Community Meeting Round-Up – Safe Inclusive Toronto Streets

BIST members had the opportunity to hear Melanie Moore from the Centre for Independent Living in Toronto speak at our November community meeting. Moore talked about Safe Inclusive Toronto Streets – the idea that Toronto’s streets should be safe for everyone who lives here, whether they have a disability or not.

“Safety means different things to different people,” Moore told us. She asked members to describe what safety means to them:

  • Being aware of what’s around us – people and things
  • Making a clear path
  • Preventing accidents, i.e. riding a bike with a helmet
  • Locking doors
  • Carrying money in a safe place
  • Have a good attitude in public
BIST's Kat Powell and CILT's Melanie Moore
BIST’s Kat Powell and Melanie Moore of CILT

Melanie showed us a self-defence video taught by Savoy Howe of Toronto News Girls – a boxing club for women and trans people which focuses on empowerment and “exploring the art of boxing”. In the video, Howe showed people with disabilities –  the majority of whom were in wheelchairs – how to throw traditional boxing punches versus “street fighting” punches.

Moore emphasized, as did Howe in the video, that self-defense is just one part of safety training. Using your voice effectively can stop a potentially dangerous situation from escalating, for example.

Here are other tips from Moore:

  • If you’re in trouble, yell “fire.” People are much more likely to respond to “fire” than “help” or anything else you can yell.
  • Get a case for your cards which lets you use them without taking them out of the case – they’re not expensive and means you don’t have to expose all of your cards.
  • The City of Toronto says people with disabilities and seniors can have their sidewalks cleared of snow for free this winter. You need to register in advance.

Next meeting: BIST Holiday Party!
Dec. 15, 6-8 p.m., Northern District Libary
40 Orchard View Blvd, 2nd Floor meeting room

‘Blast lab’ could help researchers learn more about war-related brain trauma

The stats are nothing short of staggering:  23 per cent of deployed Canadian soldiers live with the effects of brain injury. In the U.S., limited research suggests that 10 to 20 per cent of combat troops experienced brain injury during their deployment.

Despite this, there is no sure-fire diagnostic test to determine whether a soldier has suffered a brain injury in the battlefield. Persistent concussion symptoms, which some scientists believe are the result of blasts from improvised explosive devices, remain a medically disputed area.

Ibolja Cernak, professor and chair in military and veterans’ clinical rehabilitation at the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Alberta, says much more research needs to take place.

“We are still quite far from understanding how [war-related brain] injury happens,” she told the Edmonton Sun.

soldier with gun on dirt road
photo credit: isafmedia via photopin cc

Which is why the University of Alberta is opening a Centre for Traumatic Brain Injury and Military Research, thanks to a $481,000 donation from the Alberta and Northwest Territories branch of the Royal Canadian Legion.

“What we hope to learn is exactly which mechanisms are involved, when they start to be activated,” Cernak told the Edmonton Journal. “Can we actually pre-train soldiers to be more resilient to those injury mechanisms? And finally, can we find and develop a material which would provide better protection?”

The causes of war-related brain injury are disputed. Research published in 2008 by Veterans Affairs Canada refers to the “unproven concern” that “pure blast energy from ambush weapons” can lead to brain injury. Yet, the Edmonton Journal states:

…  repetitive low-intensive blasts trigger the release of hormones and oscillate blood pressure, which can damage multiple organs. In the brain, a slow cascade can move through neural pathways on the molecular level, leading to premature aging, degeneration and effects similar to Alzheimer’s disease.

In 1995, Cernak, who had started working as a first responder in the Kosovo conflict, began to collect blood samples from the soldiers she was treating. Using other, non-injured soldiers as a control group, she was looking for biological markers which could indicate recovery.

