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TTC removes newspaper boxes from entrance to Wellesley Station

Move an affront to free expression, says PTP

MOVE IT OR LOSE IT. The TTC plans to remove all newspaper boxes from TTC staions across the city. They started with Wellesley Station. Credit: Matt Mills

The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) has removed newspaper distribution boxes from the entrance to its Wellesley subway station, a move it claims is meant to improve the station’s appearance but which Xtra’s parent company, Pink Triangle Press (PTP), says is an encroachment on free expression in public spaces.

The TTC tells Xtra that it soon plans to remove newspaper boxes from the entire Toronto transit system and that at least some locations will instead be given large multiple-publication boxes as part of the city’s ongoing street furniture deal with Astral Media. No launch date for the new multiple-publication boxes has been announced.

Brandon Sawh, Xtra’s community relations manager, was asked by the TTC to remove Xtra’s box in early February after being told that Ward 27 city councillor Kyle Rae had complained that neighbours thought the boxes were unsightly. Rae denies making any such complaint. Xtra received notice that its box would not be removed until after a planned Feb 16 meeting with senior TTC staff, but the box was removed that morning anyway. TTC staff told Xtra that it could either wait for the new multi-publication boxes, or could relocate its own box onto a nearby sidewalk.

Gareth Kirkby, PTP engagement director, contends that Xtra readers should be free to pick up their newspapers at Wellesley Station and anywhere else on TTC property.

“Our community is used to having that spot,” he says. “Moving it will damage our community’s easy access to the paper.”

But the larger issue, says Kirkby, is that removing the boxes has restricted free expression on public property.

“All public bodies in Canada have a responsibility to ensure that a full discourse can occur on their spaces,” he says. “The courts have repeatedly recognized that public bodies, including airports, have this responsibility.”

Read Kirkby’s submission to the TTC here.

The TTC contends that as an independent commission of the City of Toronto, it is not subject to the laws governing public bodies.

“The TTC is not public property. It is owned by the city, but it is not the same as general property,” says TTC chair Adam Giambrone. “Newspapers are supposed to conform with whatever conditions the TTC puts into place.”

Still, Giambrone agrees that Xtra should have a distribution box at Wellesley Station.

“We’re still working on what we’re going to do to work with [Xtra and Wellesley Station]. It’s a community hub and works differently than other stations,” he says. “We’re going to figure out how to make that happen. I understand how important it is to the Church St community…. The TTC has some moral obligation to work with community groups in the area.”

Read the TTC’s reply here.

But Kirkby wants the TTC to abandon its plan to remove boxes across the system. He has proposed that the TTC offer an effective system of licensing and standards requiring publishers to maintain their distribution boxes in a state of good repair and cleanliness. A similar system is in place for Vancouver’s Skytrain system, where PTP distributes Xtra West.

Some newspapers pay handsomely for distribution within the TTC system. Metro and Eye Weekly pay for distribution rights through Gateway Newstands.

David Logan, circulation manager at Now Magazine, says he is “not aware” of any licensing program for newspaper boxes on TTC property, and believes permission had previously been granted on an “informal” basis.

“The TTC should put a licensing project in place. It would generate revenue and help it keep in touch with the communities,” Logan says.

“Some publications appear to have been licensed and permitted for certain locations, and others haven’t been able to become part of that process,” Kirkby says. “It appears discriminatory that some minority voices are not being allowed in, whether they are queer, language or progressive political voices…. That’s disturbing because we are one of a number of minority communities in the city. It’s imperative that room be made to accommodate minorities in public space.”