Nightmare Rectangle Round-up: Municipal Finance, Black Widows, Migrants, and More

Header: This image from Lisa Jackson’s Biidaaban depicts a decaying Toronto City Hall surrounded by forest, on the edge of a flooded Nathan Phillips Square.

Trying a bit of a new thing. I occasionally do linkdumps via Twitter threads, but I felt like doing something more permanent. Title inspired by this ever-relevant @TechnicallyRon tweet:

Continue reading Nightmare Rectangle Round-up: Municipal Finance, Black Widows, Migrants, and More

The Cheat Sheet: July 2018 City Council

Livestream · Meeting Monitor

It’s the last Council meeting of the 2014-2018 term. Whew. Here’s a rundown of the sizeable agenda, including addressing recent gun violence, end-of-term concerns, plastic straws, affordable housing of all kinds, planning studies, and the newest addition to the PATH.

Continue reading The Cheat Sheet: July 2018 City Council

Women’s Measures

Who will believe thee, Isabel?
My unsoil’d name, the austereness of my life,
My vouch against you, and my place i’ the state,
Will so your accusation overweigh,
That you shall stifle in your own report
And smell of calumny. […]
      As for you,
Say what you can, my false o’erweighs your true.

Measure for Measure

A story like this is a password. Once you say it out loud, doors start to open,” wrote Toronto poet Emma Healey recently, on telling her friends about her experiences with a predatory male professor.

I heard stories from other students, other friends, people in the same literary community as me. A few of them were about this person, but most were about other men across the country in the same loose network – writers, editors, teachers. I heard about rapes and assaults. I heard about violations of trust and instances of gaslighting. I heard about men who had threatened women with legal action to stop them from talking about what had happened between them.

Without exception, every single one of these men is still working—writing, publishing, editing, teaching—today.

In her recent Globe and Mail piece, fellow writer Stacey May Fowles explains,

These conversations are not new. It’s just that we’re finally having them out in the open. While some of these predators have been operating for years without public acknowledgment or punishment, there has long been a shared back channel amongst women in Canadian literature – coded warnings relayed privately, chatter about who can be trusted and who is safe to be around.

She continues: “Is there something so broken in our literary culture that it encourages, sanctions and protects this kind of behaviour?” Continue reading Women’s Measures

The Cheat Sheet: February 19 City Council

This Wednesday is the first council meeting since the annual epic budget s̶h̶i̶t̶f̶e̶s̶t̶ showdown. On the agenda: hockey beer, campaign Twitter, the taxi review, and more.

Continue reading The Cheat Sheet: February 19 City Council

Don’t act so fucking shocked

I’ve seen a few people lamenting that the focus is on Ford smoking crack in that video and not his racist and homophobic remarks, and it’s all just too precious. The hard truth is that for the vast majority of people, using an illegal drug associated with poor black people is more scandalous, more outrageous, more offensive, more disrespectable than looking down on people for being black or gay.

Ford has said racist, homophobic and transphobic things in the past. Ford has been publicly drunk and disorderly in the past. Ford has used drugs in the past. None of this proved enough to stifle his career; none of it attracted demands to step down from such a wide range of people.

The thing is? An awful lot of the people in politics and media who are now going after Ford for smoking crack have been racist and homophobic themselves. Toronto Sun editor Lorrie Goldstein trafficking in racist stereotypes of violent, hypersexual black men, city councillor Mike Del Grande parroting “welfare queen” myths, implying that the groups overrepresented in prison just commit more crimes, etc. Councillor Denzil “Boat People” Minnan-Wong.

It’s not just about conservatives. In the original Star story Doolittle and Donovan repeated “Somali” over and over, apparently oblivious to any repercussions to using the video owners’ ethnicity as shorthand. Members of the community, like Abdi Aidid, forced the paper to revise. (The ethnicity of another key player has escaped comment.) It’s not the first time major papers have previously made a mess of covering and commenting on issues in racialized communities. And it’s not just journalists, either. Today on CP24 I heard one leftist councillor — Paula Fletcher, I think — referring to “gangbangers” as she condemned the company the mayor keeps.