Cernak said she was shocked to find that one year post-injury, injured soldiers continued to report memory, motor, balance and speech problems. Even now, despite 28-years of neuropathology under her belt, Cernak says she can’t cure these symptoms.

photo credit: TORCH MAGAZINE via photopin cc
photo credit: TORCH MAGAZINE via photopin cc

The Centre’s facilities will include a nine-meter long “shock tube” which will stimulate the explosive sounds and kinetic energy that come from improvised explosive devices soldiers encounter in the battlefield. Using rodents, scientists will examine what happens to the body and brain when exposed to these conditions.

Researchers say they hope the lab will also benefit those who have suffered a brain injury as the result of a motor vehicle accident or sports injury.

Ibolja Cernak via Ibolja Cernak Linked In
Ibolja Cernak via Ibolja Cernak Linked In

“It’s so important to have a relatively complex and demanding laboratory setting because that speeds up the transfer of knowledge that can potentially benefit so many,” Cernak told the Edmonton Sun. “We are not doing science for science’s sake. We are doing science for soldiers’ sake.”

Sources: Edmonton Journal + Edmonton Sun + npr.orgUniversity of Alberta

Lest we forget: what to do on Remembrance Day in Toronto

Soldiers in uniform with poppies
photo credit: Shreyans Bhansali via photopin cc

The recent, tragic deaths of Canadian soldiers Cpl. Nathan Cirillo and Warrant officer Patrice Vincent, both killed on Canadian soil, are stark reminders of the sacrifices, risks and contributions our military men and women make every day.

To recognize our military personnel and veterans, Brain Injury Blog TORONTO will focus on veterans and brain injury this month, starting with this guide on Remembrance Day events in Toronto. Military men and women do a lot for us. Let’s honour them and give a little back.

Saturday, Nov. 8

A Concert of Remembrance – Nine Sparrows Arts Foundation – 7:30 p.m.
Yorkminister Park Baptist Church, 1585 Yonge St. (2 blocks north of St. Clair Ave.)

Queen’s Own Rifles Day – Casaloma – 10 a..m. – 5 p.m.
1 Austin Terrace (Spadina Ave. and Davenport Rd.)
Casaloma will pay tribute to Remembrance Day with WWI and WWII re-enactments, displays and military exercises by the Queen’s Own Rifles. FREE admission to active and retired military with valid military ID, otherwise tickets are $14 for kids, $24 for adults.

Poppies on a war memorial
photo credit: Pandora’s Perspective via photopin cc

Sunday, Nov. 9

Soldiers of WWI – Remembrance and Coffee Hour Display – 10:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. 
28 Fairlawn Avenue (Yonge, North of Lawrence)
This Sunday, the church’s service will focus on the men and women of WWI, followed by a coffee hour with a photo display of military personnel from the period.

 Memorial Service at the Mount Dennis Royal Canadian Legion – 2 – 3:15 p.m.
1050 Weston Road (South of Eglinton)

Tuesday, Nov. 11 – REMEMBRANCE DAY 

Legislative Buildings, Queens Park – 10:45 a.m.
The Province of Ontario hosts a Remembrance Day service each year in front of the Ontario Veterans’ Memorial, which remembers the sacrifices of every man and woman in the province who served in the military during times of war and peace.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne at Remembrance Day service
photo credit: Premier of Ontario Photography via photopin cc

City of Toronto events

The City of Toronto runs Remembrance Day events at its civic centres in East YorkEtobicoke, North York and Scarborough. 

You can also find city-run events at:

Fort York, – Strachan Military Cemetery on Garrison Common – 10:45 a.m.
Public gathers at: Strachan Avenue Military cemetery (Front St. and Garrison St.)
Starting at the west gates of Fort York, period uniformed military staff and standards bearers of the Imperial Daughters of the Empire (IODE) Toronto Municipal Chapter will lead a procession which will end at the Strachan Avenue Military Cemetry at 11 a.m. Fort York’s service will remember all Toronto soldiers who have fallen since the war of 1812.

Toronto City Hall – Cenotaph – 11 .a.m.
60 Queen St. East (at Bay St.)

