Tag Archives: toronto

White, rich and male: Rob Ford’s a Triple Threat

26 Nov

Today, Torontonians found out that their official clown, Rob Ford, broke the law and will probably lose his position as mayor.

For many of us who aren’t used to seeing the law applied to people in power, the announcement is a confusing victory. On one hand, the democratic will of the city’s last election has been tossed out. However, a judge determined that the crime warranted the strict application of the law, which means we’ll all have to find another jester to occupy us online, between one soul-crushing defeat for progress after another.

Rob Ford is a symbol, not a mayor. He’s the physical manifestation of how disorganized is Toronto’s left, how broken are electoral politics and how easy it can be to ignore journalists (and probably some good advice) and still manage to find favour among a certain group of Torontonians.

Or, to put it another way…

Toronto’s left needs to work out the deep divisions that exist and create new, grassroots organizing models that will help to unite the suburbs with the core to build a better city that meets everyone’s needs.

Toronto needs to change its electoral system to allow for a more accurate representation of the will of the electorate.

We all need to examine the role of the press in defending and upholding democracy and apply this to journalistic coverage of all levels of politics.

But, aside from these important lessons, there’s a larger lesson to be learned.

Being a white, rich man is still a really sweet gig.

Rob Ford got away with his outrageous shenanigans for reasons no more important than his skin colour, his gender and his wealth.

Many, many people have tallied the long list of outtakes, from the DUI in Florida, advising someone to buy street Oxy-Contin, kicking riders off a TTC bus to chauffeur his football team, driving while reading, giving a woman the finger while driving, saying that cyclists deserve to be killed if they choose to cycle, and on and on and on, and they ask how was it that Ford could get away with such a laundry list of outrageous events.

Ford has been isolated by his privilege. The stature that comes with the office of mayor plus his constant air of entitlement has made him untouchable. Throw in the obligatory “poor me” sentiment once in awhile and a tornado of factors are present that had left him nearly unscathed. A second term still isn’t out of the realm of possibility.

The only unfortunate aspect of this decision is that rather than having Ford face the electors to atone for his sins, his Gravy Train is ending early, by the decision of a judge. But then again, Ford will remain shielded by his privilege in any future election.

Today, Ford got what he deserved.

However, though it’s fun to make fun of Rob Ford (and, it is totally fun. I had that .gif open on my computer for two whole days) reducing him to a caricature hides the reality that his entire circus has been made possible because of our oppressive system. Rob Ford has only been able to persist because some people are considered more appropriate than others to be mayor; that some people are considered to be more deserving of attention, high wages or honour; that some people are privileged with the benefit of the doubt; and that while some people can do no harm, others can’t catch a break.

Unfortunately, reducing this lump of a human into such terms obscures this reality. Many of us watched the Gravy-Train-Wreck with horror and bemusement. But, at this juncture, I think it’s important to recalibrate our analysis both for what it means for progressives who live in Toronto and for how it fits into a broader context.

For progressives, this victory must be celebrated but also used as an opportunity to re-group and build.

In the broader context, my guess is that Ford, with all his power, privilege and wealth will be made into a martyr.

And this martyrdom will come at a time where there’s been a clear rise in the rhetoric supporting so-called men’s rights. From a recent lecture at U of T on men’s oppression to Fox News specials, the ousting of Rob Ford by “the man ” (a.k.a. a judge) fits perfectly into the rhetoric of the oppressed man.

Ford and his supporters will be pushing this line through the appeal of his case right to the next by-election (or election) that Ford can run in. Because of this, activists are going to have to cut through rhetoric, draw the connections between Ford and oppression and demonstrate what forces really are at play.

The entitlement of Rob Ford (even identified today by the judge) is what makes him powerful. He’s not interested in criticism, facts or even doing a good job. Like a child who’s just heard “no” for the first time, the tantrum that we’re about to witness is going to be fierce.

He’s a bull in a china shop and Torontonians are various types of delicate, fine china.

