City shows compassion in our forests and on transit
I’m hurt and saddened when I hear the province disparage our municipal government. I find the City of Toronto consistently embodies and expresses humane values. It should be lauded, not criticized.
Recently, as I walked near St. Clair W. station, I came upon a city-authorized sign at the entrance to the Nordheimer Ravine. It featured a photograph of a coyote with its thick wolf tail and the words, “Coyotes are a natural part of the urban landscape.”
While some governments portray this animal as wild and menacing, Toronto suggests it’s a member of our civic family. It’s not an alien but a neighbour. The sign could have said these canines are forest-dwellers; instead, emphasizing their bond with humans, it stressed they’re urbanites.
The city could present coyotes as vermin. It could urge their eradication — and enlist public support in this undertaking. It doesn’t. Yes, it says we should “exercise caution” and warns these animals can threaten pets. But overall it counsels tolerance.
The municipality doesn’t want them harmed. Its website explains what to do during an encounter: “Throw a tennis ball or a small pebble or stick at the coyote, but only to show the coyote who is boss — not to injure!” The latter injunction is significant. In its effort to protect residents, the city will not condone anti-animal violence. The goal, suggests the website, is to “live in harmony with Toronto’s wildlife.”
This refusal to demonize is beneficial to the animal, as it helps prevent cruelty — but it also benefits people. It fosters in Toronto a spirit of broad acceptance. Among creatures both four-legged and two, the objective is co-existence and embrace of the “other.”
This ethos also finds expression in the “TTC Way” advertising campaign. Transit vehicles and stations display a series of maxims setting out how riders and staff should be treated. Two of the most powerful: “We welcome all” and “We are becoming a transit system that is more accessible for all.”
At one level, the TTC is saying everyone should be able to enter its vehicles; for example, through subway-station elevators or ramps that allow wheelchairs onto streetcars. But these messages are not just about mobility. They telegraph a humane politics.
Many places around the globe emphatically do not “welcome all.” Quite the contrary. We live in a world that, throughout history and often today, turns people away. The TTC refuses to do this.
While some governments are tightening borders and building walls, the commission pledges the diametric opposite: it affirms the value of taking barriers — physical and monetary — down. (The city is phasing in fare reductions for low-income passengers.) If signs on our buses and streetcars state repeatedly, “We welcome all,” it builds a compassionate culture in which, for example, racists cannot easily call for refugees’ expulsion.
While Ontario is ending the basic income pilot and cancelling a minimum wage boost — which will harm the vulnerable — the city is working to diminish cruelty, in both our forests and the wider community.
The province is essentially saying that the highest priority is to put more money in your own pocket. The TTC Way says: “Look out for each other.”
Gideon Forman is a transportation policy analyst at the David Suzuki Foundation.