In Memory of Peter Madaka (October 5, 1961 – December 26, 2020)

A dear friend and powerful tenant organizer in Parkdale has passed away. In Memory of Peter Madaka: Peter Madaka was a neighbor of mine at 1251 King Street West.

I met him in 2018, the year our landlord applied to raise our rent above the legal guideline. People in our building responded by collectively withholding rent and organizing a series of direct actions that ultimately forced the landlord to cancel the rent increase. Peter was a big part of that win. He knocked on doors, handed out flyers, spoke with passion, clarity and wit at lobby meetings, intervened on a number of strategic questions, attended actions, raised spirits in moments of doubt, and constantly pushed us to stay vigilant in dealings with the landlord. He was tireless, upbeat and prescient. We were lucky to count him as our neighbour.

I have occasion to say these things about Peter because he died, unexpectedly, on December 26, 2020, at the age of 59. Rather than say too much more about him, I think it’s better to let Peter speak for himself. He was a colourful and acute writer. In the course of our rent strike he wrote a number of messages on our building’s internal email group, messages which reveal fragments of his personality and thought, and which offer a fitting way to connect with him in the aftermath of his passing.

Peter’s first message was in response to a flyer he received advertising our first lobby meeting:

– Hello Organizer, I am in Apartment 801; I have just come around looking at the flyer that you dropped at my door; was too busy dealing with emergencies, did not get time to look at it earlier. As a result, I missed the Lobby Meeting of 10th. I am interested in attending the next meeting if and when it takes place. Let me know whenever it occurs. Thanks.

Due to work obligations Peter couldn’t attend the next lobby meeting, where we first discussed the idea of going on rent strike. He heard about those discussions from others and followed up with questions:

– Does the rent strike refer to withholding rent payment or does this mean picketing with other residents? What are the legal ramifications considering that we obligated to pay rent on time–as stipulated in the lease? I was planning to withhold rent at least until after the Hearing scheduled for Feb. 2nd.

We invited members of Parkdale Organize and the Parkdale Legal Clinic to answer these questions at our next lobby meeting. Peter attended that meeting and left feeling resolute:

– Today was a good day. I started off nervous but got more sure-footed as [they] explained to me the process and what my worst scenario would be; their accompanying us on the door to door knock was the clincher for me….Thank you all for doing this; I am now confident and committed enough to see this rent strike to the end.

Our rent strike began on February 1. At a mediation hearing the next day the landlord expressed a willingness to negotiate. A week later they sent us eviction notices in the mail. Peter was indignant:

– Yes, I got one. It was sitting in my mailbox this morning when I checked. It shows their bullying nature. They lie that they negotiating in good faith. Yet they still threaten and issue eviction notices. What we are doing is not illegal but, that is the claim.

The eviction notices meant we had 14 days to pay our rent, otherwise the landlord could apply to the Landlord Tenant Board for eviction orders.

At our next meeting Peter spoke persuasively about the importance of staying on rent strike beyond the 14-day deadline, to show the landlord that we would not be intimidated. His words helped carry the day – everyone voted to stay on rent strike. I sent Peter a message of thanks. He replied:

– Thank You. It matters that we stand together to fend off unjustified predation.

The next day Peter sent a message to the entire building flagging the importance of unity and coordination in paying our rent to the landlord, whenever that might end up being:

– I am suggesting that when the time comes for us to pay our rent to Nuspor, that we do it only after we have heard, or have received communication from [our building committee]…We all need to be very clear and, well-coordinated with regard to if, and when we decide to release our rent-cheques to Nuspor. They are playing hard ball, we need to show them that we are thriving, not wilting. The process of paying Nuspor MUST, and SHOULD NOT be haphazard. Stay strong.

As our rent strike entered its fourth week, the landlord reversed course and agreed to meet us with in-person to negotiate a resolution. Many in our building celebrated this as a win. Peter was happy too, but clear-eyed about the next phase of the struggle:

– Good Job team. I sense that Nuspor is now choking on its own greed. Still, it helps to remember that we cannot afford to stumble here even for a moment, as we see them gasp for air. There has never been a better moment for us as tenants to stand more resolute and make our message clearer.

He followed up with a one-liner on fundamentals:

– Just wanted to confirm; no paying rent; attend meeting in the lobby Thursday at 7.00. I am all in.

On March 1 our strike entered its second month. Five days later we met with the landlord’s representatives. They offered to reduce the increase they were seeking by half. We called for a reduction to zero. The meeting ended inconclusively. Soon after the landlord tried to break our strike by delivering letters to each tenant in the building promoting the “reasonableness” of their offer and inviting individual settlements on that basis. Peter was incensed:

– The fact that Nuspor has been sending out letters to individuals has just come to my attention…This tells me that our corrective efforts to help Nuspor improve its behaviour thus far, has not worked. This is to me, shows that Nuspor has not fully understood what ‘Good Faith’ means. Our next response to this arrogance should be tailored to ensure that Nuspor can feel and understand our displeasure to its utmost.

As it happened, a next response wasn’t required because nobody responded to the landlord’s letters. The landlord gave up and withdrew its rent increase application wholesale. Ever on guard, Peter urged people not to pay rent until our victory was confirmed in writing:

– We do nothing till after the lobby meeting and, confirmation from our lawyers that all the ‘i’s have been dotted and all the ‘t’s have been crossed. This is to make sure Nuspor does not have an escape hatch unknown to us; and, if it means a little more bleeding for them, that is fine by me. They have deep pockets.

We took Peter’s advice and formally negotiated a repayment date of May 1 for all rent strikers. Peter was pleased, for more than one reason:

– This news is so fantastic, I actually get ‘my income tax return’ to pay off the February and March rent I owe—at least, 75% of it anyway. And, as the letter shows, Nuspor sounds less arrogant in tone, which is a bonus.

Just as the rent strike concluded, our landlord applied to evict a young couple (and soon-to-be new parents) for alleged harassment. Like Peter, the couple was instrumental in winning the rent strike. They also helped give the strike a public face by agreeing to do media interviews. Evicting them was the landlord’s way of retaliating and attempting to re-establish control over tenants. Peter knew this, and knew what needed to be done to counter it:

– I am really at a loss of words how vindictive these people can get—harassing a family that is already so stressed out; all because they are sore losers? If they want to make [them] an example—in order to deflate our resistance, then it is very simple. [Our neighbour] and his family is us. We stand together in solidarity. [He] and his family’s fight is my fight; it is our fight.

At is turned out, the landlord’s case for eviction was so weak that it was dismissed summarily by the Landlord Tenant Board. Peter couldn’t attend the hearing but shared this message afterward:

– I was nervous about it; was angry because my work schedule could not permit me to be there. But, now I can breathe easily. Congrats to [the family]; congrats to the lawyers who did the heavy lifting. Congrats to Parkdale Legal, to [people in the building] and to the Activists that made the victory real. Thank You; it is a job well-done.

Through his words and his actions during the 1251 King Street rent strike, Peter made a difference in the lives of everyone in our building. He made our apartments more affordable, of course. But he also made us as people more confident and self-respecting, more conscious of our collective power and more willing to use it, creatively and fearlessly, to “fend off unjustified predation”. For that, we are forever grateful to Peter, and forever connected with him.

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