Kew Gardens – Cenotaph – 11 a.m.
2075 Queen St. East (at Lee St.)

Online Resources:

Fairlawn United Church has an online display of men and women of WWI from their church’s community here. They also challenge anyone who has pictures of people of WWI to find out more about that person. (Don’t be intimidated, they also provide useful links on how to do the research.)

Veterans Affairs Canada has a timeline of Canada’s roles in war and peacekeeping missions since WWI. The site also allows you to send an e-card for peace to known email addresses, and has a social media Remembrance Day guide. They are encouraging 11 minutes of social media silence on Nov. 11 at 11:01 a.m. 

Sources: City of TorontoVeterans Affairs

Community meeting round-Up: Variety Village Fitness Club

Picture of Sherri Risto Wood

At our October community meeting, BIST members had the opportunity to find out how Variety Village can help keep us in shape. Sherri Risto (Wood), Variety Village’s coordinator of rehabilitation to community and education, talked about Variety Village’s amazing  facilities which are open to all abilities and for all ages.

Where is it?

Variety Village is located at 3701 Danforth Ave, just east of Birchmount. To get there by TTC, take the 12A bus from Kennedy Station, which goes straight to their front door.

What’s there?

Facilities at Variety Village include:

The Fieldhouse

  • A 200 meter track, made with MondoTrack foam, with lanes for walking, running and wheelchairs.
  • Parallel bars
  • Wood-floored basketball courts
  • A cardio and weight room with fully accessible equipment

The Aquatic Centre

  • A warm pool, kept at 84ºC with bridge blocks separating the deep and shallow ends
  • A deep end that’s 4.27 meters, with accessible entrances such as a chair lift, built-in stairs and a ramp
  • Pool walking programs, which are easier to do than being on land but offer the benefits of the water’s resistance, which helps develop muscle
  • A hot pool to relax in, kept at 90ºC


Some of Variety Village’s programs are fee for service, and others are included with the cost of membership. They include:

  • TaiChi
  • Aquafit
  • Chair Fitness and Seated Zumba
  • T.I.M.E (Together in Movement and Exercise) – an exercise program designed for people with balance and mobility challenges, including brain injury survivors
  • Yoga
  • Pilates

How much does it cost?

Membership at Variety Village depends on factors such as age (they have adult, youth, child and senior memberships) and income. Folks on social assistance such as ODSP can get a subsidized rate of $210 a year (or $17.50 a month.) Find out about their other membership rates here.

Variety Village
3701 Danforth Avenue (east of Birchmount)
Scarborough, Ontario

BIST’s next community meeting will be on Monday, Nov. 24 from 6-8 p.m. (topic TBA) at the Northern District Library, 40 Orchard View Blvd 

How Western University aims to reduce sports-related concussions

Despite the celebrity-association with sports-related concussions (cue Sidney Crosby, Eric Lindros) there continues to be a lot of misunderstanding about the injury.

 April 23, 2011:  Washington Capitals defenseman Mike Green (#52) lays on the ice after being hit in the head with the puck during Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals NHL playoff series at Verizon Center against the New York Rangers.
photo credit: clydeorama via photopin cc

In fact, of the 100,000 concussions which occur in Canada each year, more than half happen while people are playing sports. In the U.S., concussion rates among high school students doubled from 2005 to 2012.

Now Western University, which has long been a leader in concussion research and awareness through its See the Line initiative, has joined forces with the Sports Legacy Institute in the U.S.. Their partnership aims to further enhance research and programs to reduce the “concussion crisis” in sports.

According to CHCH, new programs will include advanced concussion training and a ‘brain and brawn’ camp for athletes. An existing program out of Wilfred Laurier University, where athletes educate others in the community about concussion, will continue.

Former CFL player Tim Fleiszer, now the executive director of  the Sports Legacy Institute Canada, told am980, “… This is a big step towards solving the concussion crisis in Canada.”

