By: Hero Aiken
Internationally, Canada has a spotless reputation. It is a clean, developed, technologically advanced country with a plethora of natural resources. In addition, the people are known for their kindness and exemplary treatment of others. In fact, to foreigners, “Canada is bathed in a glow as rosy as the leaf upon its flag.” (How Canada is Perceived Around the World, CBC, §3). The city of Toronto represents the crowning jewel of Canadian urbanism for many. It merges sophistication, excitement, opportunity and wonder, all while boasting the title of “most multicultural city in the world.” (Toronto: the City of 140 Languages, BBC). For these reasons, it might give the uninformed observer whiplash to consider the underlying failures of this fabled city to protect its most vulnerable. On a daily basis, commuting along Toronto’s major arterial roads will expose the commuter to countless unhoused individuals. It is enough to shatter any unqualified and false illusion of the city and, by extension, the country as a whole and its citizens. On average, 8,700 Torontonians are experiencing homelessness on any given day. This means that for every 10,000 people in Toronto, approximately 30 are homeless (About Toronto Homelessness, Homes First). And yet, the city maintains only 6,800 beds for those experiencing homelessness, many of which are only 24-hour respite beds (City of Toronto). How can good PR mask such glaring negligence of our most at risk? When brutal Canadian nights are spent in outdoor parks and on street corners, babies and seniors alike feel hunger gnawing at their insides. More than 100 unhoused people died in Toronto in 2021 alone (CBC). How do we muster the audacity to present such a falsely noble image to the world?
From this example come the following questions: where has this delusion come from? Who is perpetuating it? What are the consequences of its continued existence and success?
Unfortunately, in the midst of tragedy, the overwhelming response often consists of disguising the issue. For example, in the case of homelessness in Toronto, funds and efforts are lent to make transit shelters and subway stations inaccessible to those in need of shelter. Iron bars are placed on park benches to avoid the unseemly sight of someone hopeless to get some rest. Unnecessary architecture, like the pop-up restaurant that evicted dozens of unhoused individuals in 2019, misuse resources that could be allocated to the care of these people. These changes do nothing to solve the underlying issues which cause homelessness (The Problem with Literally Dining in A Bubble, Toronto Star). Toronto is not alone in this hypocrisy, perpetuating an aura of wholesome trustworthiness while simultaneously declining to meet the needs of the people. Many are those jurisdictions that enjoy a glamorous appearance in the sight of the world, all while perpetuating injustices on their people. Failure to clothe, feed and house all those who are in need is among humanity’s greatest failures. Who can we rely on if we cannot rely on each other?
The above is a concrete example of this frightening phenomenon. If it a surface level slight -if the material reality of millions was not affected by this farce – it would be unreasonable of me to condemn it so harshly. After all, who has not attempted to show their best face to the world? Who does not shy away from their faults? As it stands, however, the failure to recognize this issue will prevent the full provision for the survival and thriving of individuals both locally and worldwide. Thus, we would be irresponsible to denounce it in any but the clearest terms. How can we respect the humanity of each person 一 including “the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services” (UDHR) 一 if we do not acknowledge that it is not indeed being respected? To amputate the roots of inequality and suffering in society, we must cease to be dazzled by the blooms of good manners and good PR. This article aims to sweep aside these distractions and reveal our dangerous attitudes towards injustice and inequality. As long as an ounce of humanity’s energy is spent masking our equals’ suffering, rather than working towards the alleviation of their suffering, we will fail to enact lasting change.
Our greatest strength as humans lies in our ability to collaborate and pool our resources. Conversely, our greatest weakness is our propensity towards factionalism and discord. That said, two things can be gleaned from this: first, we will be unable to act ethically and care for all of humanity if we do not overcome the delusion that we are already doing so. Second, if we do not overcome this misapprehension and work together to provide equality, all will be weakened. Even those who do not suffer acutely from inequality will not fail to suffer from the failure to address it. These are the stakes we are operating under. We cannot afford to hide from our mistakes any longer.
“About Toronto Homelessness.” Homes First, 9 Feb. 2021,
homesfirst.on.ca/about-toronto-homelessness/#:~:text=There are approximately 8,700 people,wait list for supportive housing.
City of Toronto. “City of Toronto 2021/22 Winter Plan Adds Additional Shelter Spaces, Affordable Homes and Enhanced Street Outreach for People Experiencing Homelessness.” City of Toronto, 22 Oct. 2021,
www.toronto.ca/news/city-of-toronto-2021-22-winter-plan-adds-additional-shelt er-spaces-affordable-homes-and-enhanced-street-outreach-for-people-experie ncing-homelessness/#:~:text=From April 2020 to September,within the Toronto Community Housing.
Drolet, Gabrielle. “The Problem with Literally Dining in a Bubble.” Thestar.com, 8 Apr. 2019,
“Ever Wonder Why You Can’t Lie down on Most City Benches? It’s Thanks to ‘Defensive Design’ | CBC News.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 2 July 2019, www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/how-defensive-design-leads-to-rigid-benches -metal-spikes-and-visual-violence-in-modern-cities-1.5192333.
“More than 100 Unhoused People Died in Toronto This Year. Some Say the Shelter System Is ‘Crumbling Quickly’ | CBC News.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 30 Dec. 2021,
www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/homeless-deaths-toronto-2021-1.6300513. “Toronto: the City of 140 Languages.” BBC Travel, BBC,
“Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” United Nations, United Nations, www.un.org/en/about-us/universal-declaration-of-human-rights.
“What the Rest of the World Thinks of Canada | CBC News.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 3 July 2015,