Challenge for Cause: The Jury is still out

Challenge for Cause: The Jury is still out.

 Written by Disha Patel

On May 17, 2015, Mr. Tyrone Williams, a black 25-year-old male, responded to a Kijiji ad for the sale of a privately-owned car. He met the owner, Mr. Johnson, a 30-year-old white male at home, and test drove the car. Mr. Williams expressed an interest in buying the car for his girlfriend and said he would be in touch. Later that day, he called the owner to tell him he had decided to buy the car and would pay for it by writing the owner a cheque for the agreed upon price. Mr. Williams showed up three days later, at about 7:45 in the evening, and said he would like to take the car for another test drive. As the two men returned from the test drive, Mr. Williams drew a knife and stabbed the owner of the car twice in the neck and above his wrists. The owner managed to get out of the car without further injury as Mr. Williams drove off.

As you read this case study, could you picture the case unfolding before your eyes? What did Mr. Williams look like? Did you imagine him to be a big violent man with dark skin? What did Mr. Johnson, the owner of the car, look like? An innocent, helpless white guy?

Research tells us that there are two types of biases that shape our actions and attitudes: explicit and implicit bias. These biases influence how we classify situations given the cultural scripts, like in the excerpt above. They say a lot about our own assumptions and what we are taught on a subconscious level.

Explicit bias refers to the attitudes and beliefs that we have about a person or a group of people on a conscious level. Since these biases are conscious, they can be self-censored and restrained. However, implicit biases are ingrained and subconscious. They are stereotypical associations that are so subtle that people who hold them may not even be aware them. Have you ever been in a situation where you were walking, and you saw a black or white van following you? What did you do and think? I once saw a black van following me, and intuitively, I ran as fast as I could. At that moment, I feared that I would be thrown into the van and driven away by strange men. The implicit biases that we hold are often widely held. They are programmed subconsciously into our cognition by our environment, genetics (like flight or fight responses), and the media.

Brown people always smell like ____? Asian people are _______? A gas station was robbed yesterday, armed robbery. The robber, a _____ male was caught.

Were your answers curry, smart, and black, or something different?

That is your implicit bias at work. Implicit biases are common and not as problematic in your everyday life; however, when it comes to justice and jury verdicts, implicit biases are issues of great of concern. In fact, they are a source of racial disparities in the criminal justice system. African Canadians represent only 3% of the Ontario population but represent 15% of its prison population. They are also more likely to receive longer and harsher prison sentences than their white counterparts.

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Canadian Courts are aware of the implicit biases that we hold, and following the ruling from R v. Parks (1997), courts are now allowed to ask a race-based challenge question to its jurors in cases where the defendant is either black or of a racial minority.

Canadian courts implemented a procedure known as the “challenge for cause” procedure, and its primary purpose is to make you aware of your implicit biases.This procedure was intended to ensure that everyone receives a fair trial, no matter the colour of their skin. The procedure works by asking a potential juror a single race-based question to which they answer yes or no. Depending on their answer, the two triers that are selected, either accept or reject the juror into the jury pool. This happens during the jury selection process.

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However, many scholars have been wondering if this procedure can actually protect against potential racial biases.

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I decided to test out this procedure. I conducted a mock trial where twenty-four community members were asked to participate in the jury selection process; I read them the excerpt from beginning involving Tyrone Williams.

My study consisted of three parts, where the most important part was the jury selection process. There were a total of three experiments that I conducted over a period of two days. Each experiment consisted of six participants.

The first part of the study required the participants to take two tests: a ‘symbolic racism’ test and a ‘motivation to control prejudices reactions’ test. These tests were used to assess whether the participants were prejudiced towards African Canadians. The participants scored either low or high on both of the tests. The ideal score we would want for a juror would be low on the racism test and high on the motivations to control prejudices reactions test.

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The second part of the study was the jury selection process. Each participant was assigned a juror number at the beginning of the study and was referred to by their juror numbers throughout the study. During the jury selection process, four jurors were asked to step outside and not interact with each other.  Two random jurors were picked to stay inside and were sworn in as “triers.” Triers are individuals who are required to either accept or reject a potential juror based on their answer to the race-based challenge question that is asked of them.

A potential juror was randomly picked and called inside. They were sworn in and asked the race-based challenge question. Based on their answer and their body language, the triers either rejected or accepted them as jurors. After the potential juror had answered the question, they were then sworn in as a trier, and one of the triers was asked to step outside. This process continued until all six participants had a chance to be a trier twice, and answer the race-based challenge question.

Out of the twenty-four participants, eight participants were rejected. Four participants answered yes to the question, and all four were rejected by at least one of the triers that had tried them. The remaining four that were rejected had answered no to the question. However, after comparing their test scores, I found that these participants had scored high on the racism test and low on the motivations to control prejudices reactions test, which influenced their verdict.

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The last part of the study required the participants to read the case report on Mr. Tyrone Williams. Based on the facts of the case report, the participants were required to assign a prison sentence ranging from 1 to 10 years and also were required to rate the defendant and victim based on their level of responsibility for the crime.

The prison sentences varied from 1 to 10 years.  Therefore, there was not much to go off of from the prison sentences in terms of racial bias. However, all the participants that scored low on the racism test were less likely to assign the blame on the defendant; whereas the participants who scored high on the racism test and low on the motivations to control prejudices reactions test found the defendant to be solely responsible for the crime. An important finding was that the participants who did find the defendant to be responsible were more likely to assign a slightly longer prison sentence. More importantly, they were also the ones who were rejected by the triers; thus, their verdicts would not have counted.

I wanted to observe whether the challenge for cause procedure works. It turns out that it does. The participants that were rejected were the ones who ended up giving harsher verdicts compared to the participants who were accepted to sit on the jury panel.

Even though we hold implicit biases, we are able to compensate for those biases when we are made aware them. Our justice system may not be perfect, in fact, it is far from perfect, but the challenge for cause procedure can vet out implicit biases and ensure that everyone receives a fair trial.

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Disha Patel is a fourth-year student at the University of Toronto-Mississauga where she is completing a B.A. with a specialization in Criminology.

 

“I am a Trans-issue”

“I am a Trans-issue”

Written by Loki

I’m sitting in front of my closest friend Thomas, shaking my head with a small smile on my face in response to one of his corny jokes. We’re at a small coffee shop in Kensington Market on a rainy Friday afternoon. We have been friends for about 3 years. He is the type of person one immediately feels comfortable with.

Thomas lives in Toronto but grew up a few hours away from the city. We both explored the city together during the summer time. It was our ‘thing’. We found new places to eat, hike, or grab coffee, and go to as many concerts we could. (Fun fact: the three pictures are from one different summer adventure). We mostly bond over our similar music libraries that ranged from the work of Childish Gambino to Florence + The Machine to Depeche Mode.

I asked Thomas about his first act of social justice:

“Wait, I don’t know if I ever told you this, but Rosie O’Donnell was on some late-night show and she was saying things like, “little people scare me…I don’t know how they function or have sex.”. It was super gross and invasive, so, I made a twitter account and tweeted at her and said, ‘F*ck you Rosie O’Donnell!!!!’…”

In this excerpt, we see that Thomas is not one to sit around while others poke fun at marginalized identities. While the act of starting a Twitter account seems small in comparison, the act of speaking against someone with relative power is indicative of his character.

For me, this was also telling of a person I could trust as I explored a fuller version of myself. When the moment came, Thomas and I openly discuss our queer identities to one another. He was the first person that understood what it meant to be non-binary.

Before our meet-up at Kensington, I haven’t seen Thomas in months. But it provided an opportunity to discuss the series of events that turned his life upside down.

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A year ago, there was a string of protests held by UofT students to speak against Peterson, and to hold the university accountable for refusing to do anything (substantial) about the issue. Among these string of protests, there was also, however, one held by Peterson’s followers that was backed up by Rebel Media, a right-winged platform. Rebel Media is known for their invasive interviews with transgender people that is aimed at painting trans folks as “whiny or delusional.” For many, however, Rebel Media’s tactics come off as ignorant and indifferent to the plight of marginalized identities.

This media outlet plays an important role in what happened to Thomas because they were the ones on our campus, receiving protection from our own campus police when it was our marginalized students being harassed and assaulted by the free-speech advocates.

