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Welcome to the Peterborough Currents newsletter – the local news round-up edition.
I’m Brett Throop, a reporter here at Currents. Here are some of the stories we’re following this week:
- Peterborough city council has voted to pursue heritage designation for Jackson Park;
- Peterborough Police are asking for their largest budget increase in years;
- Ontario is spending $6 million on workplace cancer research, while compensation for former GE workers who’ve fallen sick remains in question; and
- the newly opened new Indigenous People’s Court of Peterborough aims to address over-representation of Indigenous people behind bars.
Council endorses heritage designation for Jackson Park
City council voted unanimously on Monday to pursue heritage designation for Jackson Park, a swath of greenspace and old growth forest whose contested fate has long been a key fault line in Peterborough politics.
A plan dating back to the 1940s calls for the Parkway to be extended through Jackson Park – a proposal that has sparked decades of acrimonious debate in the city.
Designation as a cultural heritage landscape would add a layer of protection from any future alterations to the park, which opponents see as one more nail in the coffin of the Parkway extension. It comes after council wiped all mention of the Parkway from the new transportation plan and official plan.
A staff report describes Jackson Park, which was laid out between 1894 and 1895, as “a rare example of late 19th century picturesque park design that is unique to Peterborough.”
The report points to the overall design and layout as heritage features worth preserving, along with the Pagoda Bridge, which already received heritage status in 1987. Heritage designation bans “unwarranted demolition” of heritage features, and makes it more difficult to make “major alterations” to them.
At Monday’s general committee meeting, a string of councillors expressed their love for the historic park.
“I am not one that was born in Peterborough, but Peterborough is in my soul,” said councillor Stephen Wright. “One of the things that gives it that prominence to me is the greenspace that we have in the city… a walk through Jackson Park on a stressful day is definitely a holiday.”
The heritage designation still has to be ratified at a future council meeting.
Peterborough police want a 3.5 percent funding boost next year
Peterborough police are asking for their largest budget increase in at least six years, after earlier calls to defund police have largely fallen silent in the city.
The police services board has requested a 3.5 percent increase to their operating budget for 2022, for a total of $27.7 million. That amounts to an extra $946,014 of spending on police operations.
Last year, some citizens urged council to redirect money from policing toward social programs, amidst a widespread movement to defund police in the wake of the police murder of George Floyd, a black man, in Minneapolis.
At one point in summer 2020, councillor Dean Pappas told the Peterborough Examiner that he’d received more than 50 emails in one week and up to 24 phone calls a day urging him to cut the police budget. The police board received about a dozen letters to the same effect, according to the Examiner article. Instead, that fall council boosted spending for police operations by 2.8 per cent, or $737,435.
The request for an even larger funding increase for 2022 has so far garnered little attention during this year’s budget deliberations. (Council did, however, claw back half of the police’s 2020 surplus of about $490,000 to put toward an opioid addiction program. Police had requested to keep the full amount).
The budget boost for 2022 is needed just to maintain existing service levels, according to a staff report to finance committee last month. That’s due in part to salary increases resulting from a new collective bargaining agreement. The service also wants to hire a few additional civilian staff, including two full-time 911 operators.
Past budgets available on the City website show that between 2016 and 2021, council approved an average of 2.7 percent a year in additional police spending.
Police are also asking for $1.4 million in capital spending next year, for such things as a prisoner van, an in-car camera system and new fingerprint devices. On top of that, there’s an additional $372,800 in the draft city budget toward a new $68 million police station.
Meanwhile, the draft budget includes a more modest increase to the City’s share of social services spending (the bulk of which the province pays for through municipal transfers).
That increase was initially pegged at 2.6 percent, or $290,984, bringing the city’s total contribution up to $11.7 million. Almost all of the increase will go toward housing and homelessness programs. (The figure doesn’t include social spending approved during budget deliberations, including the opioid addiction program, which will bump up the total).
Province commits $6 million to research workplace cancers
A former GE Peterborough employee says funding won’t help sick workers who’ve been denied compensation.
The province is pledging more than $6 million to research workplace cancers, after an expert report found that Ontario is failing to adequately identify and track disease caused by toxic exposures on the job.
But the funding announcement “provides no relief” to those workers who have already fallen sick and are fighting to receive compensation, according to a press release from the Occupational Disease Reform Alliance (ODRA).
The vast majority of Ontarians who get workplace cancers never receive compensation, research shows.
Former workers at Peterborough’s Ventra Plastics and the now-shuttered General Electric plant have been at the forefront of a province-wide push to reform the worker’s compensation system, as my colleague Will Pearson reported in September. Disease clusters have been identified among former workers of those plants but many have been denied compensation.
“We need action now,” Peterborough’s Sue James, ODRA chair, is quoted as saying in the press release. “Most disabled workers already live below the poverty line.”
James is a former GE employee, whose father also worked at the plant and died of cancer.
One of her group’s demands is for the Workplace Safety and Insurance Bureau to expand the list of cancers that the province defines as “presumptively” work-related.
The new provincial funding will go to the Occupational Cancer Research Group “to identify the causes of workplace cancers, prevent them from occurring, and better support workers already impacted by occupational illness,” according to a government press release.
The Examiner is reporting that Labour Minister Monte McNaughton has agreed to meet with workers in Peterborough and elsewhere in the province who have been denied compensation for workplace cancers.
Indigenous People’s Court opens in Peterborough
by Ayesha Barmania
On November 26, Peterborough Currents attended the opening of the new Indigenous People’s Court of Peterborough. The new court is an alternative model for sentencing criminal offenders from Indigenous communities.
The court is based on a model sometimes called a Gladue Court. These courts seek to address the over-representation of Indigenous people in Canada’s jails and prisons by prioritizing cultural and land-based healing programs, and treating incarceration as the last resort.
The new court sits on Fridays and brings the Western judicial system together with knowledge keepers from Hiawatha First Nation, Curve Lake First Nation and the urban Indigenous community. The court members sit in a circle with the person being sentenced and determine a culturally appropriate sentence.
Ryan Robertson is the coordinator for the Indigenous People’s Court of Peterborough. “Today we honour our rights as Indigenous Peoples to self-determination within the Canadian legal system,” he said. “We are committed to providing the space for the traditional framework of law to be practiced within that legal system. For all Indigenous peoples living in Nogojiwanong and the surrounding areas, today we celebrate the recognition of our cultural practices that law and justice is to be restorative.”
The court is available for Indigenous people in the criminal system, who can self-refer or be referred by agencies like the Nogojiwanong Friendship Center.
Before I let you go – at last night’s general committee meeting, Councillor Dean Pappas remembered attending boy scouts in Jackson Park as a kid (we would really love to see a photo of that). “If you ask anybody in our community, they all have a story about Jackson Park,” he said.
So what’s your favourite Jackson Park memory? Let us know and we might feature it in the newsletter.
Thanks for reading! Take care,
Reporter, Peterborough Currents