Progressives need to show him the door before anything else ends up smashed.

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Toronto’s respect deficit for cyclists

23 Nov

There’s something about the cyclist-driver debate that makes people go nuts.

From the cyclists’ side, I know what it is. When we see someone killed, we know it could have been us. We think of hundreds of “close calls” where, had we been riding a bit faster, a bit slower, a bit further right or in another lane, we would have died.

When we see someone killed, we think of all the times we haven’t heard from someone when we should have, and we’ve imagined our lovers or friends dead from their daily commute.

When we see the vile responses online, we see the (few) callous drivers who have intentionally tried to injure or kill us. Yes, that happens on Toronto’s roads. Yes, I’ve had drivers intentionally steer toward me.

Under these conditions, it’s sometimes hard to engage in a rational or productive debate.

From the drivers’ side though, I don’t know what it is. I have no idea why drivers get so defensive and angry in debates about sharing the road.

In a collision with another driver, your risk of death is pretty high. In a collision with a cyclist or a pedestrian, though, your risk of death (or even injury) is low. But rather than raging against each other, it’s more often the case that (some) drivers rage against cyclists.

When I’m driving and have a close call with another car, it’s usually corrected pretty quickly. I think, “good, denting this thing would have been annoying.”

But when I’m on my bike and I have a close call, my heart falls out of my chest. It scares the hell out of me. It’s also way more frequent to have a “close call” on my bike than in my car.

It’s clear to me that the biggest threat to drivers is other drivers. Not cyclists. Not pedestrians. When I’m driving, I take extra care when I can. I give cyclists a lot of space. I’m patient. I refuse to be gripped by anger.

Toronto needs better bike infrastructure. Encouraging more people to bike reduces traffic for cars and drivers with half a brain should be able to understand how this benefits them. But better bike infrastructure isn’t enough.

Torontonians have a serious respect deficit for cyclists.

Ignore the fact that we should be celebrated for choosing to risk our lives for the environment and that we represent one fewer car on the road, or that we’ll hopefully cost the health system less. No, celebration (while welcomed) is not what cyclists need. All we need is respect.

Anti-cyclist rhetoric is really dangerous. It devalues our lives. Add that to drivers who (due to a variety of factors like road conditions, congestion, long commutes, broken relationships, terrible jobs etc. etc) are really angry AND encased in a metal shield, the combination leads to cyclist deaths and hit-and-runs.

The last time I was hit by a car, it was along Davenport at George Brown College. I was hit by a social work instructor. He jumped out of his car and was extremely helpful and apologetic. He told me he was a cyclist too. This demonstrated an important level of respect, which went a long way for both of us.

Compare that to the woman who once aimed for me and floored her pedal as we sat at a red light, also along Davenport. I had to jump out of the way to avoid certain injury/possible death.

If you spend a lot of time cycling, it’s easy to go crazy. This means that it’s easy to look crazy to drivers when we respond to being us off, your erratic driving us or dangerous lane changes. But drivers need to know that most cyclists feel like they’re always a second away from death.

The same force that may dent your car could take my life.

That reality is at the heart of this debate.

I’m sure that nearly all drivers don’t want to hit cyclists and I know that no cyclist wants to be hit. So how do we make our streets more safe?

Here’s a list. While mostly obvious, obeying these points would go a long way to help keep roads safer.

