Indigenous-led coalition says it will stop construction to keep Eglinton Crosstown West Extension underground

The ENAGB Indigenous Youth Agency executive director Cynthia Bell, left, and ENAGB youth member Kiyana Johnston-Palmer, right, told reporters Saturday that they want Metrolinx to bury the elevated portion of the Eglinton Crosstown West Extension. (Rob Krbavac/Radio-Canada - image credit)
The ENAGB Indigenous Youth Agency executive director Cynthia Bell, left, and ENAGB youth member Kiyana Johnston-Palmer, right, told reporters Saturday that they want Metrolinx to bury the elevated portion of the Eglinton Crosstown West Extension. (Rob Krbavac/Radio-Canada - image credit)

An Indigenous-led coalition is resurfacing calls to bury a 1.5 kilometre stretch of the long-anticipated Eglinton Crosstown West Extension (ECWE) to protect local green space.

The ENAGB Indigenous Youth Agency, along with community and park associations, will stop construction with a blockade that could last "days or months" if demands aren't met, a press release from the coalition reads.

"This is serious. And I personally don't want to start blockades, but if we have to then we might have to," said executive director of the ENAGB Indigenous Youth Agency Cynthia Bell.

"Today, we want to just prove to Metrolinx that we do have an impact on their construction if they don't come to the table."

Indigenous advisors, elders and youth joined Stop the Trains in Our Parks and Mount Dennis Community Association Saturday for a protest in the Eglinton Flats — an area in the Humber River Floodplain that houses parks and green space Metrolinx is planning to build over for the ECWE.

The ECWE, an extension by Metrolinx to bring the Eglinton Crosstown LRT another 9.2 kilometres farther west, is billed as a continuous rapid transit line from the east end of Toronto into Mississauga, projected to give 37,000 daily rides.

The groups raised alarm at the potential impact to nearby youth programs and the removal of "thousands" of trees to make way for the elevated track between Scarlett Road and Jane Street as soon as this spring, the release reads.

It's the latest movement aimed at convincing the transit agency to backtrack on its plan to tunnel under the land instead of through it. This past summer, residents implored Metrolinx to rethink the elevated track due to its impact on park use and vulnerable species in the area.

Project won't 'intrude' on ENAGB land: Metrolinx

The ENAGB Indigenous Youth Agency, also known as Eshkiniigjik Naandwechigegamig, Aabiish Gaa Binjibaaying, meaning "A Place for Healing Our Youth, Where Did We Come From?" says it provides cultural, employment and other programs to Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth in Toronto.

It hosts some of them on a parcel of land near the Humber River that it licensed from the City of Toronto. If construction above ground continues, the release reads, current and future plans for the space are in jeopardy.

"We're gonna fight, you know, for what we feel what's right," said Kiyana Johnston-Palmer, a youth with ENAGB Indigenous Youth Agency .

"This is what we believe in — it should go underground."

Spencer Gallichan-Lowe/CBC
Spencer Gallichan-Lowe/CBC

A letter dated Wednesday to the ENAGB Indigenous Youth Agency from Metrolinx Chair Donald Wright says the ECWE will "not intrude onto the ENAGB land parcel," and that Metrolinx is committed to working with the agency to "mitigate other construction impacts."

But Bell says that's not enough.

"We're not sellouts," said Bell.

"We still have to protect our relatives — the plants, the animals, the trees, the river, the environment."

Metrolinx doubles down on elevated plan

A statement from Metrolinx to CBC Toronto confirms the transit agency is continuing with its plan for an elevated track in the area, as building in an identified flood plain zone that has "experienced historic levels of flooding over the years" poses unique challenges to underground construction.

"This would be more complex, more time-consuming and more disruptive for the community in comparison to an elevated option," reads the statement.

Mount Dennis TV/Youtube
Mount Dennis TV/Youtube

It notes it has "incorporated feedback" from the community and has limited tree removals on the south side of Eglinton Avenue West, and is committed to working with ENAGB and the community for their input.

The agency's demands were also made known to the Ford government, the coalition's release reads. MPP for York South-Weston Michael Ford campaigned on helping residents make their case on the issue during the recent provincial election.

"Our government has been and will continue to engage and consult with communities about the project and work together to see how we can deliver it in a way that maximizes benefits and minimizes impacts as much as possible," reads a statement from MPP Michael Ford's office.

The project, expected to cost upwards of $4 billion, is slated to be completed in 2030-31. In its latest public update in October, Metrolinx said headwall construction for stations at Kipling Avenue and Islington will wrap up in spring 2023.