Thomas got into an altercation with a protestor wearing Nazi regalia. This alternation was taken out of contexts by Rebel Media to tell their version of events. As such, Thomas alteration with a Nazi supporter was conflated with his interaction with the police, and quickly became a horrible online sensation. The publishing of this video gained traction quickly, and overnight, his fellow classmates exposed his identity on Reddit forums which opened the troll-floodgates. He received death threats along with the rest of his family. Thomas’ life became so volatile that he was forced to move out of his dorm on campus and into witness-protection housing.

I asked Thomas the following question, but I had a feeling of what his response would be: “So, this next question focuses on issues surrounding transgender people: are you following trans issues?”

He snickers, “I don’t really have a choice,” He pauses, moving closer to the recording device, “I am a trans issue… But yeah, definitely. Like are my rights going to be taken away today? Or maybe tomorrow…”

We erupted in laughter. While this was certainly not something to joke about, this was our way of coping with the dangers of living as a trans person.

So here we are: a year or so after the protest that started it all – that put Thomas’ life in danger. Throughout the interview, knuckles became tense and glossy eyes replaced the silly grins and carefree laughter. Where the topic was once tender, it shifted to a source of anger and indignation.

Loki is in their final year of undergraduate at the University of Toronto. They have studied courses in Criminology, Sociology, and Women and Gender studies, and intend on using their degree to continue with activism surrounding the LGBTQ+ community in Toronto.

 

Being away from home: International Students and their food concerns

Being away from home: International Students and their food concerns

Written by Martha Cecilia Cedeno

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International Students in Canada pay in tuition almost 6 times the amount that domestic students pay. Coming to Canada to study at the University of Toronto is a pursuit that comes at a high economic cost. While studying abroad might have its highs, it comes with dark moments as well.

When International Students come to Canada, they are confronted with a different society and living standards. Leaving your home country and family can have many different effects on your sense of self and safety. You do not immediately think about how food plays a role in making students feel at home. Every country has their own version of ‘comfort food.’ Comfort foods can inspire a sense of home and safety. When international students go overseas to study, they have to adopt a new relationship to food that might drastically change from how they were raised. My research is interested in university international students’ food choices. Specifically, I am interested in exploring their relationship to food in their new contexts and how this impacts the student’s life and wellbeing.

Food is an essential part of people’s identity. It connects people with their culture by reminding them of memories, places and relationships (Belasco, 2008). As international students are away from their families and country roots, I ask: how do they negotiate their identity through food?

“the Chinese food here is not really authentic…we don’t eat egg rolls or fortune cookies…” (Halina, STG).

“…all day you have to run for your classes, so we don’t have like a lot of time to spend with your friends, eating. I eat alone…” (Gloria, STG).

My findings illustrate that international students do change their food consumption habits as they complete their studies abroad. The changes they experience occur for many interrelated reasons, like new social norms, time pressure, schedule and homework management. It is part of their adaptation process to a new environment. The findings further reveal how eating has now become instrumental for the purpose of studying and productivity, which is a drastic move away from its traditional function of enjoying and maintaining family bonds.

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The shifts in food consumption

Most international students, more specifically those from Asia and South America, report that they changed their food consumption habits. The major change they experienced was their lack of eating breakfast:

“… I had breakfast over there but not here…. I’m just used to it. It’s ok without breakfast…” (Taemin, UTM)

“Before I came to Canada when I was living in Korea and Japan. I ate 3 meals: breakfast, lunch and dinner every time … ‘Cause like I have to eat … dinner with my family. But in Canada, … we didn’t eat breakfast that much, I don’t know why…” (Taemin, UTM)
“…I usually have like classes in the morning so I… sometimes that I don’t eat, like my breakfast…” (Vivian, STG)

International students report these changes as being difficult at first; however, with time they got use to the food and their relation to it. Since they are so busy with their studies, food decisions become secondary to their work. They also report that food costs are expensive compared to their own country, which determines when and what they choose to eat. They find the food unsavoury, not enjoyable and even, not necessary as a result.

“I’m eating smaller meals than I’m used to eating. Smaller portions of rice, smaller portions of everything and often opt to eat another meal rather than have to eat more of the same meal than I used to before. Uh-huh, yes. And… there are times where I don’t eat a lot of vegetables.” (Carolina, UTM)

The findings also reveal that food environments on campus, like cafeterias and counters, play a major factor in what internationals students will eat. While St. George campus offers several options for food consumption, students often find the food too expensive, and as such, must choose their meals wisely.

“…it stresses me a little bit because it’s not like other things. You have to eat every day, it’s something that is a necessity. I do think that a lot of people are taking advantage of this university, because… they think that we have money, and even if you don’t have money, you have to eat every day…” (Halina, STG)

The feelings around food

Many female international students report they have loss weight due to these new patterns of consuming food. They say that they are eating less than in their own country but point to factors beyond economic ones. Specifically, they report that it is because of time troubles. Female students spend most of their time studying and do not worry much about what are they eating. However, they also say that the food and the ingredients of the food are flavourless and bland, which factors into why they choose to skip meals as well.


“I have to go to Chinatown for my food. And I still find it a little bit hard because I’m from the South. So, we like soup, like soup from the bones. So, when you go to a Western grocery store, there’s usually packaged meat, it doesn’t have the bone in it usually; unless it is specifically ribs. So, when I want to find the bones for this soup, it is hard for me to find them. And sometimes it could be hard to find the spices.” (Halina, STG)

“well… when I go back to Ecuador – I miss a lot of things about the food in Ecuador, it’s about comfort, I guess. Because I grew up in sort of this culture where food is very important, and I think it also has to do a lot with family because my family is very… I guess united, so we often got to eat and stuff like that, or eat at someone’s house and it’s about community, but it’s also about the fact that the food often reminds you of home, reminds you of being back in your country.” (Carolina, UTM)

Female students from my study seem to suffer more with the lack of food options and their access to comfort food. They reported constantly feeling homesick because they missed their “mom’s food,” which is another form of comfort food. A mother’s cooking reminds students of being at home with their family. Eating their ‘mother’s cooking,’ goes beyond simply eating for substance; it ties into their identity.

“I think it depends on how much time they lived back in their home country, how close they were to their family and how important was- how significant was the type of food that they ate. So I think food can often be associated with comfort and if you don’t feel comfortable eating the food that you have, or the food that is available to you, I would say especially this for first year or second year students who are still trying to transition into coming into Canada, it’s a lot harder to sort of focus on the things that you have to focus when there are other factors that are affecting your concentration. So, it’s hard for you to acquire cheaper food in the same amounts that you’re used to eating before, then you’re going to have a hard time adjusting to that, and therefore, you will also have a hard time sort of, trying to balance your home life, which would be- and your studies.” (Carolina, UTM)

My research provides a brief look into international students’ relationship to food. Since their primary reason for being in Canada is to study, what is available on campus greatly impacts when and what they will eat. The widely different food environments impact the options for students. STG students have far more choices, which influence the way students negotiate their food consumptions. However, STG students also report that despite greater access to different food options, they find the food unsavoury, not enjoyable and even, not necessary. Some female students reported weight loss, which could also be a symptom of some mental health issues, like depression. At UTM, students reported the lack of variety of food options. They often mentioned that they cannot find on campus their preferred foods, and they get bored with the options they have. They also say that the food does not look fresh, but they have to eat it because it is all that is available. Across both campuses, students say they find that the food is very expensive, which impacts their relationship to food and their ability to eat nutritious meals.

Martha Cecilia Cedeno, 4th-year University of Toronto Mississauga student. She majors in Sociology and Psychology, with a minor in Education. She is a devoted wife and mother of three children. Martha is a passionate advocate for social justice and economic equality. She, like other international students, misses her country a great deal: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zVAtiPmDlf4

The Production of Space in Canadian Correctional Institutions

The Production of Space in Canadian Correctional Institutions

Written by Gihad Nasr

For the past two years, I have been speaking to my brother from behind a glass barrier in jail. Like many siblings, we catch up on our days and tell each other what we have been doing since the last time we’ve talked. But this glass barrier meant that some topics off limits and should not be probed. After all, our conversations through this barrier were being recorded.

