Worst Behaviour: Apparently You Can Use Slurs in Toronto Now

Courtesy Rob Ford's Twitter. 

Courtesy Rob Ford's Twitter. 

By Anupa Mistry

From the outside, Toronto seems like a utopia: the world’s greatest rapper calls this city home (that’s Drake, if you haven't been paying attention), gay couples are free to get married, our healthcare system is beleaguered but subsidized, and our film festival is a barometer for Oscars. Torontonians are a happy clash of cultures; almost half the population are native speakers of another languageVogue recently named our bustling Queen West the second hippest neighbourhood in the world. THE WORLD, YOU GUYS. VOGUE.

But in the tense run-up to the municipal election later this month, there’s been a lot of drama that exposes the conservative, xenophobic face of this city’s power elites. Two female candidates, both women of colour, have publicly come forward about incidents of basic bullying hate rhetoric directed at them online and IRL, some originating from self-professed members of the ill-defined, amorphous mob known as Ford Nation.

Ah yes, so Toronto also has this mayor, whom you’ve probably heard of— and definitely laughed at. Observers of all stripes, from newspaper columnists to sidewalk Sallys, attributed RoFo’s electoral success to a platform built on outer borough discontent on the narrative of a bougie, fast-gentrifying, pedestrian and cycle-friendly downtown core that stood in direct opposition to humble, hard-working, average people. Rob’s very suss M.O. was to paint the city’s core—Manhattanizing fast, in part because of pro-business types like himself—as a wealthy, artsy-fartsy enclave guzzling a disproportionate share of the City’s fiscal resources. It also skirted over his record of boorish racism and outright homophobia.

To Ford, courting poor and/or brown constituents meant offering fast fixes while consistently, singularly voting against social policies that could directly benefit those communities across the city. His drug scandal has disproportionately impacted the communities and families connected to his dealer transactions. He refuses to acknowledge Pride. When Rob’s team announced that his cancer diagnosis was the end to his appalling stewardship of this city, a lot of people breathed a sigh of relief; surely this would be the end of Ford for Toronto. But in stepped big brother Doug Ford, with his steely death stare and watchful bull terrier stance, to announce he’d be leveraging political sympathy and antipathy toward the Ford family to run in baby bro’s stead. The deplorable, beyond surreal saga of the tenure of Mayor Rob Ford just got even more unbelievable, and that means that coming municipal election on October 27th is as locally anticipated—and as crucial, on a macro-level—as Obama ’08.

But the impact of this election should be felt beyond just who gets voted mayor and who gets voted into ward councilor positions (analysis has shown that the incumbency rate is high, at 90%), because over the past two weeks things have gotten really ugly. Kristyn Wong-Tam, a queer Chinese-Canadian councillor for the bustling Toronto Centre-Rosedale ward, and something of a media sweetheart, recently received an anonymous letter (sent from a ‘Ford Nation supporter’) filled with a bunch of racist, sexist and homophobic crap. I don’t need to repeat what was said because it pretty much amounts to geospecific YouTube trolling—it’s the same unsophisticated, fear-filled wailing that dominates Internet comment sections.

Around the same time, mayoral candidate Olivia Chow, also Chinese-Canadian, began to experience and public acknowledge a rise in racist and sexist bullying, both online and IRL. A recent investigation by the Toronto Star found Chow’s team had removed almost 1,800 “racist, sexist and other offensive posts” since announcing her campaign in March. Just last week at a community debate, open mic time was sabotaged in order to publicly fling xenophobic garbage at Chow.

Chow and Wong-Tam aren’t the only women of colour currently campaigning for political office— young women like Munira Abukar, Idil Burale and Suzanne Naraine are also angling for councilor status—but they’re a significant minority amidst all of the dudely vibes of local governance. And Chow represents the first serious mayoral bid by a non-white candidate (period) since Carolann Wright-Parks ran in 1988.

Candidates of colour are consistently questioned on their capacity to lead or portrayed as pandering to their ethnic communities, when the reality is that everyone does it—even our Prime Minister. Add being a woman to that and you’ve erected a candidate specific hurdle that the straight white men running for office are able to gleefully glide past (because they make all the rules, duh).

The sexist, anti-ethnic, anti-diversity diversion that is plaguing Toronto’s recent municipal election isn’t just an overt warning sign that things are really fucking amiss at a very high level – it’s also a missed opportunity for political opponents to be leaders and rally around Wong-Tam and Chow and take an actual stand against the ideas that make this city great. No one is saying we have to vote in Chow or Wong-Tam or Burale or even Andray Domise, the phenomenal, Diddy-loving opponent facing off against the Ford family for Ward 2 councilor, but taking lateral strides to dissuade this kind of public harassment and discrimination wouldn’t just be setting a great example— it’d be upholding the Canadian Charter of Rights.

