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Local 79 President Nas Yadollahi pens Toronto Star OpEd

In today’s Toronto Star, Local 79 President Nas Yadollahi has written an OpEd marking the 20 year anniversary of her brother Soroush’s murder. She details the impacts of his death, and the process of how she came to understand that, while we as a city couldn’t save her brother, there are clear ways we can make Toronto safe for everyone. And it starts with properly funding City services. (Pictured above, captured 20 years ago, Nas leans her head on her brother Soroush’s shoulder).

Click here to read the Toronto Star article, or read the text of the OpEd below:

We couldn’t save my brother but here is how to make Toronto safe for everyone

Twenty years ago Monday, my big brother became Toronto’s second homicide victim of 2004. He was killed six months before his wedding, a recent university grad with his whole life in front of him. My brother was my best friend.

I spent the first decade after his death feeling angry and resentful. An act of violence upturned my family’s world, and I couldn’t help but feel betrayed by our city and the promise that it would keep us safe.

Ironically, my job as a City of Toronto Youth Outreach Worker based out of Crescent Town, St. James Town and Dirftwood existed to help curb the very violence that killed my brother. I worked with at-risk youth, helping to steer them toward recreation programs that channelled their teenage energy and penchant for risk into healthy social interactions.

In many ways, it was this work that helped heal me. I could move from my hopelessness, as I saw with my own eyes how Toronto’s community recreation programs actively prevented violence by helping youth who might turn to harm because there was nowhere else for their pain.

With a living wage of $25 an hour in Toronto, I also know how quickly cycles of poverty repeat themselves. People are having trouble keeping up. Even City of Toronto workers are struggling to make ends meet as inflation quickly surpasses any small negotiated salary increases. Many of them are a paycheque away from experiencing a housing crisis of their own and some are already having to resort to food banks to put food on the table. 

When our city workers, the backbone of our city’s public infrastructure, feel the squeeze, what can be said about workers who are not unionized. Every day, countless Torontonians must make difficult choices that put them in precarious financial and personal situations. Our most vulnerable community members in the most marginalized parts of our city face homelessness and destitution as the cost of living soars.

In 2023, during a historic byelection, our city made a choice to move forward with hope and care over fear and the status quo. 

In 2024, we have the opportunity to make meaningful change by addressing how the city spends its budget. As City Council and the Budget Committee get ready for public presentations and discussion and our mayor prepares to table her first budget one thing is clear: investing in our public services and in the workers who deliver them is how we make our communities whole and safe.

We can choose to hire more recreation workers — after school program workers and youth workers to create better programs for our young people. We can choose to strengthen funding for our shelters and our public long-term care homes so the most vulnerable Torontonians receive better services. We can choose to expand programs like the Toronto Community Crisis Service for a better way to manage mental health crises in our city. 

Prioritizing how the youngest Torontonians experience the city is how we build for the future. It is incumbent upon us to make sure all children in our city have access to programs in their neighbourhood that engage and motivate them — like the youth outreach programs I have worked on as a city employee. Imagine what we could do if programs could be expanded — bigger, better, more accessible for every child, teenager and young adult in Toronto.

I don’t believe that anyone is born with the disposition and desire to pull a trigger. I do believe that underfunding our public services marginalizes the most vulnerable communities in Toronto.

I still don’t know what drove the person who murdered my brother or who they are. What I do know is that we have to do better and create a more just and equitable city — a city where everyone belongs and one where we invest in communities.

Nas Yadollahi is the newly elected President of CUPE Local 79, representing 30,000 City of Toronto workers.

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