While my interest in studying the production of space in Canadian correctional institutions stemmed from my interactions with my brother, it was clear that these encounters would not make for the best data. Instead, I asked people who have or had regular access to a correctional institution in Canada about their experiences. I asked people who could describe what a living unit or associated visiting room looks like. Through referrals from family and friends, I interviewed a correctional officer, visitor, social worker, chaplain, and two ex-prisoners. I asked participants questions about their daily routines and how a regular living unit or associated visitation area looks like.

Andrew, a correctional officer I interviewed, tells me that there are different units assigned to a designated population. For example, three units may hold general population prisoners. General population prisoners are those who are detained awaiting trial. Two units may hold sentenced prisoners. One unit will be designated for prisoners placed in administrative segregation and another for protective custody prisoners. The number of units differs from institution to institution, but this is the general structure.

I recreated Andrew’s sketch of the typical structure of a unit:

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This unit has four ranges, a yard, and visitation room.

The architecture and design of each living unit is—for the most part—the same: two showers, one washroom, sixteen jail cells, one TV, and bolted steel stools. Everything is bolted to the floors or walls. Inside the jail cells, the bed, toilet, sink, and table and stool are also bolted to the floors. Each unit also has its own visitation area. If my brother is in unit one, correctional officers in the building will direct me to the visiting room for prisoners on unit one.

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This unit at the South West Detention Centre is purple. (Robin 2017).

Each unit and the visiting room has its own colour scheme. For example, let’s say unit one is purple like the image above; then the visitation area would have purple doors, purple window frames, and purple window separators. This colour would run throughout the unit where prisoners resided—purple cell doors and purple window frames. Colour scheme is the distinguishing feature of each unit. In fact, I’ve visited all four general population units—blue, yellow, pink, and green.

This distinguishing mechanism made me curious. Specifically, I wanted to know why it was used and if this made a difference in how people related to the space they were in or visited. Do prisoners appreciate this variety in a rather monotonous space? Does this slight pop of colour amongst gray walls, floors, and furniture exert a different feeling? Do prisoners find joy from this seemingly insignificant design? Colour psychology has in fact been studied widely. Scientific studies have shown that different colours produce different effects on one’s cognition.

Despite having the same architecture and design, each unit had its own character. Mohamed, a black ex-prisoner, had labels for each unit. Throughout the interview, he would tell me “unit nine was the best” whereas “unit eleven was the worst.” He also labelled unit nine as “Black Land” and unit eleven as “White Land.” This further intrigued me. It became clear that prisoners organize and classify each unit according to internal dynamics.

According to French social theorist, Henri Lefebvre, social space is a “multitude of intersections” between social agents, social actions, and symbolic representations. Simply put, social space is produced and reproduced through “social actions, the actions of subjects both individual and collective.” I study carceral space as such. Mohamed’s perceptions and labels of each unit are reflections of the social space which includes interactions between social actions and symbols; in this case, racial dynamics between prisoners.

Mohamed tells me the few black prisoners on unit eleven, a white-majority unit, kept to themselves and did their own thing:

“At eleven where I was, there was a couple of us who was black. We kinda mind our own business.”

Andrew, a correctional officer at another institution, had expressed similar observations:

“[…] we may have a wing where it’s predominately white. Very few black people so those 3-4 individuals are generally quieter and they just do their own thing. And then maybe after several weeks or months the demographic changes. So now it’s predominately black and less white. Now there’s a change. So now you’ll see the television programming changes so now it’s all, what’s that television, it’s geared to…Black Entertainment Network?”

The racial composition of the unit determines how prisoners occupy the space: black prisoners in a white-majority unit take up less social space as they keep to themselves where white prisoners in a white-majority unit occupy more social space whether it be through the forms of entertainment or through body language. The racial composition also produces a racialized space and this racialized space exerts a different experience for each prisoner. Some maximize their presence through subtle ways like controlling the television. Through these examples, we see that prisoners’ practices are a result of their experiences with racialized spaces.

There are also spaces of autonomy and escape. Aaron, a Hispanic ex-prisoner, tells me that fishing takes place after rounds:

“There’s an upper floor and lower floor […] So this guy here needs a light. And this guy here has it. They rip their sheets and tying them and tying them. And then they tie maybe like a book at the end of it. It has weight. Then they throw it out. Then the other guy has to catch it. But you gotta do all this before the guards come around and find the contraband.”

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Prisoners “fish” through the food slots of their cell doors. (Zinger, Office of the Correctional Investigator 2017)

Prisoners make use of their understandings of time and surveillance to trade, thus producing a space for autonomy. A space of autonomy is a space for prisoners to determine their own decisions, practices, and experiences. Prisoners produce a space of autonomy through the practice of fishing. Fishing is an innovative means of trading contraband from within the cells. First, prisoners perceive their space regarding time and surveillance—time and surveillance determine social space. However, Aaron understands that surveillance falls within the boundary of time.

Correctional officers perform rounds every twenty to thirty minutes where they walk around the range, peer through the windows of each cell, and ensure prisoners’ safety. Fishing then often takes place right after rounds where prisoners are guaranteed twenty to thirty minutes of no surveillance. Therefore, the absence of surveillance aids in the reproduction of space. Prisoners create their own social space by participating in practices – such as fishing – that deviate from prison rules.

The reproduction of space also aids in prisoners’ escapes from the realities of incarceration. Omar, a prison chaplain, tells me that the chapel is “considered a safe space for inmates.”

“And then in your cell, the reality of incarceration hits you. But when you’re in the chapel, you’re in the presence of God, and so you feel like even the chapel doesn’t really look like prison, so it’s considered a safe space for inmates. So we always had you know wonderful discussions. Usually coming into the chapel, I always had snacks, I brought cookies.”

Inside the chapel, Omar and the prisoners “eat, sip tea, hang out, [and] just chit-chat until [the prisoners] have to go back to their cells.” In fact, “many of them [should] be working […], but they’ll just come. ‘Let’s go check out Imam Omar.’ […] ‘Hey. Omar. Got any cookies?’”

In addition to a worship space, the chapel is a safe social space. Omar aids in the reproduction of the chapel into a social space by bringing snacks and cookies thus welcoming prisoners to use the chapel as a space for escape from the “routines” of prison.

In both Aaron and Omar’s statements, we see the intersections between social agents, social actions, and symbols in reproducing space. Aaron and Omar reproduce space through their perceived and attached meanings to the space they occupy. In Aaron’s case, space is understood in terms of time and surveillance and space is reproduced in the absence of surveillance. On the other hand, Omar understands space in terms of safety and socialization where prisoners can escape the realities of prison for a short period of time and experience a sense of dignity. Prisoners’ and staffs’ perceptions of space determines social actions. These social actions, in turn, reproduce the space and reshapes prisoners’ sense of self.

However, prisoners’ sense of self is also influenced by the physical structures of prison as well. In prison, windows are used to generate a sense of alienation within prisoners. Alienation refers to how people may experience a sense of being “the other.” Distance and the lack of interaction between prisoners and staff produce a sense of alienation within the prisoner. Andrew admits that when he “looks at [the prisoners] strictly behind a glass, he just becomes a number.”

Omar explains the significance behind windows on cell-doors in administrative segregation units:

“They’re putting windows at the bottom because what would happen is that many inmates dealing with some sort of crisis . . . they might sit by the door but under the window and maybe self-harm […] Like those who need […] acute care. Those who are in some sort of like maybe a mental health crisis or they’re on alert, suicide alert, suicide watch . . . they put windows at the bottom so they can make sure everything is okay.”

Omar’s observation suggests that the placement of windows on cell doors determines the form of interaction that will take place between prisoners and staff. When windows are placed at the bottom, there is greater staff-prisoner interaction where staff can crouch down to the level of a prisoner who may be in crisis and communicate with them. On the other hand, windows placed higher up on the door reduces this form of interaction as staff would only be able to peer through the window at the prisoner dealing with a crisis “[sitting] by the door but under the window” without being able to communicate properly with them. In other words, the placement of windows can further alienate the prisoner or facilitate interaction thus building prisoners’ sense of self.