It’s important to note that this isn’t the first time a municipal election in Toronto was marred by hate: in 2010, mayoral candidate George Smitherman was the recipient of a ton of homophobic propaganda. The Ford bros. project of confusing hard-right stupidity for populism has stoked a fire in the rapidly diluting fabric of Old (Straight, White) Toronto, but directly attributing these ideas to some freak fringe of the city serves to distract from the fact that it’s this freak fringe that is in power. Despite the fact Toronto’s entire PR angle is that it’s this diverse utopia, mainstream institutions are pitifully indicative of that breadth. I mean, there’s a reason Drake had to go stateside to make it.

This piece was published in conjunction with The Hairpin, a place on the internet to read smart things, often by women. 

Toronto’s First Black Female (Almost) Mayor: An Interview with Carolann Wright-Parks

By Jaime Woo

In 1988, community organizer Carolann Wright-Parks became the first black woman to run for mayor of Toronto, against incumbent Art Eggleton. Born and raised in Beechville, Nova Scotia, the oldest indigenous black community in Canada, Wright-Parks had lived in Toronto for nearly a decade when she ran. She finished second in a field of nine with 24,479 votes, or 17.4 per cent. (Eggleton won with 64.9 per cent of the vote.) Wright-Parks was always realistic about the purpose of the campaign—to drive awareness rather than to win—but she nonetheless made history.

Her campaign was part of a string of elections that saw women land in second place, before the six years between 1991 and 1997 that Toronto was led by June Rowlands and Barbara Hall.

Carolann Wright-Parks

She was also the first and last visible contender of colour until Olivia Chow, a unfathomable quarter of a century later. Drawing direct comparisons is unhelpful: Chow is a career politician, Wright-Parks was not; Chow is running post-amalgamation, Wright-Parks faced only old town; and Wright-Parks challenged an incumbent expected to win, unlike the three-ring Ford circus. Yet, in her own words, Wright-Parks calls it "very shocking" that there have been few viable candidates of colour since her run.

In 1994, Wright-Parks returned to Halifax. She is now the Director of Community Economic Development and Strategic Engagement at the Greater Halifax Partnership. The following excerpts are from an interview done with Wright-Parks at the end of August.

 It’s not meant as direct commentary on the current election. Instead, it is an occasion to look at our city’s past, and reflect on how some things have stayed the same.


“I was not expecting to run. I'm an organizer, not usually a frontperson. It was purely the community who said, ‘Look, we'd appreciate if you did this because it would highlight the issues that we work so hard from day to day. It would give a face to the issues of anti-poverty.' I had no political experience at that time (but now I understand that that doesn't matter!) and was not politically sophisticated at all, but I knew what the agenda was.

“When I first announced, there was a pause because I don't think a black woman had ever ran before. A black man had been in city council in the 1800's at some point a long time ago (William Peyton Hubbard, a City of Toronto Alderman from 1894 to 1914) but I think I was the first black woman who had ever run, period. So, there was some pause, like 'is it serious?'


“In politics you realize how candidates get beaten up even in the running. Your business is all out there, and it is what it is. For marginalized communities, when all your business is out there, it's very hard to concentrate on what you're trying to do when people are questioning your lifestyle.

“Like with black candidates: ‘They're only gonna represent black people.’ I got that a lot. That we're always corrupt and the racism around that. When volunteers were canvassing for me, people would go, "Oh, I'm not voting for her. She's only going to represent black people." My sisters, who went canvassing, heard that and were completely shocked. You get marginalized about who you're going to represent.

“I'd say, ‘Of course I am, but that's not going to stop me from representing you. This is why I'm running. I'm supposed to bring another dimension to the position of office in terms of understanding who I represent—it's a value-add.’

“If you're a black person, people make the mistake of saying, ‘I'm not here to represent black people. I represent everybody.’ But you are representing your community. I was representing a segment of my community. That's the reality of it. I never apologized for that.


“During that period there was a lot of police violence against young black men. The issue of race in Toronto was extremely volatile, particularly about policing. And, if you were a poor single mother in the system, and God forbid you were black, people thought it was okay to treat you a particular way. We had to not only address this in the campaign in a practical way, but get it on the Mayor's agenda.

“Young people growing up in Regent Park and St. Lawrence and surrounding areas in the city did not vote. They did not care and were not interested because they felt they were not cared about either. I think people were at that particular time fed up with the dismissiveness around low-income communities and homelessness: things that were just not on the Mayor's agenda at that time. We wanted to let people know their voice counted. It counted on election night.

“The voter turnout was excellent during that campaign because we spent time in communities doing things that were not traditionally done in civic campaigns. I never really thought about [winning] at that time to be perfectly honest with you. We were so focused on the campaign issues.”


