Monday, September 26, 2011

Rally for Respect against the Silencing of Toronto

“Regular Programming in Dufferin Grove Park will be cancelled during the day time hours on Saturday, September 10, 2011 due to an anticipated, large, unpermitted event.” (sic)
- Sign posted on a tree in Dufferin Grove Park by Toronto Parks and Recreation, as ordered by Mayor Rob Ford.
According to Mayor Ford, democracy is a large, unpermitted event.

On September 10th at Dufferin Grove Park, 500 people gathered to discuss core public service cuts under the banner of Stop Ford’s Cuts! Spread out on picnic blankets, Torontonians organized into twenty focus groups to strategize how to protect essential services, keep public sector jobs, and work together to draft the People’s Declaration for presentation to City Hall on Monday, September 26th, the ground zero of the cuts. The sum of these 2012 budgets cuts amounts to $100 million, which matches the 2011 revenue cuts by Mayor Ford, which include the $60 vehicle registration tax, and the refusal to increase property taxes by 3%. This infographic by ‘Ford for Toronto’ blogger, Matt Elliot, shows it a glance -- Ford finds it necessary to privatize core services, eliminate the Hardship Fund, environmental monitoring, such as the Toronto Environment Office and Atmospheric Fund, and reduce transit service levels so that people can drive cars and own homes. Sound familiar? In August, Harper eliminated 776 jobs from Environment Canada.

At the Dufferin Grove rally, situated in the west end hotbed of urban hippiedom, Cleo Halfpenny was selling hand silkscreened voodoo dolls of Mayor Ford with Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti in his pocket for $25 a pop, $20 without Giorgio during the meeting. Colourful Mayor Ford graffiti is springing up on walls throughout the city, faster than the white brush of the Fords’ can erase. As one of his decrees, Ford said taxpayers should call 9-1-1 to alert them of graffiti, and in the Dufferin Grove sign, he asks park-goers to call 3-1-1 to stop outdoor meetings, but he cannot stem the fabulous graphics,incisive political blog entries and pithy information visualization charts protesting his efficiency-finding measures.

Toronto is awash with graffiti - - Ford as a corpulent octopus, with his tentacles in many jars, his white potato head saying ‘Spud’, the stenciled word ‘Nightmayor’, and online campaigns such as Margaret Atwood for Mayor and 500,000 citizens against Ford. The silencing of creative constituents has brought about agitprop resistance provoked by anger, and softened by mirth, pointing out how ludicrous this all is, while laughing at Ford’s anti-graffiti legislation as a ‘catch me if you can’ tactic. A photojournalist friend, R. Jeanette Martin, is documenting the Rob Ford graffiti art for posterity; she cannot keep up with the sightings. Whether it is ‘Brazil’, ‘Twelve Monkeys’ or ‘Jabberwocky’- it seems like Toronto City Council is directed and scripted by Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam. Mayor Ford tried to close the park washrooms during the Stop the Ford’s Cuts! rally through an edict to Toronto Parks and Recreation; local councillors had to formally request they remain open.

On September 19th, I witnessed the first morning of the second round of marathon deputations from an overflow room at City Hall. Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti asked for a motion to cut deputations down from five minutes to two; it was granted, and speaking time for the opposition was divided by more than half. Within the first several hours, when a blind PWA spoke eloquently to keep funding for HIV services, he paused to turn to face a councillor and consider his question. Mayor Ford cut him off brusquely, timing him out. Councillor Adam Vaughan quickly invoked City Hall’s policy for accommodation for disability. For the next twenty hours, in an absent, monotonous tone, Ford continued to recite the names of the deputants, ending their time to the allotted second, as his form of efficient, cattle call democracy. Mayor Ford no longer accepts interview requests with Toronto Star, or Spacing, the urban planning magazine, or any other publication held to be partisan to ex-Mayor Miller’s regime, from his City Hall throne. (The video of Dave Meslin pointing out the lack of respect for deputants can be seen here- 87 left because of how late the deputations went.)

