“Each summer it is estimated that 1,700 people are killed in Toronto as a result of breathing in the toxic air that hangs over our city,” said Gabe Nicolau.

The environmental activist wasn’t pulling numbers out of the air on Dec. 1 at an anti-Ford rally coinciding with the new mayor’s first day in office. He was quoting a 2004 Toronto Public Health study that estimated air pollutants contribute to about 1,700 premature deaths and 6,000 hospital admissions in Toronto each year.

Death by inhalation.

“Now with an absolutely ignorant mayor taking office today who plans on making an already murderous situation worse by killing Transit City, by taking streetcars out of downtown, it is up to us to demand action on this issue and make it happen,” said Nicolau, a member of Breathe Toronto.

His group is proposing the Toronto Clean Air Act that would ban the use of lawnmowers, leaf blowers and edge trimmers; apply road tolls to fund public transit and bike lanes; fund community and backyard gardens; and create a renovation fund to build rooftop gardens.

“Now I realize that some of these things may seem idealistic or even unrealistic to some people here,” he said. “But one of the councillors who is going to work in this building for the first time has already signed her name on the Act.”

Another councillor has endorsed the Act in writing.

Nicolau urged everyone at the rally to approach their friends and people they meet on the street and encourage them to sign the Toronto Clean Air Act as well as meet with their local councillors.

“And if you don’t want to wait for the government to do something about it, there’s a whole lot of groups here today that are working on these issues,” said Nicolau. 

John Bonnar

John Bonnar is an independent journalist producing print, photo, video and audio stories about social justice issues in and around Toronto.