“When the truth is replaced by silence, the silence is a lie.”
Yevtushenko (Russian dissident)
It would be an understatement to say that there has been silence on the issue of Herongate, the largest, racialized demoviction in Canada. Over 10 media outlets to date have run stories both in print and television, documenting the struggles of the tenants of Herongate to save their community. For those of you who have been away at your cottages, in May of this year, Timbercreek Asset Management announced that the townhomes “within the borders of Heron Road, Baycrest Drive and Sandlewood Drive (approximately 105 units) had reached the end of their lifecycle and would be demolished. This is in addition to their 2016 demoviction of 80 units to build luxury high-rises. Timbercreek’s aim is to “help the area become a premium, active adult orientated rental community meant to offer resort-style living” (Real Estate News Exchange) Residents were given until September 30th, 2018 to vacate. They were also offered relocation assistance, 3 months rent (as per the requirements under the Residential Tenancies Act) and $1500 to assist with moving expenses (recently increased to $2000). Immediately on receiving these notices the tenants began to organize, forming the Herongate Tenants Coalition with one and only one clear message: WE ARE NOT MOVING! Organizations like Ottawa ACORN who have been working for housing justice in Herongate for over 5 years, as well as the District Labour Council, progressive lawyers, and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing, Leilani Farha have joined in to support the tenants. Door to door organising, fundraising and preparation for legal action are all in progress. However, it is the organizations and people who have not stepped up, who have kept silent, that I am most disappointed with.
Let’s start with the obvious, elected officials, especially the Mayor and Ward Councillor. Along with the local MPP, they have taken the position that, although they sympathise with the community, their hands are tied in light of Provincial legislation that allows an owner to evict residents if they plan to demolish their property. These elected officials have put their efforts into doing everything they can to help the tenants find new accommodations and perhaps get them a couple of months more time to look for new accommodation. Although they are partially correct about the eviction process, (there are grounds to fight it) they are silent on some other relevant questions, like how did the City, who controls By-law enforcement let this property deteriorate to the point that it has. Why has there been no enhanced or proactive enforcement by City By-law officials in Herongate. They have known for over 6 years that there have been significant property standards infractions on site. “Mayor (Watson) wants action at Heron Gate Village” (Ottawa Citizen, August 11, 2011). Also, the last time I looked, the City controls the planning process. Why has there not been a demand from these elected officials for a new community plan that would be affordable, inclusive, and family oriented and which does not displace the current residents? The local Councillor talks about the “developer led” Secondary planning process that is currently underway. How does this serve the 400+ existing residents who find themselves uprooted from their community? Again…silence. My biggest disappointment however is aimed at some of the local community agencies that one would have thought, would be on the front lines supporting the tenants in their struggle to save their community. Instead, their Boards have instructed, silence, or at least neutrality. They have offered “all assistance, short of help”. You know who you are, shame on you.
I personally am hopeful that we can still save this vibrant and caring community. It is not to late for Timbercreek to put an end to the displacement, and to reset the planning process and engage with the community and the City to design a development that works for everyone. If this does not happen, well, we still have this Fall’s municipal election. I recall the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.:
“On some positions, cowardice asks the question, is it safe? Expediency asks the question, is it political? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? But conscience must ask the question is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a stand that is neither safe, nor political, nor popular. But one must take it because it is right.” Something to think about when you are casting your vote this Fall!