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55 Comments

politics

Community Group Challenges Toronto’s Star‘s Reporting About “Somali Drug Dealers”

Canadian Somali Congress argues paper focused unduly on nationality in its reporting of Rob Ford's alleged crack smoking.

rob ford somali drug dealer

Members of the Canadian Somali Congress have condemned the Toronto Star for repeated references to “Somali drug dealers” in its initial story about mayor Rob Ford’s alleged drug use. The Star‘s first article on the subject originally used the description “Somali” 10 separate times to refer to the men who apparently were involved with Ford in this case [PDF]. There seems to have been second thoughts among Star editors about this: even before CSC president Ahmed Hussen contacted the publication they edited the article, which now contains five uses of the word [PDF].

Hussen says the repeated use of an ethnic identifier is both unnecessary and damaging to the Somali community.

“This description is not relevant to anything,” Hussen told us by telephone on Monday. He points to the Canadian Association of Journalists’ ethics guidelines, which states that members “avoid stereotypes of race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, or social status,” particularly regarding crime stories. “I think the Star made a huge mistake, and now our communities have to suffer the stigma,” Hussen said. “Ethnicity has nothing to do with individual acts.”

Hussen says that after the article appeared he mobilized his membership to file complaints with the Star, and eventually spoke with editor Michael Cooke. “We got a good response from Cooke,” Hussen said, and added that the editor assured him the term “Somali” would not be employed in similar fashion in future stories on the issue. We called Cooke to confirm this, but he did not respond to our request for comment.

Star reporter Robyn Doolittle, who co-authored the article with investigative journalist Kevin Donovan, stands by her descriptions. “I think it’s material to the story,” Doolittle told us during an interview at City Hall. “If you accuse the mayor of smoking crack, you have to provide as much detail as possible.” Doolittle declined to directly address the relevance or frequency of the “Somali” identifier, and referred us to the Star‘s public editor Kathy English. (We had received no reply from English at press time.)

Susan Eng, a former Toronto Police Services Board chair and longtime activist regarding media equity, says the references to ethnicity are irrelevant, because even the Star is protecting the identity of the men in question—in contrast to something like a police search, the goal isn’t to provide a physical description so the public can help locate the individuals. Star reporters “are not suggesting that anyone should go and find these people, and unless that’s your motivation as a reporter, you have no reason to use this language,” Eng told us by phone. She added that journalists often become defensive when they are told their descriptions might stereotype specific communities. “You don’t have to be a racist to make this kind of mistake,” she points out.

U.S. website Gawker, which broke the story about the allegations, made no references in its story to the ethnicity of the individuals who claim they dealt crack cocaine to Ford. Outlets like the New York Times and the Guardian have similarly reported on the issue without describing the ethnicity of the presumed dealers.

CSC communications director Ebyan Farah, who we also spoke with on Monday, emphasizes that Somalis in Toronto are Canadians first, and must not be held responsible for the drug dealers’ alleged conduct. “It’s the responsibility of the police to find them,” Farah said. “The job of the community is to educated our boys not to go down the wrong path—but a criminal is a criminal.”

UPDATE, 3:14 PM: A few hours after publication we received an e-mail from Kathy English, public editor of the Toronto Star. She wrote that in her view some reference to the men’s background was appropriate: “I think it was relevant to provide as much information as possible about who these people are.” However, English continued, she also understands the concerns that have been raised about how often the description was repeated. “I think the Star did overdo this in writing the deadline story (some of this was a result of team writing and editing).” She also added that reporters and editors have scaled back in this regard in subsequent stories on the subject.

Comments

  • Hah!

    Somali drug dealers. What’s wrong with reporting the truth? If the Somali community doesn’t like it, how about standing up and working with police to get rid of the individuals giving your community a bad name? But we all know that’ll never happen…

    • Testu

      This is exactly why it was harmful to the Somali community. Because idiots are incapable of treating an identified minority as anything other than part of a monolithic group.

      The alleged drug dealers, while they may be from Somalia, are still individuals. The Somali community has no more sway over their actions than I do over yours.

      This is like trying to call out the Canadian community for its tolerance of racism and blaming them for not eliminating it from their community.

      • Hah!

        I’m pretty sure those in the Somali community living along Dixon are well-aware of who the dealers are. Their instinct is to protect their own. Fine, but you can’t have it both ways.