“The way that we had been approaching it, people become really defensive and it shuts down the whole conversation. People want to protect what they have, and it becomes me-versus-you, us-versus-them type of scenario. I can paint a picture for you all day in terms of how racism affects my life but I want it to change so how do I create that opportunity for you to do that self-examination and to realize the impact of that? It flips the conversation a bit.

“How you begin is not trying to change their worldview, but to ask the proper questions so that people begin to examine it for themselves, and to challenge themselves around how they see the world and why particular worldviews hold other people hostage.

“When you tell me that you don't see colour, that is not a sophisticated or accurate analysis of the situation because you are seeing colour. You decided by saying that it doesn't matter—you decided that, but it does matter.

“How did you derive that? What do you believe? Questioning beliefs and values: how did you arrive here so that you believe this is true?”

To read the whole interview, go here.

Built Ford Tough: Ward 2 candidate Andray Domise

By Adwoa Afful

Ethnic Aisle: On your blog you define yourself, among other things, as an activist.  How do you define that term and how has that changed since running for council?

Andray Domise: I’ve been agitating for civic engagement for a very long time. Usually it’s in the form of get-out-and-vote efforts around election days. What troubles me the most is the level of apathy that I run into when I speak to the African-Canadian community, specifically the Caribbean-Canadian one: “there is no point, nothing is ever going to change, why bother.” We make up 8 percent of Toronto’s population. If we actually woke up and used the voices that God gave us and used the voting rights that we have, we can actually see a lot of changes happen in Toronto.

EA: Throughout your campaign you have been pretty vocal about issues related to systemic racism that African-Canadian communities face.  What are some the challenges in talking about systemic racism so openly?

AD: The challenges in talking about race aren’t actually challenging. From my perspective, people tend to like honesty. If I, as a Black candidate, am not willing to speak openly and frankly about what systemic racism does, what stereotyping and prejudice does, the damage that, for example, the chief magistrate of our city [does when] calling our young people “niggers,” and “thugs” and “fucking minorities,” if I can’t be honest about the damage that that’s causing, then I’m just remaining silent in the face of evil. [From] my perspective it’s not hard to talk about this stuff. I didn’t get into this necessarily to just get myself elected, but to try to change the political conversation that we’re having in Toronto, which to me is toxic and it’s self-defeating. [The]  part that’s a little disheartening is that people from within my own community are saying “you need to tone it down, you gotta to dial it back,  don’t be so harsh, don’t be so forward, you gotta take your time.” If this isn’t the time for us to have this conversation, when exactly is that going to happen?

Andray Domise on the campaign trail. Image taken from his Twitter account. 

Andray Domise on the campaign trail. Image taken from his Twitter account. 

EA: Why do you think that there is backlash when you talk about race from members within your own community?

AD: Because we’re frightened and afraid and a lot of us are cowards. A lot of us are afraid that if we speak about this stuff openly that there is going to be a backlash. James Baldwin once said the only time that non-violence in America is praised is when a negro practices it.  We tell ourselves it’s not okay to speak openly and honestly our experiences because we might make people uncomfortable.

EA: So do you see yourself as a lightning rod in this campaign, as the person who’s going to help agitate or reverse that pattern of apathy within the African-Canadian community in Ward 2?

AD: There are people like Idil Burale running in Ward 1, and she’s facing an uphill battle against Vince Crisanti. Idil is so amazing, she’s on the Somali liaison unit for 23 division, to help foster a better relationship between Rexdale police and the Somali community. And I look at somebody like Lekan Olawoye running in Ward 12 against John Nunziata, Kegan Henry Mathews who’s fighting an uphill battle against Giorgio Mammoliti. These people are doing the work by themselves, they’re doing it alone. The fact is if you have a problem with the way that we’re treated in the city and the way that we’re represented, it’s up to you to get your ass up off your chair and do something.

EA: You brought up Idil Burale who is running for council in Ward 1, and has worked to create initiatives that addresses issues like police carding, which disproportionately affects Black Torontonians. Would you ever consider collaborating with other councillors on initiatives meant to address issues that affect African-Canadian communities across Toronto?

AD:  Absolutely! Etobicoke North has the highest diagnosis rate for type 2 diabetes for young people for all of Canada. That’s because there is a lack of access to recreational facilities, lack of access to nutritional foods, lack of access to transportation and that has led us to have very sedentary and junk food laden lifestyles and diets. It affects the South Asian community also, but you know it’s magnified on us, it affects white people in the Ward, but it’s magnified on us.

EA: Your background is in insurance and you worked for large companies like SunLife Financial, and you talk a lot about proposing business based solutions to address some of the issues facing Ward 2. How can the business sector or the private sector help address some of the issues you’re campaigning on?