Colours may affect the mood of an environment, but the character of a place moves beyond the colour scheme and design. My research suggests that the character of a place is determined by and reproduced through the constant activity and social actions that take place within the boundaries that demarcate the space. For Mohamed, unit eleven is the worst among the others; as such, when he spent time there, he kept to himself and purposely occupied less space. The labels he attached to each unit spoke to how he occupied the space. Social agents reshape space through their attached meanings and associated social actions as is evident in Aaron and Omar’s experiences.

Nonetheless, space shapes social agents. In prison, windows shape both social agents’ actions and sense of self. Windows can either facilitate or inhibit staff-prisoner interactions. In turn, interactions with staff can either alienate and dehumanize prisoners or provide them with a sense of meaning and self-worth. Space is constantly in the workings. It is both being produced and produces thus reflecting Lefebvre’s concept of social space consisting of multiplex interactions between social forces.

Gihad is specializing in criminology and majoring in professional writing and communication at the University of Toronto. She wishes to continue down the path of academia and pursue graduate research on corrections and the criminal justice system.

Attitudes on the Death Penalty: Fear of Corruption and Lack of trust Among Ethnic Minorities

Attitudes on the Death Penalty: Fear of Corruption and Lack of trust Among Ethnic Minorities

Written by Tayyaba Shahzad

The death penalty is a form of penal punishment that has been highly debated. It’s a controversial issue that deals with moral, social and legal implications. I’ve always been interested in learning more about the death penalty and first formed an opinion when I did a presentation on amnesty international’s mandate to abolish the death penalty. Indeed, the laws on death penalty vary across the globe, but this raises an issue when it comes to multicultural societies; like Canada. Considering that Canada prides itself on its multicultural platform, this may result in different perspectives towards capital punishment.  Canada once had the death penalty implemented but decided to remove it in 1976. Given the particular contexts of Canada, I was intrigued to examine the following question:  does someone’s ethnicity or where they grew up affect their attitudes towards the death penalty?

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In my analyses, I primarily concentrated on the “South Asians” and “White” ethnic groups given that they made up the bulk of my participants. Overall, my combined sample was small, so these findings cannot speak to broader patterns. Nonetheless, the research indicates a difference in opinion among South Asians and White respondents, and broadly among minority populations and White respondents.

I asked each participant to respond to three cases: i) the honour killing of 16-year old Pakistani Aqsa Parvez in Mississauga, ii) the Peshawar terrorists attack in Pakistan, and iii) finally the Manson/Tate Murders. Of these cases, the terrorist attack case illustrated that there is a difference in attitudes towards the death penalty among ethnicities.

Of the 9 White respondents, 7 (78%) agreed that the decision to execute the terrorist was not justified. The respondents cited reasons similar to the Aqsa Parvez case of wanting the perpetrators to suffer in jail; they also saw their execution as negative. A shared sentiment among the South Asians participants was illustrated in the following quote regarding the honour killing case: “want them to suffer, making them rot in jail, solitary confinement, is a much harsher punishment.” Another respondent said the following towards the terrorist case: “No [it’s not justified]. Although terrorism is a horrible act against society, fundamentally killing the terrorists does not resolve the underlying issue of the conflicting societal,   religious or ideological beliefs. Terrorists should be taught that their actions were wrong.”

In the terrorist case, the participants had more to say regarding their opinion due to its harsh nature and brutality. When the two White interviewees were questioned about this case, they both were hesitant but said it was not justified. However, of these two participants, 1 participant was more concerned about the cost associated with the execution and did not cite moral factors.

Of the 14 South Asian respondents, only 4 said that decision was not justified. These four were also adamant that the terrorists should suffer the consequences of their actions. One of these participants raised the issue that there will always be terrorism and that killing a few of them will not stop the larger issue.

10 South Asian participants said it was justified to have them executed. Reasons for this included: general safety of the public, remorse for the children killed, and severity of the crime committed. The latter reason was a sentiment shared by two White respondents who also said it was justified. In one case, a South Asian individual responded that, “Yes, I do think this was justified, this seems like a group of people who could have         continued to cause ongoing havoc on a massive scale. Also, these group of men seemed    to be well trained and could possibly have connections increasing the likelihood of them getting free and recommitting similar crimes.”

Some participants also feared the potential networks terrorists had with the community and how it affected the ability for justice to be served. This was brought up among the three Pakistani interviewees as well as the two Black interviewees. The main problem was surrounding corruption. Both black individuals who were from Uganda and Jamaica said that back home, they couldn’t trust their government. The Jamaican interviewee said that “they’re all corrupt they’re all after one thing, and that’s money and power for themselves it’s all an ego trip for all of them.” When asked if the death penalty would affect this corruption, she responded that “they would use it for their own gain because that is a way for them to threaten people or to say you know what will happen to you if you don’t do what I want. I will write you up, and you’re going to die it’s simple as that and people fear for their lives.” The Ugandan interview expressed a similar situation where “the government had no care for people and for them to go for the death penalty, it emphasizes that the government doesn’t care, because they don’t already provide proper health care. All this tax money, nothing is coming out of it. Having a death penalty is like oh now they’re gonna kill us off.”8285757131_98327a6c3e_o

Relatedly, Participants also raised the issue of a country’s economic condition. Specifically, with regards to the terrorist case, participants stated that the majority of poor people live in poverty and resort to crime as a means of survival. Given these economic conditions, these people are disadvantaged when it comes to the death penalty. Since there are little options for social and economic mobility, individuals turn to crime and face severe punishment.

This research sought to provide some insight into the attitude surrounding death penalty across different ethnic groups. In so doing, it provides a look at the mindset of individuals in Mississauga who are connected to these extreme brutalities either through their ethnic background or personal experience. Their attitudes are shaped by what they have experienced “back home” and could affect the public opinion on the death penalty. These findings also call for more research on the topic of ethnicity and death penalty attitudes, especially regarding issues of trust in the legal system.

 

Tayyaba is in her fourth year at UTM doing a double major in Criminology and Political Science. She has worked on campus as part of the Office of Student Transition and Center for Student Engagement and ensures students are making the best out of their years at University. She enjoys innovative research and aspires to pursue a degree in public policy. 

 

Racial Profiling in Mississauga, Ontario

Racial Profiling in Mississauga, Ontario

Written by Priyanka Sahajpal

The United States is known for it’s harsh policing tactics. A majority of racial profiling incidents occur in U.S. states. As a minority living in the Greater Toronto Area, I have not heard about too many racial profiling incidents, but this does not mean they don’t exist.

I conducted a study in Mississauga, Ontario to uncover the reality of racial profiling. The area of Mississauga has experienced a growth of racial expansion. It is known as a diverse community where immigrants from various countries form their settlements. In the 1970s, there was an influx of immigrants from Africa, South Asia, Pakistan and India. In 1996, immigrants made up 43% of the overall population. A majority of my interviewees are from Malton and Erindale. The diversity in Malton started when the Pearson International Airport became established as it led to an increase of the town’s overall population. The town of Erindale grew in prosperity when a hydro station was built and created electricity for Toronto which led to an influx of different kinds of people.

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With this increase in diversity, some racialized groups experience mistreatment from enforcement officials. Lance Constantine, a young Black male has been a victim of racial profiling in his hometown, Malton. He reported being unreasonably stopped several times by White police officers. He talked about an incident where he was aggressively stopped by the police when he was walking with his sister to McDonald’s. The police cuffed him and forced him into their car. The police officers did not have a reasonable justification to stop him. This incident let Constantine view enforcement officials negatively. He experienced so many racial profiling incidents that he did not trust police officers the same way as he used to.

Constantine is one of the many victims that experience racial profiling on a daily basis. Although areas like Mississauga are diverse, not all individuals of the community are treated equally. To examine the issue of racial profiling, I interviewed 9 minorities from Black, Asian and Muslim backgrounds. I also interviewed two non-minorities from White backgrounds.

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I wanted to compare the perceptions and experiences of minority and non-minority respondents. My goal was to examine whether the quality of experiences with enforcement officials impacted perceptions. I looked at the differences between how minorities and non-minorities are treated and how these experiences impact their perception. All interviewees were asked questions based on their experiences with enforcement officials, if they had been targeted, how the stops changed their perspective on enforcement officials and if they knew anyone who had been racially profiled. I also looked at the role of gender. I wanted to examine whether males and females had different experiences and perceptions. The confidentiality of respondents was protected by using pseudonyms and modifying all identifying information.

