Thursday, March 13, 2008



The following is a Media Advisory from the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) on the recent freezing death of Robert Maurice on the streets of Toronto. He was the man who recently froze to death because of the negligence of governmental authorities in providing shelter for the poor, and who death OCAP and allies protested at a meeting of the Toronto City Council (see past entries on this blog). Robert had actually found "shelter" of a sort at the time of his death, the sort of dangerous and unpleasant "shelter" that the powers that be consider "sufficient" for the down-and-out. He chose to risk his life rather than stay cooped up all day in such a place. Here is OCAP's obituary to him and the statement of his ex-wife (Molly Note- for our readers from outside of the Canadian prairies "miigwetch" is a Cree word generally signifying "thank you" today. In times past it had a connotation of "thank you- enough", "gwitch" meaning "enough" and "mii" as a particle of emphasis such as "very". Molly thinks that the old meaning of "very much enough" is appropriate for this case) So, from OCAP...

Freezing Death of Robert Maurice
(Please see Robert Maurice's ex-wife's response at bottom)
On March 4, OCAP held a protest in city council around the freezing death of a homeless Native man named Robert Maurice which had been reported in various media. Twelve days earlier OCAP, and a number of agencies attended a committee meeting to express our concerns about the closing of over 300 shelter beds, which has led to serious overcrowding in Toronto hostels.We expressed our anger at Mayor David Miller and city politicians who had remained silent around Robert’s death.

It was later discovered that although Robert had been homeless on and off for many years, he did have housing at the time of his death. Robert had been living in a private Habitat boarding home for psychiatric survivors since late summer 2006. He was forced to share a small room. We were told that up to thirty people lived in the house. Robert would have had very little privacy in that boarding home. Most of Robert’s income would have gone to pay for his room and board leaving him very little money.

The last time we had seen Robert was over eighteen months ago. He had active tuberculosis and would have had to be hospitalized in isolation for a period of time. Before he died Robert had spent two decades living on the streets. He occasionally used hostels but did not like them. He often found work through the temp agencies. We met with Robert’s son and his ex-wife the day after the protest. We helped them make funeral arrangements. We learned from them that Robert, who was originally from Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan, had been abused in foster homes. He drank to kill the pain, we were told. Robert’s son had moved back to Toronto because he was worried about his father. Robert’s funeral service was held in Toronto on Friday March 7. His son is planning to return his father’sashes to Saskatchewan.

We should all be disturbed by the way that Robert Maurice suffered and in the end, died. Over the last two decades many homeless and underhoused people have lost their lives on Toronto streets, many of them Native people. Daniel Johnson, Philip Toulouse, Margaret Linklater, and Thomas Bain were all native people whom we knew who have died on city streets.These deaths largely go unnoticed. Robert might have had a little more comfort in his shared room then the thousands of men, women, and children that fill Toronto’s overcrowded shelter’s every night, but Robert had suffered in poverty on the streets of Toronto for years. We were supposed to forget Robert once he entered that boarding home--even though Habitat housing is notoriously overcrowded, overpriced, and under-serviced. In the end Robert was still just a small step up from the streets. Had Robert died in his room very few people would have known. But with his crutches and a broken leg Robert made his way to the streets where he died for allof us to see.

Let it be known that OCAP has reiterated that on Thursday February 21 Robert Maurice, a homeless native man, age 50, whom we had known for over a decade, froze to death on the streets of Toronto. And let it be known the Mayor of Toronto, David Miller, city politicians, and city staff hid behind excuses to avoid dealing with the crisis of poverty in this city!
Robert Maurice's ex-wife's response
On Wednesday March 12 we contacted Robert Maurice’s ex-wife and informed her that OCAP was going to send out a press release regarding Robert’s death. We sent her a copy of the press release and the following is her response. Although she does not want to speak directly to the press and she does not want her name released she agreed to let us make her response public. The following is the content of the e-mail that we received on March 12 in response to the press release that OCAP sent out Tuesday March4
Gaetan, I don’t understand what it is you are trying to say here, Rob was on the streets from 1991 up to about two years ago as far as I am aware,he did not care for the shelter system due [to] the danger and theft in the places, not to mention the uncleanliness of the unfortunate, he would rather stay out in the elements to feel safe, he did not want the lifestyle that he had for his son and wanted his son to know love, caring and security in his life. Rob was very unselfish and courageous to admit that he could not give that to his son, he acknowledged his problems and respected my wishes to stay away from us, so I could raise our son for the both of us…Rob did believe in miracles and said someday…I will be okay and he was right…only we don’t expect death as the best possible choice for ourselves, with his leaving we must look for the lessons that we are to learn from his death and help those that need us out there, I often say we have forgotten how to be humane, we forget the simplest things in life and to acknowledge what the creator has given us, not to have met you or what we can’t get. Anyhow, I really am honored to have met you and would liketo say Miigwetch for all your help and keep up the good work for the people..the creator put you in the right place. I would like to [know] how anyone can be allowed to freeze to death this day and age, where Rob died was downtown, Bay & Bloor area, what time was it when he succumbed to the elements that took his spirit home...that no one noticed..or did they choose to keep going, unanswered questions left for us to ponder… Miigwetch

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