Shortly after the PWA deputized, a nurse, outfitted in a beautiful Caribana headdress of her own design, spoke of her dependency upon rehabilitation services after a severe concussion, and mentioned a podiatrist who attended her homeless shelter, and offered services to her for free. You could almost hear the pens scratching by Ford’s note takers to ensure that this service was suspended; Ford has refused the hiring of two nurses who specialized in HIV caretaking from the province, but allowed three nurses who focused on the spread of bedbugs. Councillor Mammoliti threatened a young mother with a 35% tax increase if she demands childcare; 35% is the recurring refrain of tax hikes threatened by the Brothers Ford to budget dissenters, and is completely without factual basis. (See more here.)

Repeatedly, deputants said there is a revenue problem, not a spending problem, and were soundly ignored by the executive council, who pointed out the number of times they had deputized previously to discredit them. Many of these deputants were incensed by this tactic; they were representatives for large constituent groups, such as graduate student unions, and when Councillor Mammoliti pointed out they were being paid handsomely for their services, noted their $15,000 graduate student stipends. And in the most hypocritical repudiation of Ford’s campaign tactics conceivable, Nick Kouvalis, the principal architect of the Gravy Train campaign meme, has jumped the mayoral ship to work as a public relations consultant with firemen, on the site, to save them from 300 layoffs.

There is a reason why the neo-conservative tag team, or in an oft quoted tweet calling Ford, Hudak and Harper the future "trifecta of Republican-style, right-wing ignorance and bigotry", is working so quickly to privatize core public services at the municipal level- they realize that sustainable urban planners, architects, grassroots organizations and citizens who build progressive movements are strong, organized and thoughtful in cities, and want to quash them. This was openly admitted by PM Harper when he attended a barbeque with Mayor Ford in his backyard this spring. Conservative PR flaks have made repeated attempts to take down this video from Facebook, but it pops back up again. This tactic is congruent with the Canadian European Trade Agreement, more comprehensive than NAFTA, which is presently in its ninth round of backroom negotiations, and will open up municipal services to European interests. PM Harper intends to ensure the rungs of the municipal-provincial-federal ladder are filled with his yes-sayers. If elected as the MP in Ontario, Tim Hudak wants to get rid of the Human Rights Commission to further silence leftist dissent; for more on his future initiatives, see the web site The Best Ontario Election Web Site, brought to you by Truthfool Communications, who put up the site Shit Harper Did last election.

Just last week, the inclusion of electronic surveillance in the Conservatives’ tough on crime omnibus bill was stymied through a Stop Spying petition with 70,000 signatures, organized by These wiretapping bills are really about the censorship and control of social media by PM Harper and his media advisors - - they are well aware that Facebook and Twitter are the locii for grassroots organizing. Although their new media firms still monitor social media postings, these bills were drafted to ensure that their warrantless stalking of grassroots opposition would be admissible in court. These bills were excised from the omnibus bill this round, but will no doubt be revised, to crop up in different versions to be reconsidered in future legislation.

And finally the Ford Brothers have lost an important battle. A concerned citizen has registered a formal complaint against Doug Ford for meeting with an unregistered lobbyist, an Australian developer, to sell off the Lower Port Lands, putting in jeopardy the development plans of Waterfront Toronto. These award winning sustainable plans, developed over six years, and with thousands of hours of good faith consultancy of citizens’ groups, were supported by a letter signed by 147 architects, urban planners and professors in an emergency press conference to denounce the revised east end theme park version, replete with a ferris wheel, mono-rail and mega-mall. In addition, CodeBlueTO presented 7,300 signatures on their citizens’ petition to preserve the three key principles of the Waterfront Toronto plans – flood proofing the Port Lands and South Riverdale, renaturalizing the mouth of the Don River, and building urban neighbourhoods – citing them as essential. Media reports say this battle loss has created a rift between the Ford Brothers, and pundits have asked for the return of the unauthorized $500,000 for this unneeded, second consultancy, directly from Rob and Doug’s bank account.

The silencing of the dissenting left by the neo-conservative public relations policy apparatus continues on, whether in the careful handling of Mayor Ford to monitor his press access, his controlled role-calling during the marathon deputation sessions, the shortening of deputation time at City Hall, or the censoring of the barbeque video on youtube by PM Harper, and the hidden inclusion of all-inclusive electronic surveillance in their omnibus crime bills.