The findings were surprising. Several minorities reported negative experiences with enforcement officials which led them to form negative perceptions. It was the racialized males who experienced high stop and searches than the non-minority males/racial females. One would expect the males to hold negative attitudes towards enforcement officials, but this was not apparent. Several racialized males did not hold negative perceptions towards enforcement officials, they were used to being stopped and did not see it as a big deal. They were more reluctant to view racial profiling as a huge problem in the United States than in Canada. Brandon, a young Black male explains,

“I would say that I still trust law enforcement. I wouldn’t just you know blame them all based on a few bad interactions. I want to be hopeful and say not all of them are that bad but it’s definitely but uh I don’t know how to say it, but it’s kind of you know they ruined the image a bit but not completely.”

The racialized females did not experience a high amount of negative experiences with police officers but discussed stories of their brothers, husbands and male cousins being subjected to racial profiling. The racialized females held more hostile views of enforcement officials even though they did not experience negative encounters. This provides evidence to how there is a little to no connection between the number of negative experiences and perception towards enforcement officials. Laiba, a young Muslim female did not have the same trust towards police officers when she heard stories of her husband and cousin being mistreated:

I just started getting less and less supportive about them like I know they’re there to like protect communities or country and whatever but um I just don’t feel that they’re as helpful as we thought they were and especially I’m not gonna know all of them there’s just like a few like obviously a few here and there that do racial profiling and you know all that, and I just lost a lot of trust and hope with what they could do

Regarding gender, racialized males were subjected to a higher amount of negative experiences with police officers than non-minority males, non-minority females and racialized females. The non-minority male and female that were interviewed had positive experiences with enforcement officials but viewed enforcement officials negatively as they targeted their racialized peers.

            My study provides new findings that diverge from other studies. Racial profiling exists in Mississauga but is not as prevalent as it is in the United States. Although racialized males are often stopped, they do not find the stops as problematic. They do not categorize all police officers as the same as racialized females do. Racialized females wanted to see a change in the policing system and held hostile perceptions. The policing system does need to change. Yes, racial profiling is not as evident in the GTA, but it has a potential to be more prevalent. Before policing tactics get worse, improvements need to be made in how police officers are getting trained.

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Priyanka Sahajpal immigrated from India to Canada. She is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree at the University of Toronto with a double major in Psychology and Criminology. She hopes her research will change policing practices that will lead to a fair treatment of all individuals regardless of race, gender and age.

“It’s so frustrating!”—South Asian Immigrants’ experiences in the labour market.

“It’s so frustrating!”—South Asian Immigrants’ experiences in the labour market.

Written by Ayesha Tak 

On the day I had to give my presentation on my research topic, I was running late to school. With class starting in 15 minutes and knowing the bus takes an hour to reach to campus, I did what every “millennial” does and ordered an Uber. The driver asked me what I’m studying at the university. “Sociology,” I answered. He nodded and told me he is from the Philippines and that pursuing a degree in Sociology was not common there. He recently migrated to Canada and told me that he finished his college diploma in the Philippines and came here to look for better jobs in his field. However, at the moment, he is an Uber driver by day and works as a warehouse labourer by night.

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This conversation, as I was on my way to present on downward mobility among immigrants, was not coincidental at all.  In Mississauga, a city full of immigrants, you are bound to run into someone experiencing downward mobility as a result of immigration. If you are in your 20s and university-educated, downward mobility does not sound like a big deal or in the realm of possibilities. However, if you ask an older immigrant, you will uncover what a massive hardship it is to move to a new country and have to start again (so to speak). Many immigrants leave behind their families and spend a significant amount of money due to migration costs. They also take a risk on a new country that may or may not extend a warm welcome.

My research looked at the experiences of three South Asian immigrants from Mississauga, Brampton, and London, Ontario; Feroze, Deepika, and Hana. The main findings of the article are divided into three subsections: Credential recognition (or the lack thereof), social obligations, and low morale.

All of the participants claimed that there is a discrepancy between what Canada qualifies as credentials versus what the job market considers acceptable. This theme is also common in much of the previous research conducted on this topic. Participants described how even though they have more-than-adequate education, what was really in demand in the job market was Canadian experience. Having Canadian job market experience is more important to the older participants—Feroze and Deepika. Whereas, Hana voiced the same underemployment woes that plague many young new-grads today.  The Canadian job market experience didn’t matter as much for her since she completed her education in Canada, which qualifies as automatic experience.

Deepika immigrated to Canada from Sri Lanka to start a new life as a married adult and built a family here, leaving her parents and friends behind. However, Feroze immigrated with his family but left his siblings and extended family behind in Pakistan. Despite their differences, both of them faced a difficult time coping with the individualistic and isolating life in cold Canada, as compared to the collectivist societies in South Asian countries. Deepika reminisced about how her house used to be full of guests, and Feroze talked about how he had left his education incomplete to take care of his siblings. Both of these experiences made immigration difficult for the individuals.  Both participants further explained how significant it was to have friends living in Canada to help them settle in and cope. Hana did not experience this same hardship as she immigrated to Canada with her family as a young girl. Her family also had the support system of their extended family who were citizens of Canada.

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Coping with poor labour market prospects and the isolating coldness of Canada takes a toll on self-esteem, morale, and mental health for the participants. While some immigrants, like Feroze, look toward entrepreneurship to carve out their place in the Canadian labour market, some mothers like Deepika have to juggle childcare on top of jobseeking. Deepika had to perform what Arlie Hochschild coined the “double-shift.” In South Asian culture, the fathers are the primary breadwinners whereas the mother is responsible for domestic duties. If the mother decides to work in paid labour, she is still expected to keep up with caretaking duties. Deepika also describes crying due to feelings of helplessness and loneliness. Feroze started to appreciate his entrepreneurial skills after his brief stint as a courier, where he worked for small pay while putting in hard work, as many immigrants do. Hana is looking to become a social worker, but despite enrollment in a social work program and the Canadian credentials to prove it, she is still facing a hard time. In her experience, she claims the defeminizing of the social work profession could be a reason why finding employment in her field as proven challenging. According to Hana, being a woman of colour makes it more difficult to get into social work. However, all participants are continuing to persevere.

To summarize my research, the following quote from Deepika proves helpful: “I would like to work hard. I don’t want to be lazy. I’m not that kind of person, but give me a job. I don’t know dear; it’s so frustrating.”

 

Ayesha Tak was born in Karachi and grew up in Canada. She is in her fourth year doing her specialist in Sociology at UTM. She plans to continue her studies and hopes her research makes a positive impact one day.

A Resilience Perspective on Newcomer Youth: Multicultural Programming and Capacity Building

A Resilience Perspective on Newcomer Youth: Multicultural Programming and Capacity Building

Written by Shelita Yacoob

 

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I began by asking the group a simple but difficult question: What do you miss most about Syria?

Immediately, I felt an upsurge of overwhelming silence.

As I looked over to Maryam, I noticed that she had a curious smile on, perhaps to disguise the tears that were welling up in her eyes. She responded, “my family, of course.” Rasha, who was sitting next to her, comforted her with a hug, wiping her tears away; she blushed trying her best to hold her own tears back.

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As a researcher, I felt guilty for provoking such an emotional response. In what started off as a fun and uplifting conversation between myself and five vibrant young refugees from Syria and Lebanon, quickly became an awkward and uncomfortable space.

I situated my research at a Multicultural settlement services agency in Mississauga, ON, where I conducted semi-structured interviews, facilitated a focus group, and conducted ethnographic observations. Multicultural Services of Peel (MSP) is an organization that helps newcomers and refugees overcome the pre- and post-arrival barriers they experience as they transition into their new environment. The Youth Community Connections Program (YCC) serves around 500 youth ages 13-24 annually. The YCC program allows youth to participate in activities such as the job-search workshop, homework clubs, baking and art activities, field trips, sports, and games.

