Whose Rights Are They Anyway?


by Roxanne Tellier

The east end of Toronto has always been an interesting mix of peoples. Heavily treed and with many well tended parks, it’s a beautiful area, diverse and dynamic. 

As real estate mania crested, beginning in the ‘80s, the traditional division of what was considered the highly priced Beach kept moving northward from the original Queen Street East designator. I’ve seen homes above Gerrard and just below the Danforth being called “Upper Beach” housing. Madness. Big Money.

The homes, be they bungalows, duplexes, or single dwelling two- and three-story homes, have soared in value. Finding anything for sale for less than $1 million and a half is pretty much like a unicorn sighting. A tiny bungalow across the street from our rental bungalow was listed last year for about $699,000. It was snapped up within a week for a million more than list price.

The tenants of these homes are now a mixture of the original owners, and the new owners, those who can afford to buy into these lovely streets. And that can cause some interesting problems, depending on how the residents, both new and old, react to neighbourhood incidents.

Long term EastEnders tend to be old school, a little bit lefty, but very property proud. The newer residents are generally younger, and upwardly mobile. They have to be, in order to afford these prices.

A couple of years ago I noticed a torrent of messages in a page on Facebook that is populated by people living in the Woodbine and Danforth area. It was a lovely summer night. As the sun began to set, someone posted that a man and his son had erected a tent in the center of East Lynn Park, and were blasting tunes quite loudly.  

The poster’s concern was that they had just put their kids to bed, and that the noise was keeping the little ones awake. They also wondered what would prompt someone to treat a city park as a camp ground.

Within moments the chain of messages headed for AbsurdiaLand, as far left proponents speculated on the circumstances, and began a campaign to politicize the event. This was around the time when people were beginning to ‘occupy’ Toronto parks, in protest, and several people assumed that this was the case here.

The sign someone put up on Victoria Park Avenue didn’t last long

Others presumed that this incursion had to do with the man and his son being homeless and indigent; several proposed gathering up food, water, blankets, and other welcoming items for the two.   

Many respondents were angry with those who agreed with the first poster, that this was noise pollution. It soon became apparent that noise was the least of their worries, as comments soon appeared that noted that the boy, and the dog they had with them, were using the kiddie wading pool as a toilet.

And then there was the drink and drugs that were being used – hey, it’s legal now, said some. Others thought that the presence of a child, in a children’s park, indicated that this was not the right place in which to indulge such habits.

Hundreds of belligerent, and of escalating emotional messages later, the Battle of East Lynn Park concluded when it was discovered that the man and his son had rolled up their tent and left. The war of words had been fought in a flurry of suppositions and assumptions, because, as it turned out, the man and his son were simply nearby residents who had decided to play camp that night.

But following that evening’s arguments, many long-time neighbours began a cold war of resentment against each other’s political views.  

During the pandemic, something similar happened with the arrival of ‘porch pirates.’ While most people who had their deliveries of groceries or Amazon goodies pinched were justifiably angry and disturbed when things they ordered were stolen,  there was a very loud faction of residents in the East End who felt that exceptions must be made for people who might be stealing those items due to financial misfortune, or psychological impairment.  

One woman wailed that her delivery of groceries had been stolen off her porch in the time between when she’d received a phone call announcing it’s delivery, and her walk from her kitchen to her porch. No sympathy was extended to her, however, by those who felt that the groceries might have been righteously purloined by people financially inconvenienced, who might need that food more than she, a resident in a well-to-do neighbourhood, could ever be expected to understand.

No matter how egregious the actions, there was always a noisy faction that could find every conceivable excuse for the thieves, excuses that absolved the crimes, and placed the onus on the innocents who merely expected to receive the things they’d bought and paid for, in a time when many were afraid to leave their homes and mingle with the great unmasked.

As we near Halloween and the holiday season, people are starting to worry about teens looking to pull pranks on neighbours. Some pranks are relatively harmless, while others can be considered vandalism and malicious. We can’t write off the fears and damage done to residents and property by kids enjoying themselves by absolving the perpetrators, and blaming the victims for having the temerity to own homes in a desirable neighbourhood.

There have been incidents along Queen Street East, and into the Beach area, throughout the pandemic. There have been unsupervised bonfires, dogs being sicced on baby foxes, and reports of roving gangs of teens damaging property along the main street. In one well publicized incident, a rave up devolved into horror when a partygoer began running through the Leslie Spit, threatening people with a chainsaw.

Toronto police have not been very responsive, and can rarely be bothered to respond in a timely manner to residents requests for help. Add to that the far-left voices that seek to absolve the kids of their crimes, and who, remembering their own halcyon days of the toilet papering of neighbours and other minor acts of vandalism, chuckle that ‘it’s just kids!” and ‘boys will be boys!

