Illustration by Kyra Kendall/Torontoist.
Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains—Toronto’s very best and very worst people, places, and things over the past twelve months. From December 13–17: the Villains! From December 20–24, the Heroes! And, from December 27–30, you can vote for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.
This year, Toronto’s reputation for tolerance was undermined. Racial stereotypes crept into our politics, our schools, and our media—and reminded us that our city is not magically immune from racism. Even more troubling: our muted reaction to many of these incidents.
Rob Ford’s history of racist comments came to light (again) through this year’s election campaign. The list is by now familiar. In 2002 he called fellow councillor Giorgio Mammoliti (Ward 7, York West) “Gino boy.” In a 2008 debate at City Hall he delivered what he apparently thought were complimentary remarks about “Oriental people” who “are slowly taking over,” “work like dogs,” and “sleep beside their machines.” And just to prove he had an equal distaste for all minorities, this year Ford suggested that Toronto was too full to accommodate any more immigrants at all .
The Toronto-based reality show Lake Shore uses race for its ratings by referring to its cast members with ethnic labels like “The Lebanese” and “The Jew.” In fact, the entire gimmick of the show is placing walking stereotypes in a house together and watching the multicultural mayhem ensue. After “The Turk” said, in a promo video, “I’m not racist because I hate everybody equally. Especially Jewish people,” stories came out about the producers deliberately provoking racial tension in auditions. Apparently the executive producer was trying to “stir up some things.”
Even our schools weren’t safe from stereotyping. An investigation of racism at Ryerson University revealed than many students and faculty still feel excluded because of their race, despite the school’s diverse population.
In the media, the Toronto Sun told us that Tamil migrants are scam artists or terrorists and—speaking of racial stereotyping in our schools—Maclean’s magazine appeared to tell us that the University of Toronto has too many Asian students. The article, originally titled “‘Too Asian’?”, was informed by several serious assumptions: it lumped together everyone from fourth-generation Canadians to foreign exchange students based on their ethnicity, set this group apart from the rest of the university population as a special case, and characterized these Asian students as overly hardworking and their white classmates as partiers, and implied that white students largely came from privilege. The Star, in its coverage of the Maclean’s piece, managed to further these stereotypes instead of questioning them.
On the outskirts of Toronto, things didn’t look much better. At the Cambellford Legion Halloween party, a retired Toronto police officer dressed up in blackface with a noose around his neck, while his friend dressed up as a member of the Ku Klux Klan. In Newmarket, a man who pushed two Asian fishermen into the water and left one with permanent brain damage (so-called “nipper-tipping”), was only sentenced to three years probation, cultural sensitivity training, and a ban on driving.
Few of these incidents generated the visceral reaction that might have been expected from the famously diverse Toronto. If diversity is our strength, then this year Toronto lost a little multicultural muscle.