Cheerleaders performing
photo credit: Michi Moore Images via photopin cc

The timing couldn’t be better. New research shows that concussions happen across the board in sports, not just in the seemingly accident-prone hockey, football and boxing the injury is associated with. In particular, there are high rates of concussions in competitive cheerleading (imagine what happens when you’re being thrown 20-feet in the air by your teammates), women’s soccer and lacrosse – the fastest growing high school sport in the States.

According to Dr. Robert Harbaugh, director of the Penn State Institute of the Neurosciences and chair of the department of neurosurgery, research shows that concussions are the result of a rotation of the head on the neck. Because of this, injuries are more likely to occur when players run into each other as opposed to when they are hit on the head by a ball.

According to Dr. Harbaugh and reported in, concussions are more frequent in women’s soccer, especially amongst children and teenagers, because men and boys have more neck muscle than women and girls.

woman soccer player injured
photo credit: Alana Holmberg via photopin cc

As Crosby told the Globe and Mail in 2013,  “Concussions are still kind of a mysterious thing. We do know a lot more now, but there are still things that we can learn and hopefully ways and methods we can learn to either heal or to find out more about the actual extent of the injuries.”

Hopefully this new partnership will solve some of the concussion mystery, and crisis.

See the Line

London Health Sciences Foundation


Sources: CHCH +


Know your tenant rights!

Got landlord problems? It’s important to know your rights and responsibilities as a tenant.

apartment for rent sign

First, your rights as a tenant depend on what kind of tenant you are considered to be under Ontario lawThe Residential Tenancies Act (RTA) covers tenants who rent in places such as rooms, mobile home parks, apartments and retirement residences.

People who are not covered by the RTA include:

  • People who live in a space that’s shared with the property owner (for example, you share a kitchen with the owner of the property)
  • People who live in a space that’s designated for businesses
  • People who live in accommodation that’s considered ‘temporary’
  • If you live in another tenant’s home

If you are not covered by the RTA, Community Legal Education Ontario (CLEO) has information on your rights here and also lists places where you can get legal advice here.

delapitated rooming house

Highlights of your rights as a tenant under the RTA:

  • Landlords have the right to file a notice a “Notice to terminate for nonpayment of rent” if your rent is late by one day. After receiving this notice, you have 14-days to pay up. (If you are a daily or weekly renter, you only have seven days to pay). If you haven’t paid your rent within that time, the landlord can file an application with the Landlord and Tenant Board to get their payment. In Ontario, most evictions are because of rent arrears.
  • If your landlord is trying to evict you, they need to follow the steps outlined by the Landlord and Tenant Board. During this time, you should receive three notices with information as to when your landlord wants you to leave your home and why, confirmation that your landlord has applied to the Board in order to evict you, and a notice of when your hearing will take place.
  • As a tenant, you are not allowed to stop paying rent because your landlord hasn’t done repairs.
  • The landlord is responsible for repairing your unit, you are responsible for the daily cleaning of your unit.
  • If there is a ‘no pet’ clause in your rental agreement, and you have a pet, you can not be evicted on the basis of having that pet. But if your pet damages the property, this may be a reason to evict you.
  • Your landlord can enter your unit as long as they give you 24-hours notice. However, there may be specific circumstances where your landlord can enter your unit, which are covered under your rental agreement. A landlord can also enter your unit without notice in an emergency situation.
old apartment building in Regent Park

Where to get help

If you are having a legal issue with your landlord, the best thing to do is to contact your local community legal clinic. You can also call the Tenant Hotline at 416-921-9494.

If you feel your human rights have been violated or you’ve been discriminated against in a housing situation, you can call the Centre for Equality Rights in Accomodation (CERA) at 1-800-263-1139 ext. 1.