When citizens are being censored, they act with graphic ingenuity. As witnessed during the people’s wake for Jack Layton in Nathan Philips’ Square, internationally, chalk has become the unique identifier and ephemeral signature of hope and optimism for Toronto, easily washed away by rain, only to fill the square again. This Monday, during the People’s Rally at City Hall, chalk filled the square again with heartfelt requests to protect our core services, and question the unfounded logic of the Fords’ service cuts. Regular programming of democracy will resume one day, and together, we will make it happen. Torontonians have proven themselves capable of compassion through accepting property tax hikes, and additional taxes, as they realize services and jobs for many will ensure the health of all. They have said so through many hours of City Hall deputations, waiting patiently for their shortened turn to speak.

Update: Mayor Ford and Councillor Mammoliti showed up in new business suits, and debated for a day and a half; one-third of 1 per cent of the city’s $9-billion-plus budget, $28-million in “service adjustments” was found, and the votes can be seen here at By a vote of 22-23, The Hardship Fund, which offsets medical costs for the needy, was cut. Councillor Vaughan reminds those watching the cuts will be on the table again after the election in November. Mayor Ford is claiming a ‘huge victory’ for finding efficiencies.

Watch this excellent video for more on today's 5:30 pm Rally for Respect: TORONTO'S PRICE TAG / Ayesha Adhami ... ALL OUT MONDAY SEPT. 26 - 5:30pm at City Hall‬ at

Matt Elliott, City Hall budget infographic at
New Port Lands Agreement Apparently A Win For Ford,
John Michael McGrath, EXPLAINER: Where does this "35% tax increase" come from?
Andy Radia, Harper Conservatives try to quash Rob Ford barbeque video: Liberal blogger
Firefighter's site, Not
Truthfool Communications, The Best Ontario Election Web Site
Truthfool Communications, Shit Harper Did at
Stop Spying at
CodeBlueTO at

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Dozen Oranges for Jack: In Memoriam from City Hall

“Jack was the reason I started voting.”
- Message written in chalk on Nathan Phillips Square wall

Much has been said about NDP Opposition Leader Jack Layton over the past few days, but much more can be written about the legacy he left as a City of Toronto councillor. His son, Councillor Mike Layton, will be hard pressed to continue his work, and fight against deep cuts to core public services at Toronto’s City Hall this September.

Representing bicyclists, the homeless, those with HIV, union members, and cultural producers, Jack Layton was an activist for a just society, with the flexibility to adapt to the new realities of climate change, AIDS, housing shortages, labour policy and pay equity. Mentored as a student by ex-mayors John Sewell and David Crombie, his policies instituted from his 1982 election at City Hall became the foundation of a progressive Toronto; these same policies are currently under systematic attack through a new neo-conservative agenda, spearheaded by Mayor Rob Ford.

The Monday morning of his death, I awoke to find that R. Jeanette Martin had posted on Facebook a photo of Jack and Olivia riding on a tandem bicycle at Pride, clad in orange, surrounded by fluorescent drag queens, and tagged it This is our Royal Couple. This is how Jack Layton attended Pride, cycling in tandem with Olivia, emanating joy, pride and inclusivity, surrounded by the love of a community whose causes he championed far before it was fashionable. Olivia and Jack are, and were, a team that could not be beaten, and deeply in sync.

When I asked Jeanette permission to write about this photograph, she said that Jack would not have liked that his regulation headshot was published in the mainstream media to commemorate his death, that her office is still a wreck from culling her archives to find the best shot after the announcement, and that this is one of her favourite photos that she has ever taken as a freelance photojournalist. As her photo made the Facebook newsfeeds, the irony was not lost that our present mayor, Rob Ford, was present at Pride only in effigy, as dozens of people pointed out his absence in painted imagery and sign.

