Ford's nemesis, the Toronto Star newspaper has been busy despite the darkness, asking questions benighted citizens want answered. An article by Star staffers addresses five of those questions; such as: Why were so many people - more than 750,000 estimated in the GTA alone - left in the dark after the storm? And: Why are so many people still without power? Readers also question whether Ice Storm 2013 qualifies as an official "disaster"; and when, if ever, was the last time Toronto was blacked out like this; and who's going to pick up the mounting piles of garbage - especially organic garbage, like spoiled food?
The answers in short are: This is the largest, longest power outage in the city's history; why so many were effected is due to the architecture of the power grid and the increased numbers of people and households in the region, many requiring time-intensive single line repair service, since the last great incident in 1965; and yes, extra crews will be deployed for garbage pick-up, and special provisions will be made for organic household waste.
But is it a disaster?
The Star reports Public Safety Canada's Canadian Disaster Database saying, the disaster designation criterion are: "10 or more people killed; 100 or more people affected/injured/infected/evacuated or homeless; an appeal for national/international assistance; [and] historical significance and significant damage/interruption of normal processes such that the community affected cannot recover on its own." According to these criteria, only the 1999 snowstorm, and a deadly 1944 blizzard that killed 21 people have merited the disaster designation in Toronto's history.
Every year Torontonians freeze to death on the streets of the city. The Star reported the storm's supposed first homeless person killed Friday. Five days previous, a man identified as 'Richard' was found dead outside the doors of the Carlton and Church street Loblaw's. According to the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, Richard lay on the sidewalk frozen dead even as holiday shoppers walked past him, eager to get the last minute trimmings for Christmas celebrations. OCAP held services for Richard Monday, December 30th in Toronto, and they provide some sobering statistics for the citizens of this northern country, Canada to mull over. OCAP says;
“The average life expectancy of a person who is homeless in Canada is a shocking 39 years old for women, and 46 years old for men. Homeless men are 8 times more likely to die than men of the same age in the general population. These deaths of people well before their time are preventable. The chronic lack of affordable, accessible and safe housing, the lack of an adequate income, the lack of sufficient programs and services, all contribute to the high mortality rates among homeless and underhoused people. As a result of these government decisions to prioritize profit over human lives, our communities experience loss at a rapid rate.”
City councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam believes the city has failed in its response to homelessness, saying;
“We have had so many opportunities to respond, and I don’t think that we have done a good job.”
“We know that the homeless population in Toronto is getting larger and older, so there is a social tsunami coming our way and we need to be much more proactive as we try to address it.” Adding;
“We have a very wealthy city, and yet we have people who are living on our streets. It’s tough, [and] obviously, we can’t look the other way, and yet, thousands of people do. (This man) is our responsibility.”
Toronto averages 2 homeless deaths per week, and the wall of The Homeless Memorial at Church of the Holy Trinity chronicles more than 700 names of those who have died on the city's streets. Certainly enough of these Canadians have been "affected/injured/infected and necessarily evacuated," and many more than 100 have died. And yet, there's no emergency declared here, no disaster designation appeal made nationally or internationally by the powers that be. Meanwhile, Mayor Ford remains adamant in his refusal to declare a state of emergency, saying;
“This is not a state of emergency.” “State of emergency is basically when the whole city is paralyzed, business can’t open, people can’t get out of their houses. We’re not in that situation. We’ve discussed this numerous times and we’re not even close to a state of emergency.”
Clearly, Toronto's crisis goes beyond an ice storm, or a mayor lacking the necessary empathic skills to perform public service; its failing is a citizenry who remain on the sidelines while demagogues play the system like a cheap violin.