When I began my research, I started with the intention of gaining an understanding of how Syrian refugee youth perceive the settlement process and the mechanisms that are available to them to cope with pre and post-arrival factors. Some of these factors include – but are not limited to – mental health concerns, social exclusion, limited social ties, bullying, and language difficulties.

Through my research, it is clear that one of the primary functions of YCC programs is to bring youth together and create a space for them to socialize in a positive and open environment.

As I sat down with Jahida, a participant of the YCC program, she shared:

“It’s a good step for them [MSP] to take us to various places, and then to make us play different games… you know in games […], you’re making friends, you’re doing fun… so yeah I played a lot of games of there. Like card games and stuff, and volleyball. So, […] you connect with people and have fun! It’s beyond your studies and beyond your competitive environment… it’s more fun.”

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Leah, a volunteer of the YCC program, later confirmed this as she explained:

“It’s a safe space, I mean there are certain friend groups that hang out together, but it’s never like four corners, everyone kind of intermixes in their own way, in their own time. But it is definitely a nice safe, a social space where they can hang out with their friends or talk to other people in their language and not feel like a teacher is over their shoulders or something.”

It became clear to me that the YCC program was instrumental in fostering an open and barrier-free environment where youth felt comfortable interacting and socializing in a group setting.

Another finding that struck me was that access to formal capacity-building initiatives was made through informal programs and activities. As I sat down with Katzia, the YCC program coordinator, she clarified that through informal programs, such as games, workshops and homework clubs, newcomer youth became aware of formal supports and information.

“They’ll find out about something like kids help phone, what does it do, who can contact it?… so they are aware that there are resources. Because as you know, as a newcomer settlement organization, maybe I can’t deal with certain issues, but they will learn about services that are available to them… so kids help phone is one of those, mental health services… I made sure that I have those resources here as well, information about those resources … and then things like information about the educational system, that’s one that we have a lot of questions about, as well as looking for a job, and how to prepare your resume and things like that.”

Similarly, Jahida, a user of the services, confirmed she would often discuss University and career goals with staff such as Katzia and Sergio. She also shared that the program was instrumental in helping her to enhance her English communication skills.

She stated: “I started to talk there, I used to be a really shy sort of person… and then in my university, it was a hard time for me… because you would have participation marks… […] so it was really hard for me to talk in front of 50 people… so MSP I used to talk there… it’s a communication thing for me.”

This indicated that the YCC Program promoted inclusion and a sense of belonging. It also encouraged intercultural dialogue amongst youth, which led to the formation of social ties.

The most predominant theme in my research was that they still hold career and educational aspirations, despite the fact that refugee youth experienced a lot of pre- and post-migration barriers. I admired their strong sense of resilience as they shared their aspirations to enroll in College and University training. They had desires to become police officers, doctors, and teachers.

For instance, Jahida was excited to share her desire to start up her own NGO. She stated: “I want to run my own business by the way! So, I want to have a business background. My ultimate aim is to run an NGO in Pakistan… Because there are a lot of poor people in Pakistan… Like here, it’s mostly mediocre, and they are living a good life. But in Pakistan, they are like… I don’t know… maybe more than half of the population is just trying to afford their basic needs. So, I want to help them and make employment opportunities for them or do good for the society.”

It was at this point that I realized that the youth in my study developed a strong sense of resilience as a proactive response to the adversity that they faced. Specifically, the youth’s career and educational aspirations were strongly linked to their desire to give back to society and make a difference.

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My research contributes to the existing body of literature that examines how newcomer youth negotiate their educational and career aspirations in the post-migration context. My findings suggest that specialized programming for newcomer youth are highly effective in helping them overcome post-migration barriers, and gain access to capacity-building initiatives. The significance of better understanding how newcomer youth perceive these forms of social support cannot be underestimated. Without understanding the mechanisms that assist newcomers in their new contexts, we fail to meet their needs adequately, specifically in how they can maneuver through systemic barriers.

 

Shelita Yacoob is a passionate young woman aspiring to start an NGO to assist victims of human trafficking, domestic abuse, and sexual violence. She is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree at the University of Toronto with a double Major in Socio-Legal Studies and Political Science. Shelita has spent six years working with a diverse range of NGOs and has become proficient in the field of fundraising and community development.

Why Are There So Many South Asians in Brampton?

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Why Are There So Many South Asians in Brampton?

Written by Nerissa Harrypersad

For those living within the Greater Toronto Area, it is generally known that many individuals refer to Brampton as “Brown-town.” Brampton is located within the region of Peel, in the center of Mississauga, Vaughan, Caledon and Georgetown. Being someone who goes to Brampton quite often, it is understandable to see why many people have nicknamed the city “Brown-town.” There is a Brown person to be spotted everywhere in sight. By Brown, I am referring to mainly South Asians, who significantly populate Brampton.

Why is it that Brampton has a high concentration of South Asians? There are other cities that they could have chosen to reside in, but why Brampton? It is interesting that South Asians have chosen to cluster within Brampton as opposed to other cities. What I am curious in discovering is why Brampton is attractive to South Asians. There may not be only one answer. I predict there are multiple factors drawing South Asians into the city.

In 2006, Noreen Ahmed-Ullah published an article in the Globe and Mail describing the Brampton community. She mentions that nearly 40% of Brampton’s population is South Asian. As an attempt to describe a factor contributing to the overwhelming number of South Asians in Brampton, she states that the house prices being lower than other cities is maintained as attractive. Another explanation is that relatives tend to move together in flocks, sticking together as a community.

Another news article was posted in the Toronto Star in 2013 with regards to the overpopulation of South Asians within Brampton. It was published by San Grewal and also provides possible explanations for South Asian being clustered in Brampton. He provides two possible factors. One includes illegal apartments being affordable for recent immigrants. Since it is affordable, the author explains that it has become popular. Secondly, he mentions that families who are new to Canada want to feel comfortable and want to feel a sense of belonging. Being around other South Asians provides this comfort, making it easier to adapt to the new environment.

As a means of discovering why Brampton is disproportionately populated by South Asians, I decided to have informal conversations with three of my friends who currently live in Brampton. All of these friends identify as South Asian and they were all given pseudonyms. I asked questions based on their history of moving, including when and why they moved to Canada, what cities they have lived in, whether they have rented or owned these places, and how long they have lived at each place. Due to the interest of the neighbourhoods they have lived in, I asked what type of people lived in their neighbourhood they have lived in, specifying race and ethnicity.

Diya was the first individual that I informally interviewed. She is a twenty-one-year-old female who is a soon-to-be graduate from the University of Toronto- Mississauga. Diya identifies as South Asian, more specifically from Sri Lanka. Her religion is Hindu and she speaks Tamil. Diya was born in Sri Lanka and moved to Ontario, Canada in 2009. Currently, Diya and her family, including her mother, father, and two younger brothers, live in Brampton.

Since moving to Canada, Diya has lived in three different places within the city of Brampton. Diya and her family first lived in a house near Shopper’s World, which is a mall located on the intersection of Hurontario Street and Steeles Avenue. They rented this house for three years before moving. This house consisted of four bedrooms. Diya and her brothers all shared the master bedroom, and her parents had their own separate room. The other two bedrooms were used as guest bedrooms, and ideally for storage. Diya generally describes this house as large. She also describes the neighbourhood as one that both she and her family considered safe. The neighbourhood consisted of more than half being South Asians who spoke Punjabi. Although Diya and her family admired the house and the neighbourhood, there was a need to downsize in order to save money.

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This resulted in Diya and her family’s second move within Brampton to an apartment building. This apartment building was in the same neighbourhood as the house they rented. It was located across from Shopper’s World. They also rented this apartment for about three years. The apartment consisted of two bedrooms. Again, Diya and her brothers shared a bedroom, while her parents had their own. Although, Diya and her family moved within the same neighbourhood, she describes this neighbourhood containing mainly Brown and Black people with a couple of Whites. When asked to specify the ethnicities of the Brown people, she mentioned that she could not distinguish them and that it was difficult to tell.