  • Don’t drive like an asshole: Be aware of what’s around you and signal. Don’t change lanes dangerously. Don’t drive drunk.
  • Don’t drive and text. In Toronto I saw people do this daily. It’s so dangerous and stupid and there’s no situation where this is necessary.
  • Don’t drive up to a cyclist and yell something at them for fun. Or for sexism. Or for any reason.
  • Assume that a cyclist is relying on your good driving to make judgements about how to avoid being hit. Know that when you don’t signal, you make the road more dangerous for cyclists. Also know that while cyclists should always signal, sometimes it’s not safe to (like when you have to break and steer in an intersection while avoiding wet streetcar tracks…doing this with one hand is sometimes too dangerous).
  • Don’t honk at a cyclist who’s taking a lane or obeying a traffic signal. If you lay your horn on a cyclist hoping that this will convince them to change their minds, you are an asshole and you should look into anger management classes.
  • Don’t blame cyclists for being hit/injured/etc.
  • While there many terrible cyclists out there, nearly no mistake made by a cyclist equals the force of a mistake made by a car. There’s a reason why children can ride bikes and not drive cars. Acknowledge the power imbalance and act responsibly and accordingly.
  • Understand that while you may be the perfect driver, sometimes cyclists have just passed a scene where another driver has scared the hell out of them and they may project some of their sentiments upon you. Yes, most drivers aren’t total assholes, but the effect of the ones who are influences how we interact with cars.
  • If you feel that you are raging, pull over (safely) and chill the fuck out. There’s no simpler or softer way that I can say that. Road rage is really dangerous. Cyclists on the receiving end of road rage risk being killed. Cyclists get road rage too but their weapon, a bike, doesn’t produce the force possible when your car is your weapon.

Remember that there’s a world beyond your windshield and radio station. It’s filled with humans who are, in many ways, just like you. Imagine your interactions on the road as if you were together in that real world, without your cup holder, car seats or dashboard. Treat people on the road the way you treat people in real life. I’m sure that many of the dangers faced by cyclists would be avoided.

Unless, of course, you’re just an asshole. Then your license should be suspended until you can be deprogrammed.

**This morning a 35-year-old elementary school teacher was killed in Toronto on Davenport at Lansdowne. No one should die as they commute to work. The driver who hit him fled the scene.

No justice, no peace

29 Sep

Me in Maclean’s during the weekend of the G20 in Toronto. Yeah, they misspelled my name.

On Friday, George Horton became the only person convicted of assaulting an officer during the chaotic weekend of the G20 in Toronto.

A judge determined that he should spend 10 months in jail.

The victim? A police cruiser’s door.

While the cruiser was unable to deliver a victim impact statement, an officer who was inside of the car said he felt his life was in danger. He had been hit on the head, through Horton was not accused of that attack.

Full disclosure 1: I have, a few times, kicked the door of a car. While never a police car’s door, there have been a few instances in Toronto where a car has come close enough to taking my life that my only reaction is to scream and let my foot loose upon a car door. One time in particular I believe I used my foot to close someone’s door as I was biking past it along University Avenue. While I don’t advise people to kick other peoples’ car doors, I don’t think it’s a crime that warrants jail time.

Full disclosure 2: a police officer knocked me to the ground about two hours before Horton kicked the door of a cruiser. He raised his shield upon my arm while I was cowering in a corner of a window at Queen and John Sts. and he hit me repeatedly until I collapsed. Despite being able to say exactly where the officer was in the police line, at what intersection, at what time exactly, the OIPRD said that I didn’t have enough evidence to be able to ID him.
“What did he look like?”
“A ‘roid-raging meat head. White. Frightening.”
“No, you’ll have to be more specific. What kind of uniform did he have?”
“Well, I thought it was kind of weird to see someone wearing a vintage Princess Patricias Light Infantry Military uniform decorated with rainbows and Banksy images, but I’m pretty sure that. Or, what all the other cops wearing.”
“Sorry, we can’t help you. For all we know, the hospital records of your bruises could have been caused by your friends when they pulled you out of the crowd.”
“I don’t bruise easily”
“Yes, but we don’t know that”
*Nora walks out, kicks police station door.*

The hypocrisy is astounding.

Forget the fact that the policies promoted by the leaders of the G20 nations wreak havoc on people around the world and can be tied both directly and indirectly to the deaths of many, many people.

Forget the fact that the police that weekend beat, assaulted, harassed, intimidated, arrested, detained, starved, kettled and pissed off thousands of Torontonians and our friends who came in solidarity.