        • Testu

          I live in Parkdale, I have a pretty good idea who some of the dealers around here are (they’re mostly white guys, unknown ethnicity). Are you suggesting that I should confront them about their drug dealing? If I don’t am I protecting my own?

          • tyrannosaurus_rek

            If you have reason to suspect someone has committed a crime and choose not to report it, you are protecting them. It might even be argued that you are aiding and abetting them…

          • testu

            So I should risk my own safety and that of my family to report individuals already known to the police, to the police. Without hard evidence.
            Or are you suggesting I perform a sting operation first?
            Your position here is absurd and I suspect you know that.

          • tyrannosaurus_rek

            I said nothing about confronting anyone yourself, let alone using your family as human shields. Crime Stoppers is anonymous, and you can call from a pay phone if you suspect TPS will give your phone number to drug dealers.

          • Testu

            I don’t know what neighbourhood you live in but it seems like you have little experience with this sort of situation.

            The police (in Parkdale at least) are often aware of who these people are and what they’re doing. I’ve seen people passing off baggies with the police sitting in a car half a block down the street watching them. They don’t do anything about it, likely they have their reasons for this.

            Knowing (or strongly suspecting) that someone is a drug dealer does not make it your responsibility to bring them to justice. That is the job of the police. This is the same regardless of what community you are a part of.

            I am no more responsible for the drug dealers in Parkdale than the Somali community living along Dixon are.

          • tyrannosaurus_rek

            You seem very confused; reporting a crime or known criminal is not, in any shape or form, directly confronting them, marching them into the court room, or sending your child into their meth lab with a hidden camera and microphone.

            And you’ve diluted the initial active terms (“protect, aide”) to the passive and vague “being responsible”.

            You’ve stuck a strawman on the goalposts and then moved them around.

            You might not be responsible for the crime going on in your neighbourhood, but your inaction and tolerance allows it to persist.

          • Testu

            Sorry, I’m trying to figure out how you’re tying this to the discussion at hand.

            The original statement was that the Somali community were “protecting their own” by not actively removing the drug dealers from their neighbourhood. I was contrasting this with the situation in my neighbourhood to show how ridiculous that is to expect.

            You’re the one that jumped in with the aiding and abetting business.

            We have no reason to believe that members of the community around Dixon Rd. haven’t contacted the police about criminal activity in their neighbourhood. I’m making the point that they are not responsible beyond that any more than I am for what goes down in Parkdale.

        • Tristan

          “instinct”

          • Testu

            It almost seems to suggest that Hah! thinks they’re (like) animals.

      • CaligulaJones

        I’ll try to remember this when some over-educated douche goes on about racist patriarchy – being a white man and all that.

        • SmarterThanYou86

          That’s racist.

        • Testu

          I don’t think I’m getting your point. Unless you’re complaining that generalizations about race/ethnicity and privilege are generally not very useful to discussion, in which case, I agree.

    • https://paul.kishimoto.name/ Paul Kishimoto

      White drug dealers. What’s wrong with reporting the truth? If the white community doesn’t like it, how about standing up and working with police to get rid of the individuals giving your community a bad name? But we all know that’ll never happen…

  • tyrannosaurus_rek

    The revised article identifies the drug dealers and those involved in the video sale as men more than a dozen times. Isn’t this unnecessary and damaging? Doesn’t it implicate all men in drug dealing/use and drug-related extortion?

    • dsmithhfx

      Surely you can do better than that.

      • tyrannosaurus_rek

        Why should I have to? If repeated identification of national origin creates an unfair association, then so does the repeated identification of any form of distinct group.

        • Testu

          If men were a visible minority population you might have a point.

          Unless you’re planning to go full MRA here I don’t think you can argue that men (in general) are at risk of being discriminated against due to unfair association.

          • tyrannosaurus_rek

            What does minority status, visible or otherwise, matter? I’m sure if they were women, or self-identifying as Catholic, and the Star mentioned it a dozen times, we’d hear complaints from those quarters too.

          • Testu

            Are you seriously trying to argue that a minority population will not face increased discrimination when repeatedly mentioned in a negative context?*

            Specifically more targeted discrimination than a less distinct group such as men, women, or Catholics?

            *How about the Roma community for example?

          • tyrannosaurus_rek

            Are you seriously mangling what I’ve said in this fashion?

          • Testu

            I’m not mangling anything.