AD: We have a ton of green space and a ton of undeveloped land, you don’t even have to have a business background per se, you can simply take a look around. It’s a very, very undeveloped area. Development skipped over Etobicoke altogether and headed over to Mississauga. I was just over at Square One yesterday, and there is just so much development happening. Because they had all that open real estate Mayor Hazel McCallion saw this and said “we’re going to build right here,” and they’ve been at that work for the last 20 years and it’s amazing how much change has happened.

What really makes me sad about that is that the Applewood area of Mississauga is a very low-income area. You can compare it to Rexdale in a lot of ways, in the sense that it’s lower income and very, very diverse. You could do the exact same kind of work in Rexdale. You could have a partnership with those developers to say “look, if you want to build here that’s great, but what you’re going to do is provide neighbourhood services, green spaces, public spaces, rec centres, better access to transportation.”

EA: You have also talked eloquently about the stigma that surrounds Rexdale and other communities in Ward 2, as a result of being designated as a priority area.  What do you think the rest of Toronto has to learn from the communities in Rexdale?

AD: Churches and charities, they’re the glue that holds this neighbourhood together. People may not be politically active, but they are socially and consciously active, in the sense that they want the best for themselves and their neighbours. There are people who volunteer at the Rexdale community health centre, Pathways to Education, [and] churches. My own church, for example, before school starts we'll go and knock on doors in our neighbourhood and hand out $50 gift cards to Staples to make sure that people who don’t have enough money to get back to school supplies for their kids at least have something.  We have done the hard work of filling in the gap that our political classes refuse to fill. And something that I am really proud of is that we come together as a community in times of need and make sure that we provide for each other.

EA: What is your favourite spot in Rexdale, where do you go to chill or where do you go to re energize yourself?

AD: During the summertime, Pine Point is a really awesome place, and I just like to go jogging up there, or take the car up and read a book. The Humber trails are some of the best walking trails that you’ll find in Toronto. The amount of parks and trails that we have here in Rexdale is amazing.  

Navigating High School

In grade 10, I transferred from a small French-language public school to Oakwood Collegiate Institute on St. Clair West. In the papers, Oakwood was described as “multicultural;” to me, it was where my dad and uncle passed through after moving to Canada from Jamaica during their adolescence.

My old school was comprised of students whose parents were from Quebec and the Francophonie at large, especially African countries colonized by France. There, I learned that Toronto’s construction of “diversity” was  (to borrow from theorist Raymond Williams’ definitions of community) positive and warmly persuasive.

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Hennessy and Enemies: Booze, Brands and "Liquid Bling"

Hennessy and Enemies: the Toronto Star had some pretty stupid things to say about the link between hip hop, cognac and last summer’s shooting on Danzig Ave. So Denise Balkissoon has some stupid questions of her own.

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A Dubliner’s Rantings on St Patrick’s Day

Starting off, let’s confront St. Patrick’s Day head-on with a Dubliner’s Rant by Séamus Conaty. “Patty! Really? Patty? That is either an old WASPy woman’s name or a delightful Jamaican pastry, not Ireland’s main man.”

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The Culture Bucket

In recent weeks, as stories about Idle No More or rape in India have populated our news media, I’ve been reminded yet again that differences in culture can’t be boiled down to pat clichés about cuisine, but are instead about ways of understanding the world. The tension lingering around divisions between cultural groups seems more present than usual, and I half expect that at any moment the city’s ethnic groups might break out into 1950s-style street fight replete with switchblades and greased hair.

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Authenticity at Jane and Finch: African Dutch Wax Fabrics

During my early childhood, my Ghanaian immigrant parents decided to move our family to the north Toronto neighbourhood of Jane and Finch. Jane and Finch hosts one of the largest Ghanaian communities in the city, so I became quite accustomed to seeing small parades of women (and occasionally their spouses and children) covered head to toe in African print fabrics.

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Rob Ford's Diversity Distraction

Since 2006, it’s been City of Toronto policy that all advertised civic appointments—both paid jobs and hundreds of volunteer opportunities—make a direct appeal for applications from “women, youth, First Nations, people with disabilities and racialized communities.” In late September, a damning report by the city’s ombudsman, Fiona Crean, (who is, in fact, a woman) revealed that mayoral staff tried to delete the line calling for diverse applications during the appointment process for 120 citizen positions on city boards this past spring.

The revelation of mayor Rob Ford’s interference was another troubling window into his administration’s dismissive approach to inclusion and diversity. It also shed more light on Ford’s bizarre political posturing: even as he trumpets his private commitment to charity for marginalized people, the mayor reassures to his base that public, systemic change is out of the question.

Ford’s response to Crean's report was a standard denial and dismissal. “That’s a ridiculous question,” he said when asked if he was against diversity. In the face of such a serious accusation, it would have been easy to drag out Toronto’s well-worn “Diversity, Our Strength” motto to placate concerned residents. The mayor's refusal to even pay lip service to the idea was a silent statement that those who believe in the motto, and its accompanying policies, are not worth his attention.

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