Forget the fact that no one has been held accountable for what happened that weekend.

Forget the fact that the $1 billion spent on that weekend could have quadrupled the money available for First Nations higher education through the post-secondary student support program, for example.

Forget the fact that organizers remain in jail for organizing for that weekend.

Forget the fact that police stood back while businesses had windows smashed to justify a campaign of mass arrest the day after.

Forget the fact that KICKING A CAR ISN’T AN INDICTABLE OFFENSE.

Forget all of that. Because, when the world’s most powerful and rich men come to town, logic and reason are thrown under a bus. Repression and injustice comes out in force. You will lose your rights. You will lose your freedoms and civil liberties.

I don’t know Horton. Unlike some of the others who have done/are doing jail time who I’ve had the opportunity to organize with, I’ve never met Horton.

But if the G20 taught me anything, its that state injustice radicalizes people.

A population of people radicalized through experiencing direct state injustice isn’t going to be good for the powers who seek to oppress us.

Indeed, as I’ve written previously, no justice, no peace actually means something.

I’m struggling to pull together something to say about this that isn’t totally hopeless because, I admit, this has deeply depressed me.

So, here it goes: Don’t kick cars.

Our organizing and our movements have to be more sophisticated than that if we’re going to be the force that creates change.

G20 effects linger

28 Jun

It just started to pour.

I now have a porch that’s enclosed where I can sit and look at the Internet. I’m drinking wine. I’m dry.

Two years ago, it was pouring like this but hundreds were stuck in the rain. I was in an alcove. We watched journalists led out of the Queen/Spadina intersection. We saw buses line up. We saw people, soaked, loaded onto those buses and taken away.

While in that alcove, I was with Kim Elliot. We spent the afternoon together. Two sets of parents had come up to us desperate. They asked if we knew how to get into the intersection where people were kettled. We didn’t. Their 16-year-old boys had been rounded up. Trapped by the police. Arrested. The parents tried to give their sons’ passports so that they could eventually be processed. It was their only IDs. The police told the parents to go home and wait for a phone call.

Then, we saw what I can only describe as a post-apocalyptic scene: Queen street misty and empty. Across the street, an old woman lashed out at a police officer; the four of us civilians on the street wandered into each other by accident…there was no one else around. Cell phones had been knocked out that day. One of the guys asked me if my phone was working. It was all we could talk about. Queen street was otherwise deserted. Those parents walked up to us again. Drenched, they never found their sons. They didn’t go home either.

Those images are burned into the back of my eyes. What we endured in the city that weekend was the height of injustice I had experienced. No one has been brought to account for what happened that weekend.

I applaud all attempts to call our governments and police/military forces out for what they inflicted upon us that week. From the Ontario Ombudsman who released an excellent report to the individuals who have been deeply, personally afflicted for their activism, all who speak out must be thanked.

Half of why I’m writing this is because of the anniversary. The other half is because of Alex Hundert.

Alex went to jail yesterday for more than a year. He was arrested before the G20. He joins Leah Henderson (the only other person jailed as a result of the G20 who I’ve worked with), Mandy Hiscocks (who must be commended for this: http://boredbutnotbroken.tao.ca/) and others. His arrest is proof that our system is not broken: it’s intended to break us, to intimidate us out of fighting for what’s right and just.

Alex and the others are political prisoners. But, rather than focusing on them, let’s reflect on the criminal system as a whole: one where racialized people, First Nations people and people with disabilities dominate the ranks. One where justice is rarely administered. One where politics, politicians and ideologies dominate the public discussion rendering a truly rehabilitating, service agency entirely impossible.

It’s hard to think of these things without complete rage. The trouble with rage is that it isn’t always productive.

But, sometimes it’s entirely productive.

Alex wrote this: http://boredbutnotbroken.tao.ca/alexhundertanopenletter before he was sentenced. Read it and do what you can to be involved in resistance.