            The whole point of the complaint from the Canadian Somali community was that their ethnicity being repeatedly mentioned in such a negative context in the article would negatively impact the community as a whole due to targeted discrimination. Look at some of the comments here and on other articles related to this story and tell me that’s not already happening.

            I get that you’re arguing that any negative mention of an identifiable group will result in some increased discrimination against them. I’m saying that it disproportionately affects visible minority groups, and so singling them out like The Star did should probably be avoided.

          • tyrannosaurus_rek

            Minority groups (visible and invisible) are undoubtedly more sensitive to the issue of how they are portrayed, but I don’t agree that proportion is relevant. We’ve seen feminists post here that all men are rapists and the treatment of all men as rapists is justifiable; no identifiable group, regardless of mainstream/majority/etc status. escapes the discrimination and scapegoating of those predisposed to it.

  • dsmithhfx

    The descriptor added considerable veracity to the account, which is really all we have to go by at this point, sans video. It is certainly a shame, our shame that some/many readers would misapply criminal association to the community. We need to reflect on our collective failure to provide adequate opportunities and guidance to young people of whatever ethnicity, so that they do not choose to go down self-destructive paths. The abject failure of our political and economic elites to set a good example perhaps dooms that prospect.

  • dsmithhfx

    The descriptor added considerable veracity to the account, which is really all we have to go by at this point, sans video. It is certainly a shame, our shame that some/many readers would misapply criminal association to the community. We need to reflect on our collective failure to provide adequate opportunities and guidance to young people of whatever ethnicity, so that they do not choose to go down self-destructive paths. The abject failure of our political and economic elites to set a good example perhaps dooms that prospect.

    • https://paul.kishimoto.name/ Paul Kishimoto

      I’m skeptical about “added veracity.” How does that work? Is it because everyone “just knows” that lots of drug dealers are Somalis (or vice versa)? Per Testu’s comment, that can very easily be a misconception, in which case news outlets should not reinforce it by trading on it.

      Even if “adding veracity” were the aim, a single mention like, “The individual identified himself as ____,” would suffice.

      • dsmithhfx

        “I’m skeptical about “added veracity.” How does that work?” It’s one more detail that lends more credibility to the account, though by no means the most important or only one, the effect is cumulative.

  • OgtheDim

    Looks like the CSC has better communication staff then the Ford’s.

  • tyrannosaurus_rek

    The Star spoke to someone who self-identified as Somali and claimed the brokerage of this video on the behalf of other Somalis as part of his self-identified role as Somali community organizer. You can’t blame the paper for creating the negative association unless you are accusing it of fabricating the credentials of their contact. (Whether those credentials are legitimate is another matter entirely.)

    • dsmithhfx

      Good point.

    • torontothegreat

      This is what I don’t understand about the CSC’s ruffled feathers here…

      • dsmithhfx

        I think it’s the sheer frequency of repetition, and I concur that’s over the top.

        • torontothegreat

          5 uses of the word in a 1500 word essay is hardly “sheer frequency of repetition” – especially when they are being used (mostly) in context. I see 1 unneeded use, personally.

          You YT’s are funny.

          • dsmithhfx

            5 down from 10. What’s a “YT” ?

          • torontothegreat

            5 not including the headline. Counting’s fun

          • dsmithhfx

            You can count? Great. Now learn to read.

        • torontothegreat

          By contrast, shouldn’t you be outraged by this story?

          “white male” is used TWICE and it’s only 615 words! OH THE HORROR!

          http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2013/05/10/tim_bosma_cellphone_recovered_as_police_family_hold_out_hope_for_hamilton_mans_return.html

          • dsmithhfx

            No.

          • torontothegreat

            Your apologist viewpoint is now null.

            YT guilt!

          • dsmithhfx

            Yeti Theologian? Young Thighmaster? What?

  • http://joeclark.org/weblogs/ Joe Clark

    Somali drug dealers, now a national problem, have a tendency to shoot to kill. Hurting their feelings is the least of my worries.

    • Testu

      So are you suggesting that the twitter account is run by Somali drug dealers or are you just trying to prove the CSC’s point?

  • Unwound

    my god i cant wait until the video actually comes out, then the parsing of minutiae from the info that we currently have will stop.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Martin-Ellacott/527692586 Martin Ellacott

    No ships around to hijack….have to do something to make ends meet.