At 4 p.m., I biked to City Hall, and bought a dozen oranges in Chinatown, close to where Jack and Olivia once lived. A bouquet of oranges, rather than roses, seemed a fitting tribute to the one known simply as ‘Jack’, who advocated that the wealth of the commons, taken from our natural and social resources, was redistributed to enable each citizen to live with dignity, with the possibility of a brighter future. As I handed each of these oranges to my friends - artists, musicians, social justice activists, public sector employees- all proponents of city building - I asked them to say a few words, and photographed them with City Hall in the background. Most were speechless with grief.

Meanwhile, mourners chalked their condolences for an outpouring of affection covering the walls and ground in Nathan Phillips Square, writing well into the night. Jack Layton was a brilliant auctioneer with his red armbands and fast patter, but he auctioned for beneficial causes, such as the 519 Community Centre, not with the future resources of our country.

How do we commemorate a politician, activist and author who opened the first food bank, and wrote extensively about affordable housing issues in Homelessness: The Making and Unmaking of a Crisis? As suggested by the Toronto Star editorial this week, do we name a bicycle network, or re-name an existing Toronto space or service, such as Dundas Park, a homeless shelter, or, Huron Street, the short stretch of road leading to the house he shared with Olivia in Chinatown?

To honour his political legacy, I would suggest renaming a homeless shelter, and establishing a scholarship for developing homeless policy through donations through the Broadbent Institute. I am afraid if we name a commuter bicycle network, under the current regime, it will never come to pass.

Swinging his cane, Jack Layton may have hastened the progression of his cancer during his campaign for Prime Minister by leading the NDP to a landmark victory as a formidable opposition to the Conservative majority; it is moot to know, and something he hid from public view. He carefully chose not to share the prognosis, diagnosis or treatment of his spreading cancer so as not to influence the decisions of others during their course of treatment, and so as not to upset his supporters.

The unprovoked vitriol, in the National Post article by Christie Blatchford, hit a man when he was gone, when he was unable to defend himself. His legacy of orange hope will live on, long after her words will be forgotten. For Blatchford, his last letter was grandstanding with empty platitudes, but she has shown that the position of the new right focuses on a Canada whose soulless future does not include, or reflect, the common good it once served.

Rest in Peace, Jack. We will defend the house that Jack built.

This article is dedicated to my cousin, Ali, and her husband, Adrian, on their wedding day. May your relationship be as in sync as Jack and Olivia's tandem ride.

Christie Blatchford: Layton’s death turns into a thoroughly public spectacle, August 23rd, National Post, at

Friday, July 29, 2011

Playing with Team Ford

“It is clear that there is a program to eliminate the public from our great city.”
- Kim Fry, the 11th deputant during the Core Service Review at Toronto’s City Hall on Thursday July 28
For a penny-pinching populist, Mayor Rob Ford’s policies are very expensive. Since his October 25th election, he has spent over $533 million in a strange sibling rivalry against his arch nemesis, ex-Mayor David Miller. During Miller’s time in office, Rob Ford was the least respected councillor, and was relegated to the benches during Miller’s confabs with his handpicked, executive council. In retaliation, cribbing from his tactics as high school football coach, Ford has crafted his defensive lineup - an executive council of six strong ‘yes’ men to systematically take apart Toronto’s public infrastructure – which Miller intended to be his legacy - through cutting core services. Ford is like a younger kid brother knocking down the carefully placed building blocks of his brother’s toy castle because he does not know how to build a city of his own design or imagination.

Select items from a spreadsheet itemizing Mayor Ford’s expenses to the City of Toronto? Canceling Transit City, initial penalties of $179 million, removing bike lanes, $469,000, bailing out an under-used arena, $43.4 million, subsidizing an underused ski lift in the ward of his ally, Councillor James Pasternak, $2 million, and the loss of revenue from the Land Transfer Tax and Vehicle Registration Tax, $204 million and $50 million respectively. Another $100,000 was spent to hire a TTC consultant, and $3 million to hire KPMG, an external consulting firm- both of these expenses are part of city councillor’s jobs, and so are redundant.

While ex-Mayor Miller left a $375 million surplus, Mayor Ford is dangerously close to spending money equivalent to the $774 million budget deficit he wanted to balance by 2012. Left unchecked, these expenditures will almost double the projected 2011 deficit within his first year of office, showing the true cost of privatization. With over three years left in his term, he huddles with his brother, Doug, as his closest advisor, quietly strategizing during City Council meetings, cautioned by his rightwing consultants to remain tightlipped with the media.