All these people, they smoke pot, they drink, they drop acid, they snort coke, and it’s all right as long as you do it on your own time and don’t come to work fucked up…but stooping to crack cocaine in Rexdale…that’s something else. That’s ghetto. It transgresses the social code of this very white and middle-class sphere.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t go after Rob Ford. He is unfit for office and he’ll never be able to do his job until he tackles his personal demons. But he shields himself with the bodies of young black men and they have been collateral damage in this hunt. (Maybe soon we’ll know if that’s what happened to Anthony Smith.)

I don’t expect much worthwhile discussion of all this in the mainstream media, where the vast hordes of straight white male journalists, even if they are not overtly bigoted, tend to be clueless and deeply uncomfortable talking about things outside their experience. While they occasionally get self-righteous kicks calling out blatant racism or homophobia when it’s not one of their own, the industry of political journalism and punditry is structured in such a way that “minority” issues simply don’t get talked about, and definitely not by marginalized people themselves.

So if you want to hammer the mayor on his racism and homophobia, that’s great, but if you want the masses to care you need to take the right angle. Make it about Ford’s hypocrisy, how he pretended to care about his football team in public and then speaks of them dismissively in private, because the kids are more sympathetic if people don’t have to remember they’re black. Make it about how “fag” is a bad word, so people don’t have to confront their own feelings about male effeminacy. And don’t act so fucking shocked when a heteronormative white industry doesn’t see what the big fucking deal is.

An open letter to anyone who has experienced sexual assault

An open letter to anyone who has experienced sexual assault

I don’t need to know you to believe you. I don’t need to know what happened to you. I don’t need to know how “severe” or “serious” it was, because we should take all sexual assault seriously. Period.

For people I know, this is what I would say to them. And to people I don’t…I just felt we ought to have something, somewhere, on some semi-official platform, that isn’t blaming or questioning or denying.

If it’s not anti-racist, is it still responsible journalism?

Note: In my experience, you often need a period where people are encouraged to rant, share frustrations, assure each other they’re not imagining things, etc., before you can get down to working productively among each other. This is a polemic to that purpose.

Since I got involved with municipal politics I’ve met and befriended a lot of people in journalism—a profession that I didn’t really know much about before. I’m consistently impressed by their hard work, tenacity, and commitment to journalistic ethics: fact-checking, research, protecting people’s privacy, respecting “off the record” information, speaking truth to power.

But (of course there’s a “but”) journalists and editors and columnists themselves have power. They play an important role in determining what’s newsworthy and what’s boring. They can change not only the media landscape, but the way we go about making media. They can change how we see the people and events they’re covering.

I only rarely see people in Toronto political media talking about this.

Continue reading If it’s not anti-racist, is it still responsible journalism?

A sombre What I’m Reading

Pat Capponi, Upstairs in the Crazy House (1992)

A memoir of the author’s post-institutionalized life in one of Parkdale’s infamous boarding houses, with flashbacks to her abusive childhood and the roots of her depression. She chronicles poverty, fleas, abandonment, addiction, and the determination to assert one’s humanity in the face of a system bent on denying it.

Capponi has since become a prominent mental health and housing advocate here in Toronto, making the city a little more humane. Once, after a spell of suicidality, I was able to stay in the Gerstein Centre which she had a hand in establishing. It helped restore the dignity that the P. E. S. U. strips away from you; I’ll always be grateful.

Stevie Cameron, On the Farm (2010)

The book on the Pickton case. Seriously, there’s nothing I’ve read about in the news from the ongoing inquiry that isn’t in On the Farm.

Cameron focuses on the lives and personalities of the missing women throughout, an emphatic unspoken assertion that they were not “disposable”, they were not worthless, they were talented and vivacious and loving and loved women—their relatives fought for years to get the Vancouver police to take the disappearances seriously. In some cases the VPD flat-out lied to the families to get them to go away; and upper brass refused to let top profiler Kim Rossmo help investigate. To the VPD, women who were poor and addicted and prostitutes and (it’s impossible to deny this had an influence) Native weren’t worth finding.

(Slutwalk is happening right now; stayed in and wrote this up instead. Is SW relevant to impoverished mentally ill women? To addicted Native women in sex work? I suspect not but I’d love to be proven wrong.)