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DIG IN initiates inclusive community and cultural plans and actions that will contribute to sustaining a neighbourhood that is GREEN • CLEAN • SAFE • CIVIL by fostering improvements in the areas of its social, environment, cultural, economic and physical make up. Please join our Mailing List / Yahoo Group.

Monday, March 17, 2008

DIG IN to DOCs Guest Bios

Gyasi Ferdinand At 13, Gyasi Ferdinand was an innocent kid from Trinidad, living with his mom in suburban Toronto and missing his friends back home. By 17, everything had changed. Gyasi was pulling in up to $2000 a night selling crack cocaine in Regent Park, one of Toronto’s roughest neighbourhoods. He had a roll of bills in his pocket, all the women he could handle, and a 9 mm in his waistband that earned him the street name J9. “You feel sort of on top of the world,” he recalls. “Nobody can do you nothing, that’s how I felt. And if I want I could do you something. That’s how a 17-year-old thinks, you can do this for the rest of your life.” But at 25, Gyasi lost it all. Four bullets from a rival dealer’s gun left him inches from death. The shooting led to a profound spiritual experience and a career change that Gyasi had never anticipated.

Dr. Karim Ismaili is Associate Professor and Interim Chair in the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology at Ryerson University. Prior to joining Ryerson in 2006, he taught criminal justice at St. John's University in New York City (1997-2006) and at Radford University in Virginia (1996-1997). Dr. Ismaili has served as a visting professor in the New York City Police Department, and as a research and policy advisor in the Ministry of the Solicitor General Canada and Department of Justice Canada. His areas of teaching, research and publishing include criminal justice policy, penology, criminological theory, and crime and inequality. He is currently completing a project that is exploring the intersection of immigration and crime control policy, and is writing a book on the criminal justice policy-making process. Dr. Ismaili holds a Bachelor of Arts (criminology) from Simon Fraser University, a Master of Philosophy (criminology) from the University of Cambridge, and a Ph.D. (political science) from the University of Western Ontario.

Frank Besenthal Having served the last 10 years as a Staff Sergeant, Staff Sergeant Frank Besenthal will be retiring on March 31, 2008 after 31 years with the Toronto Police Service. Throughout his career, Besenthal has covered posts in the uniform division, morality, drug enforcement, intelligence services and as a section head at Toronto Police Service C.O. Bick College. Peter Markwell has been working in the field of Harm Reduction for seven years. He was employed at St. Stephen’s Corner Drop-In for six years and now a Harm Reduction Worker with the John Howard Society of Toronto for the past 1.5 years. Peter has an extensive personal background in harm reduction and the justice system and has been actively involved in the area of advocacy and social change in the Toronto community. He participates on many committees and advisory groups including the Toronto Drug Strategy, Neighborhood Working Group, Safer Crack Use Coalition, Harm Reduction Action group, CPAC University of Toronto and Drug Treatment Court Advisory Committee. Susan Shepherd is Manager of the Toronto Drug Strategy Secretariat, the staff team that supports implementation of the Toronto Drug Strategy. Susan has been with the City of Toronto for more than 10 years working in the areas of substance use, poverty, homelessness and food security. Prior to joining the City, Susan worked in the community-based service system.

Kate Mason is a Researcher at Street Health, a community-based organization that provides health care to homeless people in southeast Toronto where she has led and implemented several community-based evaluations, best-practices scans and research projects on homelessness issues. Most recently, she helped to coordinate The Street Health Survey - a comprehensive study on the health and access to health care of homeless people in Toronto on which the film Street Health Stories is based. Ms. Mason has an MHSc in Public Health from the University of Toronto.

Katerina Cizek’s films have helped instigate criminal investigations, changed UN policies and have screened as evidence at an international criminal tribunal. Her films, including Seeing Is Believing (co-directed with Peter Wintonick) and Dead Are Alive: Eyewitness in Rwanda, have been presented at festivals around the world. Cizek is a three-time Gemini nominee (including Best Direction for The Interventionists) and won the prestigious Abraham Prize at the Hamptons International Film Festival. Throughout 2004-2008, Ms. Cizek has developed an experimental program with the National Film Board of Canada called Filmmaker-in-Residence – a program that partners media with medicine in order to effect social and political change. Her award-winning film The Bicycle, the first film from this program was broadcast on CBC and on Showtime in the U.S. As well, the Filmmaker-in-Residence website has garnered multiple new media and documentary awards. For more information visit

Anne Longair has been involved in the area of homelessness and housing in Toronto since 1981. After graduating from the University of Western Ontario with a B.A in Psychology, she became a front-line worker at a shelter for assaulted women and their children. Ms. Longair came to work for the City of Toronto in 1986 and since that time has worked on program and policy development, opened new shelter sites, managed a shelter for women and children and run an employment program for youth.

From 2001 – 2003, she was the acting Director of Housing and Homelessness Supports and Initiatives and was responsible for the administration of homelessness grants, and community and policy development related to homelessness, rental housing and landlord -tenant issues.

Since 2004 Ms. Longair has been the Director of Hostel Services with the Shelter, Support and Housing Administration Division at the City of Toronto. Hostel Services is responsible for funding or operating 62 shelters sites throughout the Toronto that provide shelter to over 28,000 people annually and assist thousands in finding new housing every year.