Residents of Thorncliffe Park fight bitter fight against Metrolinx rail yard plan

A grassroots group in Thorncliffe Park that tried to stop Metrolinx from building a gigantic rail station in the community has won the support of elected representatives in the region at all three levels of government, but says the Ford government is ignoring its calls.

The group says that of all the Toronto Metrolinx neighborhoods considered, theirs is the poorest and least white.

“Our community has been targeted for this rail yard,” said Kaynat Shaikh, 26, a member of SaveTPARK, a group mostly made up of long-time residents that formed last spring to fight the Metrolinx project. .

“If it were to be moved to another community, maybe even a higher socio-economic community, would they even try to set up a marshalling yard there? Probably not and that is very clear.”

Metrolinx announced in April blog post that Thorncliffe Park has been selected for a 175,000 square meter maintenance and storage facility.

Metrolinx says it looked at nine sites before choosing a “hybrid” location, between the northern part of Thorncliffe Park and the southern edge of the Wicksteed industrial area. (Susan Reid / CBC Toronto)

It’s about the size of 24 football fields.

The yard would serve the Ontario Line, a 15-stop subway line, which is expected to link Ontario Place to the Ontario Science Center.

Currently, the area is home to a mix of small businesses and an industrial park, located on the north side of Overlea Boulevard, between Millwood Road and Thorncliffe Park Drive.

Since the spring announcement, SaveTPARK has placed posters and written letters to Ontario Premier Doug Ford. A petition opposing the plan now has more than 10,000 signatures.

“The majority of this community is working for its survival,” said Aamir Sukhera, 41.

Sighing and shaking his head, he told CBC News that most people in the area just don’t have time “to fight a giant like Metrolinx.”

Father of four, Syed Benazir says everyone supports rapid transit and the line in Ontario. But he believes Metrolinx crushed the community with its decision to place the rail yard in Thorncliffe Park. (Evan Mitsui / CBC)

“I have the impression that Metrolinx saw [Thorncliffe Park] as an opportunity … just because it is the path of least resistance. “

Thorncliffe Park is home to some 30,000 people, many of whom are new Canadians from Pakistan, India and Afghanistan. It is common for two or three families to live together in towering rental buildings.

Space is scarce – there are about 7,000 people per square kilometer. The recently built Fraser Mustard Early Learning Academy only teaches kindergarten in 23 classrooms, making it the largest school of its kind in Canada.

So it’s hard to come to terms with the loss of such huge land to a Metrolinx storage facility, said Sukhera, who grew up in the neighborhood with her parents and continues to work and raise her own family. In the region.

What the area really needs, he says, is affordable housing, an indoor pool and a community recreation center.

Sukhera and the SaveTPARK group have proposed an alternative site to Metrolinx; one that’s within walking distance of the current proposition.

But like the concerns they raised with the provincial agency – about noise, pollution, the impact on the economy and jobs – they say the suggestion came to nothing.

“Carefully considered”

Malcolm MacKay, the Metrolinx program sponsor for the Ontario line, says the alternative site proposed by residents was one of the regional transportation agency studied previously, but determined that too many jobs would be at risk.

“Every idea that has been put forward, we have looked at it carefully,” he said.

CBC Toronto asked MacKay about SaveTPARK’s belief that the community was chosen for the yard because they lacked the resources to fight back. He did not respond directly.

The maintenance and storage facility will be used to store, inspect, clean and maintain trains along the Ontario line. (Metrolinx)

“We have no desire to fight with the community. We want to work with the community, understand the community, understand what is on their minds so that we can help bring better things to this community through the arrival of transportation. in common, ”MacKay said.

In a open letter to the community in August, Metrolinx chairman Phil Verster said the decision to build at Thorncliffe Park was not based on “institutional racism” but rather on “policy-driven site selection criteria” to find the best possible site.

“Fallen on deaf ears”

But it was only a struggle, according to elected federal, provincial and municipal officials in the region.

Rob Oliphant, Local MP, MPP Kathleen Wynne, and Coun. Jaye Robinson sent a letter in late August to Premier Doug Ford and Ontario Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney, saying they were blinded by the decision and troubled by what they say is a lack of community consultation.

Toronto City Council also unanimously passed a motion in May calling for the relocation of the maintenance and storage facility.

Robinson suggested creating smaller storage facilities down the line to minimize the impact on a neighborhood.

“This has all fallen on deaf ears,” said Robinson, who calls the last few months of Metrolinx treatment “disillusioning and infuriating.”

“They refuse to consider anything other than this gigantic facility in the heart of Thorncliffe Park, which is geographically small – one of the smaller neighborhoods in Don Valley West or that part of Toronto,” she said.

“They have to bear the weight of this burden alone, completely alone. I would like someone to explain to me why.”

Wynne says she invited Mulroney to several community roundtables, but the Minister of Transport never attended, instead sending her chief of staff on one occasion.

“It’s not just Metrolinx, the government agency, that has to take responsibility because it receives a mandate from the provincial government,” said Wynne, the former premier of Ontario.

“What I know from reading between the lines is that they weren’t allowed to make any significant changes and the political arm is not engaging with the people of Thorncliffe Park.”

CBC Toronto contacted Mulroney’s office, but was told she was unavailable. In an email, a spokesperson wrote: “Metrolinx is [the] best point of contact for that particular topic. “

Mosque threatens legal action against group

The project also pitted community members against the area’s mosque.

The Islamic Society of Toronto has confirmed to CBC Toronto that it is negotiating an expropriation agreement with Metrolinx.

Metrolinx approached the mosque three days before publicly announcing the maintenance and storage facility in April, said Ilyas Mulla, one of the mosque’s directors. He said he was unable to discuss details due to a nondisclosure agreement.

Ilyas Mulla, director of the Islamic Society of Toronto, says the new mosque building has commercial space. He hopes other tenants displaced by the construction will move in. (Shannon Martin / CBC Toronto)

After SaveTPARK criticized the mosque and its leaders this summer over their relationship with Metrolinx, the Islamic Society of Toronto slapped the group with a cease-and-desist order.

“They used our name without our permission because they didn’t know the whole story,” Mulla said.

“Three, four lawyers told us, ‘You can’t win. Maybe one percent. But you have to spend a lot of money. [Metrolinx]. ‘”

He says the money from the deal will be used to renovate a building across the street to house a larger prayer space, gymnasium and community hall.

Mulla says the plan is to “develop the other side for business and get the money for it. It will benefit the community.”

Not ready to give up

Sukhera says that despite the threat of legal action, there is no divide in the community.

And while he admits he’s tired and frustrated at times, he says he plans to keep fighting to protect his community’s future.

“There are a lot of people who think they don’t even have an opinion, and this is something that we hope, through SaveTPARK, to change and help people understand:” Whether you rent or own, it’s your community. And you have a right to decide what happens in your community. ‘”

Aamir Sukhera helped set up a food bank in Thorncliffe Park during the pandemic. He is concerned that the rail yard will impact local jobs, which Metrolinx disputes. He says all jobs in the area will be maintained, with another 300 added. (Evan Mitsui / CBC)

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