Ford’s first agenda item was to hire consultancy firm, KPMG, to perform a core service review. When KPMG’s results were made public, the results backfired for Team Ford. 96% of services are mandated by the federal government, there was no gravy, and the report unintentionally highlighted that the previous surplus left by ex-Mayor Miller was an act of financial wizardry. Apparently, the left can be bean counters, too.

On July 28th, there were over 300 deputations at City Hall on the agenda, with irate citizens decrying these cuts, and police at the council chamber’s door; the new executive council will make the final decision regarding these core service cuts in September. Bowing under thousands of emails of public pressure to attend the deputations- Mayor Ford did not sit in for the first round - he decreed that they take place over a marathon 20 hours. The deputations have become a kangaroo court, a sham procedure, to get them out of the way of his city fire sale, as ‘efficiencies’ are found, cutting core services from the elderly, children, those with HIV, caretakers, bicyclists, and at risk youth, including a program that funds 685 student nutrition programs, 42 AIDS prevention projects and 38 community drug prevention programs. Although police refused access to City Hall’s green roof for his picnic, activist Dave Meslin is part of hundreds attending a City Hall slumber party tonight; internationally, other cities are taking over squares to protest similar austerity measures.

By pitting the KPMG report against community deputations, Team Ford has deliberately polarized the downtown core against suburbanites. Call it ‘wedge politics’, ‘culture wars’ or ‘divide and conquer’, it is a tactic used to distract GTA citizens as hard won public assets are sold off to invisible bidders. Think of the Canadian version of Koch Brothers as high school football coaches, rather than democratic mayors, with transit at the center of the debate.

Ex-Mayor Miller’s legacy was to be Transit City, a light rail network designed to add street level connectivity and make workplaces accessible for outer neighbourhoods; Team Ford proposes to bring another football team and football stadium to downtown Toronto, and extend a Sheppard subway line to nowhere. ‘Austerity will not be pretty’, read a sign at the KPMG protest, but for Team Ford, stadiums, subways and athletes are certainly more important than transit, bicycle lanes, and ‘bike people’, as we are called by Councillor Doug Holyday. For the right, bike lanes are easily sacrificed on the altar of the Almighty Car, and traffic lanes and parking lots are held to be places of worship.

On July 12th, over three hundred bicyclists converged on City Hall, to ask that the newly installed Jarvis bicycle paths remain in place. Used by 890 riders daily, the bike paths connected the east end of the city with the west. Wearing bicycle helmets, and raising silently waving ‘jazz hands’ to show support for councilors arguing for their right to share lanes of traffic, a heated discussion in City Council raged over two days. Central to the debate were these questions- are bicyclists considered worthy of protection? Is Jarvis Street a cultural corridor or highway? And can a lane on Sherbourne Street, 400 m away, be considered sufficient, or do bicyclists have the right to be integrated as part of a citywide network with multiple options of bike routes?

Councillor Shelley Carroll argued that bicyclists will use Jarvis Street anyway, and modes of transport cannot be forbidden under the Highway Transport Act. Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker said, “I think cyclists should start suing the city when struck by cars given this council's recorded indifference to our safety.” Every seven hours a bicyclist is hit in the City of Toronto.

Finally, in procedural chaos, City Council voted that the Jarvis lanes were slated to be removed in two years upon the completion of the segregated Sherbourne lanes. A calculated, last minute motion by Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti re-added the reverse fifth lane, to render the prior Environmental Assessment and consultations null and void. Feisty Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam objected to the last minute amendment by Mammoliti about the lanes in her Ward; rightwing partisan Speaker Nunziata allowed the motion, and eight left leaning councillors walked out upon learning that they will be unable to vote upon the bike plan item by item in the future. The final blow - City staff told Wong-Tam, who is lesbian, that returning the reversible centre lane to Jarvis would cost $570,000, more than 4 times the city grant to Pride, an event which also takes place in her Ward, and is next on the chopping block. (For a detailed discussion of the vote, link here.)