    • Testu

      Wow, casual racism is hilarious!

    • Desmond Cole

      We don’t tolerate racist stereotypes in our comments. Stop or you’ll be blocked.

  • http://joeclark.org/weblogs/ Joe Clark

    When you downtown soi-disant(e) progressives exploit the mighty forum of pseudonymized blog comments to decry the stereotyping of Catholic priests committing sexual abuse and the rampant homophobia of the Ontario Catholic school system, I will take your misplaced concern for poor downtrodden Somalis seriously.

    I will go one step further and raise a glass of cranberry cocktail (shaken, not stirred) in your honour if and when you additionally decry any celebration of, say, Japanese-Canadian architects or “LGBT” Jews.

    While we’re waiting for these nonevents to not happen, Somalis in Canada have a rather shocking tendency to deal drugs and riddle each other with bullets. These plain facts will continue to be reported irrespective of whether they max out your E-meter-like homemade racism detectors.

    Fun fact: Desmond Cole isn’t Somali, either.

    • Testu

      Are you trying to make a point or did you just need another shot at posting some racist bullshit presented as “fact”?

      Please, enlighten us with your demographic breakdown of crime in Canada and the prevalence of the Canadian Somali community therein. Stats only, of course. We wouldn’t want anyone to think you were making this up or pulling “plain facts” from your ass.

      Then perhaps you can join Ezra Levant in warning us of the dire nature of the Roma and the pending Islamic invasion. You would make Sir John A. Macdonald proud.

      Put plainly, you have no “facts” and you are using the heightened media attention on the Somali community as an excuse to vent your racist spleen. The fact that you are doing this in an article about the Canadian Somali community’s fears that this exact thing would happen is just icing on the cake.

      • http://joeclark.org/weblogs/ Joe Clark

        This isn’t a homework assignment. But may I suggest reading the Star’s own public editor’s explanation about why the nationality of these drugrunners was mentioned so many times? Hint: It’s because they mentioned it and it was a fact. While you’re all busy criticizing the original reporting, you underplay or ignore the fact that the story was amended to reduce the number of references. But that isn’t enough for you; you want the truth removed because it makes downtown progressives like you nervous.

        Please also send a Twit to the mayor of Fort McMurray and get her opinion on the Somali drug violence you suggest is nonexistent.

        When Somalis do drugs and shoot each other, it isn’t racist to mention they’re Somali.

        Also, pro tip, Têtu: When replying to a comment that implicitly criticizes the angry-pyjamas nature of pseudonymized blog comments, do not employ a pseudonym.

        • Testu

          Joe, I’ve read the explanation from The Star’s public editor. I have no issue with them reporting the ethnicity of the people involved, as it is actually part of the story. The problem is where it is repeated five times through out the story as opposed to the one or two times it was explicitly relevant (e.g. being contacted by a Somali community rep.). Emphasizing the ethnicity/nationality in a negative context goes a long way to reinforcing the beliefs that people like you hold. And evidently making it seem like publicly stating those beliefs is somehow acceptable.

          I’m not suggesting that there are no Somalian people involved in the drug trade or associated violence. I’m saying that their involvement has nothing to do with their nationality and Somalians are no more prevalent among violent criminals in Canada than any other identifiable group. If you have statistics that demonstrate otherwise, feel free to present them or, as I asked earlier, admit that you don’t and that you made up your assertion that “Somalis in Canada have a rather shocking tendency to deal drugs and riddle each other with bullets”.

          As for online pseudonyms, you’re the one who seems to have a problem with them. I do not. That you are willing to make explicitly racist posts using your real name and linked to your professional website says a lot about your character and the conviction of your beliefs. Congratulations.

  • Racists Make Me Sick

    Joe Clark is exactly why what the Toronto Star did is so damaging.

    • tyrannosaurus_rek

      The article didn’t put any ideas in Joe’s head that weren’t already festering in there.

      • Testu

        You’re right, Joe Clark was a racist long before this story broke.

        The problem with The Star highlighting the ethnicity of the people involved (by mentioning it repeatedly) is that it gives racists like Joe Clark and Martin Ellacott an opportunity (and a forum) to step up an start spewing their “facts” about the group in question to everyone around, thinking that their racism is somehow acceptable because the article justifies their irrational hatred the group in question.

        On the other hand, it does help racists like Joe Clark out themselves as racists in a public forum.