Small comfort when it’s your porch that’s been trashed, your garden that reeks of urine, and your job to clean up the mess left behind by the youthful marauders.    

Now, here’s the thing. The demographics of the vocal minority of the left are surprisingly similar to that of the right; as a rule, those speaking in defense of minorities, the poor, and the disenfranchised are actually the better educated, wealthier people, in two-parent households. Couples who wait to have kids and buy homes tend to have higher incomes and better social mobility, and that can make them more attuned to the real or perceived lack of funds and rights of people struggling with less.

But that attunement can pitch them into a battle against the people on the right who feel no such empathy towards those who have, for financial, physical, or emotional reasons, eschewed the traditional paths of a family friendly agenda.

And it’s definitely causing huge divides, even between the centre left and the left, and that’s a battle that can lead to some pretty severe consequences politically, in time. While it’s currently more visible in the States, where the centre left leaning Democrats are battling with their own party’s far-left leaning members, to the detriment of the nation, we’re daily creating our own smaller divisions that are sending milder, less vocal, small and capital L liberals to the ‘other side.’

When people act in extreme ways, when we see the hysterics of the far right or the far left, we can easily see how off-putting this is to those whose beliefs and needs lie straight down the middle. What we often fail to see is that this can lead to the actual, less vocal, majority moving towards the conservative right, which has traditionally been the home of the politically conservative, veering towards regressive, voters.

That’s what’s happening to the Democratic party in the States right now. On the far left, the vocal majority is imperilling the good that could come from the Build Back Better Act by emphasizing tactics and ideology that repel the centre left. Centrists in the party believe that some of the demands of the younger, more progressive members leave them open to attacks from the Republicans, who will use the more ‘out there’ demands to paint the entire Democratic party as radical socialists, all of whom want nothing more than to enact far-left positions like late term abortions and defunding the police.

Democratic senators Manchin and Sinema, far to the right of centrism at the best of times, are able to ride that position in their own states to justify denying important infrastructure projects, on the grounds that their conservative viewpoints can’t accept using funds to help with college tuitions, childcare, senior care, and major action on climate change. Their decisions to deny funding anything they disagree with, will effectively kill any likelihood that all Americans will be able to profit from the use of their own tax dollars to improve their lives, when the Act has been ripped to shreds to satisfy the outliers, both on the left and the right of centre.

That’s what happens when we give extremism too much free reign. Many of us have solid opinions, and have strongly held views about our society and our neighbours, and that’s our right. What we don’t have the right to do is to quash other people’s opinions and views. In a civilized society, in a democracy, we all have rights, and the key to keeping things moving forward is balancing the right and the left, so that neither side is given too much sway in how we live our daily lives.

The place to start, where we begin to work together rather than to tear each other apart, is right in our own neighbourhoods.   

Having empathy and understanding means being able to hold two thoughts in one’s mind simultaneously. We need to be able to look at acts that threaten our values and rights in a balanced fashion. This means that those who commit crimes, regardless of the motivation, need to be held responsible for their actions. If their actions were compelled by socio-economic or psychological problems, their actions still endangered, or damaged property owned by another person, and there needs to be some justice done to mitigate that crime. We can talk about how we can help that bad actor to change their life path AFTER we address the damage that they have done to our society through their bad actions. No one is entitled to ‘more justice’ than the next person. Justice demands balance.

Can we really be living in a time when we’re addressing issues like the #MeToo movement, but simultaneously saying “Kids will be Kids… Boys will be Boys” and allowing them to engage in destructive and bullying patterns that will transition with them from childhood to adulthood?

Children who are indulged when they engage in pranking, bullying neighbours, or hurting animals are just kids in training for a future where they believe that bullying women, children, minorities and animals are fair game.   

It may be difficult to look at the young, shining face of a child or teen and find them guilty of harming others by what seems to be mere childish pranks, but for every kid that gleefully ran up to a door and rang the bell at midnight, there’s an adult who has spent hours finally getting a child to sleep; a senior suffering from a painful illness who just found a comfy spot in their bed; a beloved pet jolted from rest and into defensive mode at a sound in the night.

We shape our future society by what we teach our kids, and how we encourage them to engage with others. If we teach them to respect the needs, values and rights of others, we get a society we all enjoy. But if we allow our children and each other to selfishly demand that our rights and needs be given precedence over that of others, we choose a path of anger and chaos, and a society where we run the chance of people in positions of power taking away our rights, since we clearly aren’t able to handle them for ourselves.

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