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Finally, when Diya and her family were able to save enough money, they decided to move to a house. Diya and her family currently live in this house in which they own. The main intersection of this house is on Creditview Road and Sandalwood Parkway, also in Brampton. Diya describes this area as one that has developed over the years and still currently developing. This house has three bedrooms. Diya and her brothers were finally able to have bedrooms of their own, however one of her brothers uses their basement as a bedroom. Her current neighbourhood consists of mainly Black people, and some Brown people. Again, when asked to identify what ethnicities were associated with the Brown people, she stated that she could not distinguish.

As we can see, the end goal of the multiple moves was to obtain ownership of a house. Renting was seen as a means of saving money with the hopes of being able to purchase their own house. It took Diya and her family approximately six years worth of saving money. This involved them familiarizing themselves with housing options to determine how to save money.

What is more important is the reason behind Diya and her family choosing to move to Canada, and also choosing to move to Brampton. Diya contends that their decision to move to Canada was based on fleeing the civil war that was occurring in Sri Lanka at the time. They perceived Canada as country where they would have freedom and place where they would have safety. They were told by their family-friends, who also live in Brampton, that Brampton was a safe city. Diya mentions that the main deciding factor in moving to Brampton involved was the comfort of knowing that their family-friends were nearby and could also help them out. For this reason, Diya and her family remained in Brampton.

To summarize my conversation with Diya, there were three main factors involving Diya and her family’s move to Brampton. First off, her family-friends strongly influenced them to move to Brampton because they said it was safe. Secondly, Diya and her family felt a sense of comfort knowing that they knew people within the city if any assistance or support was required. Lastly, although Diya did not mention this, the house market seemed to play a role in the family deciding to remain in Brampton. They spent six years trying to save for house, and they ended up purchasing a house within Brampton. This could mean that Brampton houses were viewed as affordable at the time of purchase.

The next person that was informally interviewed was Amaya. Amaya is a twenty-two-year-old female who is also shortly graduating from the University of Toronto- Mississauga. She identifies as South Asian, being born in India, Gujarat. Her religion is Hindu and she speaks Gujarati. Amaya moved to Canada when she was ten-years-old, in 2005. Currently, Amaya and her family live in Brampton.

Amaya and her family have lived in two cities since moving to Canada. These cities include both Scarborough and Brampton. Their move to Scarborough included Amaya and her family renting from an apartment building. They lived in this building for about five years. The apartment contained one bedroom. This means that Amaya and her parents were required to share a bedroom. Her neighbourhood in Scarborough consisted of primarily White people.

Amaya and her family’s second move was required after her father got a job in Mississauga. The commute was too overwhelming from Scarborough to Mississauga, which encouraged the family to move. They were planning on moving to Mississauga, however they could not find a house within their price range. The decision was then to move to Brampton.

The location of their current house is Bovaird Drive and Chinguacousy Road. This house is owned by the family and they have been living there for seven years. The house contains four bedrooms. Amaya describes the neighbourhood as one that is multicultural. One of her neighbours is a Chinese family, and the other is a Black family. She states that there is a mix of Blacks, Whites, and Browns, but mainly Browns within her neighbourhood. Similar to Diya, Amaya could not distinguish the ethnicities associated with the Brown people in her neighbourhood. She reveals that there are far more Brown people in her neighbourhood currently, as compared to her neighbourhood in Scarborough.

The last person I interviewed was Kavita. Kavita is a twenty-one-year old female who will be graduating from the University of Toronto- Mississauga in a few months. She identifies as being South Asian, from India. Her religion is Sikh and she speaks Punjabi. Kavita and her family moved to Canada in 2000 and has lived in Brampton since.

Unlike the other two females who were mentioned above, Kavita and her family have only lived in one house since moving to Canada. They did not need to rent apartments or houses  with the intentions of saving up for house. Instead, Kavita and her family were able to own a house shortly after coming to Canada. They had to stay with a family-friend, in Brampton, for a few weeks after coming to Canada just to get settled in.

Currently, Kavita and her family live in an area that she describes as the rich area of Brampton. Her house is located in Castlemore. She lives with her parents and her older brother. Kavita’s house contains four bedrooms. Kavita describes her area consisting of mainly South Asians who also speak Punjabi. She also states that her neighbourhood has a few Gurdwaras, which are temples for Sikhs.

When asked why Kavita and her family decided to move to Canada, she stated that all her family and family-friends were here. They were the ones who influenced Kavita’s family to move there. What particularly caught my interest was Kavita’s response to why her family chose to move to Brampton, as opposed to other cities. She stated that her family and family-friends live in her current neighbourhood and for them, having a large house is viewed as being well-off. For Kavita and her extended family, it is all about competition. Whoever has a larger house is viewed as better. She revealed that Castlemore is an area perceived as upper-class where those who are well-off live in the neighbourhood.

All three conversations can be related as they involve similar themes. First, all three women are immigrants who were born in South Asia. What is interesting and that they all ended up residing in Brampton. Another emerging theme was the fact the both Diya and Amaya’s family were involved in renting before being able to own a house. Both Diya and Amaya did not have their own bedrooms until their families were able to own a house. For both of the families, house ownership was intended to be the end goal. Interestingly, Kavita’s family was wealthy and did not require saving money to own a house. For Diya and Amaya’s family the house prices in Brampton were viewed as affordable, which was a significant factor in the decision to own a house in Brampton. Next, the influence of other family members and family-friends was another major factor in the decision to move to Brampton. Both Diya and Kavita’s family and family-friends influenced them to move to Brampton. However, for Diya it was for the purpose of being safe, and for Kavita it was for the sake of competition.

On the topic of neighbourhoods, all the women’s current Brampton neighbourhood contain mainly visible minorities. To reiterate, Diya’s neighbourhood consists of mainly families who Black with some Brown families, Amaya’s neighbourhood consists of a mix of Blacks, Whites and Browns but mostly Browns, and Kavita’s neighbourhood consists of mainly South Asians. Since Kavita is from Castlemore, this may mean that the Castlemore area is more heavily concentrated by South Asians. However, comparing the all three neighbourhoods, mainly visible minorities reside in the neighbourhoods of all three women. It is unclear whether these visible minorities are also immigrants, or born in Canada. More in-depth research would be required to determine this.

Now we are going to draw back to the original question posed in the beginning of the paper: Why are South Asian highly concentrated within the city of Brampton? We have obtained a few insightful answers from the informal interviews conducted with all three South Asian women. Summing up the emerging themes, we discovered possible answers to this question. Affordable house prices is a possible answer. However, this sparks that question of whether this is still a deciding factor to move to Brampton due to the recent increase in house prices. Brampton is becoming developed with more businesses and housing being built, which may have currently increased the house prices as well.

Another potential answer to the question that can be obtained by the interviews is the fact that other family members and family-friends are significantly influential. Having family or friends that are nearby in city may bring a sense of comfort to a newly immigrated family. If any support or assistance is needed, they are close-by and could be there in a matter of minutes. It seems that immigrated families tend to go where ever other family members or friends live. They tend to stick together. On the other hand, living within the same neighbour (like Castlemore) as family members and friends could be a matter of competition. They could bribe an immigrant family to move into their neighbourhood to show-off their big houses, or to show they are better and better-off than they are. Then the question must be asked, why are they so anxious to display that they are well-off?

The results discovered from these informal interviews have proven to be consistent with the news articles mentioned at the beginning of this paper. The article from both the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star mentioned that the price of housing is deemed attractive by newcomers, as the prices tend to be less expensive as compared to other cities. This was the case for two of the women interviewed. The article from the Globe and Mail revealed that newcomers tend to tell their relatives and friend to move into their community, and this was the case for two of the women interviewed. The article from the Toronto Star stated that those who are new to Canada want to feel comfortable and this was the case for one woman interviewed.

In addition, there are other factors that should be considered when thinking about the reasoning behind the high concentration of South Asians within Brampton. For example, I believe that community resources must be considered. Is there a large number programs or services that are offered to immigrants to assist them integrate into Canadian lifestyle? The resources provided to newcomers in other cities must be compared to the ones in Brampton to obtain an accurate account. I have also noticed that there a lot of businesses that are targeted towards South Asians in Brampton, such as grocery stores and clothing shops. Have these businesses been deemed as attractive and/or convenient for the South Asians who live in Brampton? Also, it may be the case that these South Asian businesses make recent immigrants from South Asia feel more at home. Another factor that should be considered is the job market. Perhaps South Asians are more highly concentrated in a particular employment field. If this is true, then a study must be conducted in order to determine whether there are many job opportunities within this field in Brampton. Many people move to a certain city to be closer to their jobs for an easier commute and to save on gas money. I am sure there are many other factors that can be considered, however these are just possible factors at the top of my head.