For more information:

        • The Federation of Metro Tenant Associations has a ‘Tenant Survival Manual’ here
        • CLEO has information about the RTA here
        • CERA has this video about human rights and housing:

To speak to someone about your rights as a tenant,

call the Tenant Hotline at 416 921-9494,

8:30 a.m. – 6 p.m., Monday to Friday

Sources: Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation, Centre for Equality Rights in AccomodationCLEO, Community Advocacy and Legal Centre, Federation of Metro Tenants’ Associations




What to do when you or someone you love is suicidal

Here’s something many of us know too well: brain injury survivors are at an increased risk of depression and suicide.

Depressed stick figure sticks out from the crowd

If you or a loved one is experiencing a mental health crisis, the most important thing to remember is that you are not alone. There are services (see below) which can offer immediate support. Call a Distress Centre, or walk into an emergency room. You don’t need to make an appointment. Just call or go.

Recognize the signs

The majority of suicides are planned. This means there can be warning signs that someone may be thinking of suicide, such as:

  • The person talks about how life would have been better if they had died, or would be better if they died.
  • The person begins to talk a lot about death and dying
  • The person gets supplies (such as a gun) they could use to commit suicide
  • The person is very depressed and isolates themselves from friends and family
  • The person loses hope
  • The person visits loved ones and begins saying goodbye as though it’s a ‘final farewell’
  • If a brain injury survivor has attempted suicide in the past, it’s important to be extra aware of these signs, because they are at greater risk of repeating an attempt

How to help

It can be a very scary and over whelming experience to see someone through a mental health crisis. Know there are no ‘magic words’ which can make the person’s suicidal thoughts, depression and / or anxiety go away. But just being there, even if you’re quiet most of the time, is a huge support.

  • Don’t be afraid to bring up the topic of suicide. Ask straight out if the person is suicidal. You won’t be ‘putting’ any thoughts in their head if you bring up the topic.
  • Don’t dismiss or minimize what the person is going through. Statements like: “you should feel lucky to be alive” or “it’s not that bad” are not helpful.
  • Re-assure a person going through severe anxiety that the feeling will not last forever. Anxiety is very treatable. Distraction or breathing exercises can help.
  • Remember most people do not want to die, they want the pain they are experiencing to stop.
Hands holding Scrabble letters reading 'HOPE'

Distress Centres + Crisis Lines

Call a distress centre or crisis line any time you feel as though you (or your loved one) is in crisis and needs support. If you (or your loved one) is feeling suicidal, call. If you (or your loved one) is having bad anxiety, a panic attack or are feeling hopeless, call. If you get a busy signal, don’t give up. Keep calling until you get through. They’re open 24-hours a day, 7-days a week (unless otherwise noted.) In an emergency, call 911.

Toronto Distress Centre: 416-408-4357 (HELP)

Gerstein Centre416-929-5200

Kids Help Phone (for kids and young adults 20-years and under): 1-800-668-6868

Seniors Crisis Access Line (for older adults in crisis, service is open Monday-Friday 10 a.m.-9:30 p.m., Saturday-Sunday 10 a.m.-6 p.m.): 416-619-5001

For a complete list of distress centres in Ontario, go here

Mobile Crisis

At times, a mobile crisis unit can come and speak to a person who is contemplating  suicide or is in crisis. They’ll provide counselling, and may offer a safe place to stay for a few days. Some mobile crisis teams can also be accessed by calling 911.

Gerstein Centre: 416-929-5200

Community Crisis Response Program (North York and Etobicoke): 416-498-0043 

Emergency Rooms

If the situation feels like an emergency, it likely is an emergency. You can find your local emergency room here, or access the Emergency Assessment Unit at the Centre for Addicition and Mental Health (CAMH):

Emergency Assessment Unit at CAMH
250 College Street, (east of Spadina)
416-979-6885 ; 416-535-8501 ext 6885

For more information on services that can help once the crisis has passed (or if you feel as though a crisis is coming, and are trying to prevent it from happening) contact the Canadian Mental Health Association:   416-789-7957 ext 282 or 416-289-6285.

Sources: American Psychological Association,