. Under the Planning Act, Section S.17, ss.19 and S.34, ss.14.1, the public must be given 20 days notice before a public meeting. There are also no character limits on public comment submissions at these public meetings. We call on Metrolinx to honour the spirit of the Planning Act in their community consultations for the MSF/train yard as well as for other projects.
We ask Metrolinx to take a procedural justice approach to consultations, which means fairness, inclusion and transparency in access to information, decision-making or redress processes that can shape outcomes for Thorncliffe Park residents. (Edge et al., 2020) Thorncliffe Park is home to equity-seeking groups that are poorly represented in decisions shaping their lives. Information can be inaccessible due to language barriers or jargon, preventing those at greatest risk from being influential in improving their conditions. (Edge et al. 2020)
A better way
Improved consultation and increased transparency will help build trust among stakeholders regarding the site selection for the MSF/train yard. Doing so will lead to better decision-making. Separately, we want to see the dense, land-strapped community not lose much needed community space and retailers like Iqbal’s remain in the community so that when the Ontario Line is open there is more reason for residents to remain in the neighbourhood. The time is now for Metrolinx to improve their engagement and finalize a decision on where this train yard will go. Until then, it is premature to discuss moving retailers at 2 Thorncliffe Park Drive.
By: Jean-François Obregón, Executive Director