Reflecting on this project, I realize that I have considered Brampton as a potential city that I would like to reside in the future. My reasoning is consistent with the discoveries of this project. My sister currently lives in Brampton and she always tries to persuade me to move near her. She is a major influence on me and I would love to live close in proximity to her. Also, the housing market is currently booming, and I have always heard that Brampton is more affordable that other cities. If I ever decide to own a house, affordability would be a major factor. However, I do not identify as South Asian, meaning other these explanations do not only apply to the South Asian community in Brampton. House prices and being close to family members or friends can apply to anyone as attractive factors to moving to a city. This means that South Asians and their decision to live in Brampton needs to be studied more in-depth.

Nerissa Harrypersad is currently a senior student at the University of Toronto- Mississauga, completing a Specialist in Sociology and a Major in Criminology. Raised by Trinidadian parents and coming from a rich Trinidadian culture, she is particularly intrigued by other cultures, while consistently learning something new about her own culture every day. She loves the study of culture and what it means to come from a particular ethnic background.

 

Gentrified: To Be or Not to Be? Examining Kensington Market

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Gentrified: To Be or Not to Be? Examining Kensington Market

By: Loki Candelma

I will never forget the first time I visited Kensington Market. It was mid-July, there was not a single cloud in the sky. The sun kissed the city with its gentle heat, a slight breeze buffering the warmth which made it a prime day for iced coffee. Upon entering the neighbourhood, I immediately noticed the distinct crowd, everybody was clad in tattoos, retro clothing, and asymmetrical haircuts- they all looked like me. My friend took me to Rick’s Café, a place I had never heard of previously, where we would sit on the patio, in front of an abandoned car with greenery growing out of every orifice. Once we were done, we would visit The Black Pearl, a tattoo parlour that I had discovered online, and I would later book my first appointment. Before the day was over, we climbed to the very top of the parking garage, where we could see Toronto’s skyline, the city lights twinkling like stars as the sun began to set. I knew this would not be my last visit to this neighbourhood, but I had no idea what the place would end up meaning to me.

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Kensington Market: arguably one of Toronto’s most unique, and diverse neighbourhoods. It is situated around the College and Spadina area, with Bathurst and Dundas Street West bordering the west and the south respectively. The market is made up of specialty vintage shops, organic health stores, and restaurants that are ethnically diverse. The abandoned car that was turned into a makeshift garden, the graffiti murals, and pedestrian Sundays, are all facets that give Kensington market its grungy, quirky charm. But is this charm part of a bigger issue?

In recent years there has been a surplus of a certain kind of brand. There was the installation of the cold pressed juice bar, among a plethora of expensive, independent coffee shops. Perhaps it was the specialty vintage shops that started it all. Surely, they attracted the young 20-somethings, donned in mismatching thrifted pieces and covered haphazardly in hand-poked tattoos. Not that I’m trying to distance myself from this crowd, because with my bright blue hair, septum ring, and sweaters my grandparents could have worn, I give off the vibe that I might fancy some kombucha after an art show.  But normally where there is a gathering of hipsters, gentrification is either soon to follow, or already there.

This begs the question, what are the signs of the gentrification of Kensington Market? Is it going to be fully gentrified or is it already? Of course, to every argument there are multiple sides, so this paper will begin by exploring the business, or rather the “trendy” argument.

A common justification of gentrification is for profit. The juice bars, Whole Foods, and frozen yogurt joints all contribute to the erasure of culture and historical significance, all for profit. Some of the store-owners, however, do not see it as gentrification, but rather, a changing of times. One of the co-owners of the popular vintage store, Courage My Love believes that this is simply evolution, and this occurs every so often.

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The co-owner of Courage My Love describes it as being trendy, which is certainly a part of the process, however, this does mean that trendiness is separate from gentrification. If something will sell, it will be exploited, even if it is problematic in some sort of aspect. For instance, white models will wear their hair in dreadlocks or boxer braids, and this will be branded as high fashion, whereas black people do this but are discriminated for it. Large corporate brands like Forever 21 and Urban Outfitters will sell culturally appropriating items (shirts with dream catchers, indigenous head dresses, etc) and thus, profiting from racism.

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Kensington has a rich history involving immigrants who have set up shop in the area. Different waves of immigrants have moved into the neighbourhood which is why the marketplace has a rich variety of shops. Throughout the years they have cultivated a space for art and community, the foundation of this is from the immigrants who moved into the area to construct this environment. Kensington Market in itself is grungy and eclectic, there is no room for condos or commercial buildings, the community will not allow it. There has been an attempt to build a Wal-Mart in 2014, but this was denied, and they have also denied corporate brands like H&M from advertising in the area because it will ruin the individuality of the neighbourhood. There are also additional by-laws enforced for the neighbourhood that prevents the construction of buildings higher than four storeys. This demonstrates that the community firmly protects the integrity of Kensington, but this does not mean that the neighbourhood is not already gentrified.

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The presence of the newly built condo, the frozen yogurt shop, and the cold pressed juice bar are enough to prove my point. These shops are expensive, and attract a lot of customers, which reproduces the desire to build more shops alike in the area. While some of these coffee shops area structured (cleverly, may I add) in a way to appeal to the population in the area with grungy aesthetics and vintage furniture, they are still a part of the gentrification. So, in short, the thinly veiled argument of gentrification actually being about what is ‘trendy’, has little merit considering it is circular, and returns to the process of gentrification.

There is also another facet of Kensington that arguably contributes to gentrification, but has become one of the market place’s defining f actors. And this is the plethora of coffee shops. Many of these shops are independently owned, and run by small families, or even a single person. They are also fair-trade, and ethical in their practices, which is a key selling-point, considering that ethical consumption seems to be popular among customers. While the entirety of Kensington is composed of independent businesses, buying coffee that is ethically made is expensive, and caters to a higher socioeconomic status.

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I don’t think I have the authority to condemn the small businesses there, because truthfully, I am just another person- among the other customers with dyed hair and tattoos- who enjoys the artistic neighbourhood. I am not one of the residents, unfortunately, this is not my physical home, as much as I would like to think that it is part of my home, in the metaphorical sense. I try to buy my coffee fair trade because I would much rather have my beverage made from fair wages, than support a capitalist conglomerate. But does this mean that I am contributing towards Kensington’s gentrification? Certain parts of activism have certainly become trendy recently, and technically, in a capitalist society, there is truly no ethical consumption.

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In spite of the coffee shops being involved in a grey area, they are also a source of the very artistry that Kensington produces. This includes hosting open-mic nights, and allowing for local bands to play their live music. I go to these places to work- be it art-related, or school-related, I know I am not the only artist who does the same. One of Kensington’s core values is the production and protection of all art forms, hence the brick walls of the neighbourhood replicate canvases.

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Kensington Market holds significant value to the community, including myself, and I intend on doing what I can to preserve the grungy neighbourhood because it has cultivated a safe space for me and my friends alike. Many of the people I have met at this place have been the most authentically kind people I have encountered in my life, whether they are fellow civilians or business owners. Especially with recent events in the news (see: The Pepsi commercial with Kendall Jenner, or the Woman’s march), much of activism and social justice is becoming monetized, and trivialized. Many of the people I have encountered in the marketplace have an understanding of intersectionality, or at the very least, are genuinely good people, and this is something that gentrification will destroy, if it continues. Kensington Market is one of Toronto’s treasures, and I hope it continues to combat commercialism and gentrification.

Loki is in her fourth year, studying Criminology, Sociology, and Women and Gender Studies at UTM. She has a penchant for social justice, and art (all platforms). When she’s not at school, she’s at work, or she’s volunteering for the school’s Sexual Education Centre. In the very little time that she has for herself, she enjoys seeing her friends over coffee, and finding new places to discover in Toronto.

For more on Kensington Market, check out Prof Z’s Photo Essay, also featured on Peel Urbanscapes.