By Adwoa Afful
Ethnic Aisle: On your blog you define yourself, among other things, as an activist. How do you define that term and how has that changed since running for council?
Andray Domise: I’ve been agitating for civic engagement for a very long time. Usually it’s in the form of get-out-and-vote efforts around election days. What troubles me the most is the level of apathy that I run into when I speak to the African-Canadian community, specifically the Caribbean-Canadian one: “there is no point, nothing is ever going to change, why bother.” We make up 8 percent of Toronto’s population. If we actually woke up and used the voices that God gave us and used the voting rights that we have, we can actually see a lot of changes happen in Toronto.
EA: Throughout your campaign you have been pretty vocal about issues related to systemic racism that African-Canadian communities face. What are some the challenges in talking about systemic racism so openly?
AD: The challenges in talking about race aren’t actually challenging. From my perspective, people tend to like honesty. If I, as a Black candidate, am not willing to speak openly and frankly about what systemic racism does, what stereotyping and prejudice does, the damage that, for example, the chief magistrate of our city [does when] calling our young people “niggers,” and “thugs” and “fucking minorities,” if I can’t be honest about the damage that that’s causing, then I’m just remaining silent in the face of evil. [From] my perspective it’s not hard to talk about this stuff. I didn’t get into this necessarily to just get myself elected, but to try to change the political conversation that we’re having in Toronto, which to me is toxic and it’s self-defeating. [The] part that’s a little disheartening is that people from within my own community are saying “you need to tone it down, you gotta to dial it back, don’t be so harsh, don’t be so forward, you gotta take your time.” If this isn’t the time for us to have this conversation, when exactly is that going to happen?
EA: Why do you think that there is backlash when you talk about race from members within your own community?
AD: Because we’re frightened and afraid and a lot of us are cowards. A lot of us are afraid that if we speak about this stuff openly that there is going to be a backlash. James Baldwin once said the only time that non-violence in America is praised is when a negro practices it. We tell ourselves it’s not okay to speak openly and honestly our experiences because we might make people uncomfortable.
EA: So do you see yourself as a lightning rod in this campaign, as the person who’s going to help agitate or reverse that pattern of apathy within the African-Canadian community in Ward 2?
AD: There are people like Idil Burale running in Ward 1, and she’s facing an uphill battle against Vince Crisanti. Idil is so amazing, she’s on the Somali liaison unit for 23 division, to help foster a better relationship between Rexdale police and the Somali community. And I look at somebody like Lekan Olawoye running in Ward 12 against John Nunziata, Kegan Henry Mathews who’s fighting an uphill battle against Giorgio Mammoliti. These people are doing the work by themselves, they’re doing it alone. The fact is if you have a problem with the way that we’re treated in the city and the way that we’re represented, it’s up to you to get your ass up off your chair and do something.
EA: You brought up Idil Burale who is running for council in Ward 1, and has worked to create initiatives that addresses issues like police carding, which disproportionately affects Black Torontonians. Would you ever consider collaborating with other councillors on initiatives meant to address issues that affect African-Canadian communities across Toronto?
AD: Absolutely! Etobicoke North has the highest diagnosis rate for type 2 diabetes for young people for all of Canada. That’s because there is a lack of access to recreational facilities, lack of access to nutritional foods, lack of access to transportation and that has led us to have very sedentary and junk food laden lifestyles and diets. It affects the South Asian community also, but you know it’s magnified on us, it affects white people in the Ward, but it’s magnified on us.
EA: Your background is in insurance and you worked for large companies like SunLife Financial, and you talk a lot about proposing business based solutions to address some of the issues facing Ward 2. How can the business sector or the private sector help address some of the issues you’re campaigning on?
AD: We have a ton of green space and a ton of undeveloped land, you don’t even have to have a business background per se, you can simply take a look around. It’s a very, very undeveloped area. Development skipped over Etobicoke altogether and headed over to Mississauga. I was just over at Square One yesterday, and there is just so much development happening. Because they had all that open real estate Mayor Hazel McCallion saw this and said “we’re going to build right here,” and they’ve been at that work for the last 20 years and it’s amazing how much change has happened.
What really makes me sad about that is that the Applewood area of Mississauga is a very low-income area. You can compare it to Rexdale in a lot of ways, in the sense that it’s lower income and very, very diverse. You could do the exact same kind of work in Rexdale. You could have a partnership with those developers to say “look, if you want to build here that’s great, but what you’re going to do is provide neighbourhood services, green spaces, public spaces, rec centres, better access to transportation.”
EA: You have also talked eloquently about the stigma that surrounds Rexdale and other communities in Ward 2, as a result of being designated as a priority area. What do you think the rest of Toronto has to learn from the communities in Rexdale?
AD: Churches and charities, they’re the glue that holds this neighbourhood together. People may not be politically active, but they are socially and consciously active, in the sense that they want the best for themselves and their neighbours. There are people who volunteer at the Rexdale community health centre, Pathways to Education, [and] churches. My own church, for example, before school starts we'll go and knock on doors in our neighbourhood and hand out $50 gift cards to Staples to make sure that people who don’t have enough money to get back to school supplies for their kids at least have something. We have done the hard work of filling in the gap that our political classes refuse to fill. And something that I am really proud of is that we come together as a community in times of need and make sure that we provide for each other.
EA: What is your favourite spot in Rexdale, where do you go to chill or where do you go to re energize yourself?
AD: During the summertime, Pine Point is a really awesome place, and I just like to go jogging up there, or take the car up and read a book. The Humber trails are some of the best walking trails that you’ll find in Toronto. The amount of parks and trails that we have here in Rexdale is amazing.