Tuesday June 22, 1999

Bruce DeMara

p. B1.

'Challenging time' ahead as Chow joins police board

As a member, she'll seek answers from the inside

With everything else she has on her plate, why does Councillor Olivia Chow want a seat on the inevitably controversial Toronto Police Services Board?

"I'm going to do policing whether I'm on the police services board or not. It doesn't matter. I've always done policing," said Chow (Downtown), who joins the board later this week for the next 18 months.

Chow played an important role in the Jane Doe case, in which a rape victim successfully sued police for failing to properly warn her of the potential danger from a serial rapist.

She has also been involved in examining how police respond to domestic violence, the force's decision to adopt AT&T's translation services, and community policing issues.

More recently, she has been among a small group of councillors on council's budget committee that has reviewed the force's $500 million-plus budget.

Chow also sits on the community services committee, and is city council's first child and youth advocate.

A better question might be how Chow, a left-wing feminist with strong views on the force's need to be less secretive on its budget and other issues, was chosen by a centre-right council, with only a handful of dissenters.

Chow will seek answers of police

Fellow board member says councillor in for 'challenging time'

"I think a lot of the councillors figured they need to deal with policing issues because it costs so much money and they were getting a bit frustrated that they couldn't get answers," Chow said.

"They feel they can't get answers from the outside. So they figured if they throw me in the inside, maybe I could. They may not agree with me all the time, but they know I'm going to be in there, doing the work."

Councillor Judy Sgro (North York Humber) whose 18 months on the board has seen her locked in an increasingly pitched battle with the Toronto Police Association and its head, Craig Bromell, welcomed Chow's arrival on the board.

"What can I say that would be polite? I certainly welcome her on the board and I think it's going to be a real challenging time," Sgro said.

Her experience and her dogged determinism will stand her up very well on the police services board. She's going to need all of it to survive."

As council's advocate for children and youth, Chow says the public needs to hold senior levels of government accountable, with child poverty at record levels in Canada and tens of thousands of children in Toronto without proper shelter and nourishment.

'I'm going to be in there, doing the work'

"Whenever they do a poll, the public says very clearly, we need to invest in children, we must have child care, we need to invest in the caring of our children," Chow said.

"The reality — what gets promised and what gets delivered — is so different. So half the time, it gets really frustrating. Wait a minute, you promised, you said you would do this. Why won't you do it?"

A crisis in child care looms, Chow warned, because of the province's determination to fully implement workfare in Toronto, including for single mothers. Toronto has 23,000 subsidized daycare spaces with a waiting list of 15,000 families. The workfare plan will eventually see 21,000 single mothers requiring child care, Chow said.

City officials set aside 2,000 childcare spaces in the past year for single mothers on workfare and asked the province to pay the standard 80 per cent subsidy, she added. "It's been a year now and the province has said no," Chow said.

"I don't know how they (the province) think they can implement workfare properly without child care. Anybody with half a brain would know if mom has to go to work what are you going to do with the kids?"

Chow, who served two terms on the Toronto public school board before joining Metro council in 1991, said her decision to enter politics was driven by a period in her teens years when she was fervently religious.

When she arrived in Toronto from Hong Kong at the age of 13, Chow said she became a devout Baptist.

"I'm driven by a sense of equality and justice," she said. "Those core values stayed while the fundamentalist beliefs about the Bible, that every word was true and all that, didn't."

Chow studied theology but majored in fine arts at university. She never studied politics, but that didn't stop her from working as a political aide to former New Democrat MP Dan Heap.

"It (politics) is something you have to do. There's a sense of responsibility," Chow said. "I don't mind being a politician. It's a form of art too. I suppose, because you can get quite creative."

Chow who recently received an honorary fellowship from the Ontario College of Art and Design along with film director Atom Egoyan, said art is one of the few outlets that offers her a break from politics.

"I'm happiest when I'm painting or sculpting," she said.

Toronto Police clippings… [Fiona Stewart]

Created: October 9, 2000
Last modified: October 9, 2000
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