To him who is in fear everything rustles.
The intersection of Jane and Finch is well known to most Torontonians. It’s not a place the majority of it’s citizens have actually lived in, visited, or in fact, even driven by. Most Torontonians know it from news reports. It’s the place that people get shot or stabbed. Where drug gangs control the streets, and everyone else around cowers in fear.
Yet, if you go there, on the surface at least, it looks like any other neighbourhood. Albeit, with it’s large looming apartment block high rises, and low lying strip malls below featuring Money Mart and McDonalds franchises along with the increasingly ubiquitous Dollarama – it’s not exactly Rosedale; the tony neighbourhood just North of the city’s downtown, and about a million miles away in the minds of Jane and Finchers. There are similarities though. Adults go to work. Children go to school. Babies are pushed in carriages. It’s not exactly the pictured war zone that the newspapers seem to paint.
But complexity doesn’t sell papers. Fear does. Fear quickens the pulse, and boils the blood. These are the emotions that make for compelling viewing on cable news networks.
And so, the flavour of the day is terrorism. But it wasn’t always so. Before terrorism we had global warming, AIDS, killer bees, satanic cults, heavy metal, nuclear war, gangsta rap. McCarthyism. The Salem witch trials. The list goes on and on throughout our cultural history. Now it’s terrorism. To be more specific, Muslim extremism. Al Quaida, ISIS, beheadings, jihadi brides, radicalization, suicide bombs, terror plots. These are the stories shoved down our collective throats on a daily basis.
It’s only a matter of time. That’s what paid security experts say. That’s what politicians that want to get elected will tell you. That’s what defence contractors and law enforcement officials, looking to have their budgets increased, will echo. They, like the terrorists themselves, and in fact, even the media organizations that report on them, like it or not, are all in the business of fear. Fear, it would seem, is good for business. It gets politicians elected. Fear sells handguns to housewives. Fear sells security alarms to suburban families. Fear sells personal parachutes to executives that work in office towers. Fear builds prisons. It gets fighter jets built. It rolls out tanks. It drops laser guided bombs, and then launches counter defence missile systems to blow up those very same bombs.
When the authorities discovered a tunnel situated nearby a Pan American games venue, there was a brief moment of tantalizing wonder. In the age of Google, it’s rare to uncover a bonafide mystery. Who dug this tunnel? Where did it lead? Why was it built? By whom? Then, almost immediately after that moment, everyone automatically assumed the worst. When we are conditioned to obsess over fears of terrorism, it’s easy to see why we all freaked out. Our collective imagination kicked into overdrive. This was a 24 inspired plot that surely involved terrorists with elaborate head scarves wrapped around dead, crazy eyes and wild, unshaven beards. A suicide vest, maybe a kidnapping or two, there would definitely be several AK 47s and large, gleaming, impressive ammunition belts involved. Someone was bound to be shouting Allahu Akbar at any given moment.
It turns out the tunnel was the work of a young man from the mean streets of Jane and Finch. As a child, he had played in the nearby Black Creek ravine for fun. For Elton McDonald, nature offered solitude and peace, a welcome alternative to the perils of inner city, urban living. He worked hard on the tunnel for two years, determined to finish his personal slice of well constructed paradise. But once the authorities had made it’s discovery, the media circus rolled out instantly. It’s easy to imagine how reluctant he was to come forward. Remember Richard Jewell? Sometimes simply telling the truth isn’t enough ammunition to win the war against the 24 hour news machine.
Lucky for Elton, his story had a happy ending. When he came forward with the truth, he decided to harness his temporary newfound fame and initiate a plan of action. Elton’s Tunnel Vision Plan wasn’t related to a terrorist agenda, much to the disappointment of some, I’d wager. His proposed project focused instead on launching a construction company to employ at risk youths from his community to plant trees and mow lawns. He asked for $10,000.00. To date, Elton has raised almost $12,000.00 from well wishers across the country.
Maybe we were all a little too quick to rush to assumptions. Maybe the world isn’t out to get us. Maybe there is hope after all. I’m not saying that there aren’t bad people out there that want to do bad things. It’s just that there are also alot of good people out there doing good things. We should probably spend more time hearing about those guys.
It’s nice to know that some stories have happy endings after all.
Top photo courtesy of Metro Police, photos of Jane & Finch area by Colm Hogan, Elton McDonald photo courtesy of Facebook.