Upon hearing this verdict, ever-ingenious Dave Meslin, the founder of the Toronto Bicyclist’s Union, posted a Facebook call out for riders to take back Jarvis. Two days later, 1100 respectful bicyclists, ringing their bells, circled Jarvis Street to Church Street and rode to City Hall chanting “We just want to share.” As I rode my bike down Queen Street West, an onlooker called out “Pay some taxes”, a byproduct of the new nastiness now made publicly permissible by Torontonians modeling the behaviour of our Mayor, and his allies, toward bicyclists.

In his nine months in office, Mayor Ford has shown preferential treatment for his constituents. He prefers car-drivers over bicyclists, the suburban elite over the downtown intelligentsia, the very wealthy over the marginalized, and corporations over unions. He cannot walk several minutes from his office to a podium to read a brief speech for the flag raising ceremony of Pride; he attends Caribana instead to show that while he may be homophobic, he is not racist. He makes his preferences known by picking and choosing which events to attend, and which deputations to listen to, and when frustrated by community consultation, changes access to democratic process by changing the date of motions, or by running an all-night deputation session, so that the public cannot attend, or hand signaling a councillor to add a last minute motion to stymie progressive motions.

Inappropriately, Mayor Ford has used his office to discriminate against those who are most defenseless, and in need of defense- whether bicyclists or marginalized groups. Ford as a football coach, if not as a democratic mayor, should rise to the challenge of inclusive policymaking, if he wishes to remain in his position. So should his brother, Doug. Going forward, we need to be Team Toronto, not Team Ford.

With special thanks to the blog ‘Driving the Porcelain Bus’ for the expense breakdown of Mayor Ford.

‘Driving the Porcelain Bus’ at
Robyn Doolittle, Toronto Star, Urban Affairs Reporter, 'Critics see KPMG report as ‘smoke and mirrors’ at
Matt Elliott, 'Ford for Toronto', 'The Jarvis vote: What the hell happened?' at

Sunday, March 20, 2011

End Subsidies to the Fossil Fuel Industry by the next Federal Budget

This is the second video produced by our frenetic little team at the Citizens' Climate Lobby (Toronto Chapter) about why the Conservatives paying $1.4 billion dollars to the oil, gas and coal companies is just absurd.

Please call the Finance Minister, Jim Flaherty at 866-599-4999 and let him know that this massive oil subsidy could be better used for green jobs and renewable energy. For more information, go to the Climate Action Network web site.

Monday, February 14, 2011

No Heat for You!

This is a video I shot, and produced, with Cheryl McNamara (writer), Jane Moffat (director), and Evan Moir (editor). To vote for us, link to the People for Corporate Tax Cuts contest at All proceeds will go to the Citizens' Climate Lobby to help us advocate for the clean energy sector, and end oil subsidies.

What a delightful shoot, and such a pleasure to work with such fine people. Had to control my giggling so the camera would not shake.

Those who know me know this based on a true story. News flash - we won for this week!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Sticks, Stones and the CRTC Ruling For Easing Broadcast Restrictions

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.
- English Proverb
This is false logic. As a new media professor, I live in a steady stream of constantly updated newsfeeds through my social media networks. Daily, I watch how these newsfeeds also affect my students in their analysis of issues, perception of events, and subsequent social interaction and political engagement. As a result, I am deeply opposed to the easing of the CRTC regulations to ban “any news that the licensee knows is false or misleading and that endangers or is likely to endanger the lives, health or safety of the public.” With the addition of the second clause, how do we know when sticks and stones break bones? What line has to be crossed? What would my students say? And what would I say to myself as a younger student?

Words do lead to political and social agency. As I watch a new generation struggle with the social impact of negative comments, from the recently banned Bathroom Wall application in Facebook on which any friend can anonymously post what ‘they really think of you’, to young teens struggling with their identity, precipitated by prejudice of the newfound right, which has led to the rash of young gay suicides in the United States, I grieve for an earlier generation that could turn their social network off when they entered their home after school, and build their identity in private.

I was gaybashed growing up. It was one incident, and I was fortunate that it was not posted on a web site, permanently accessible to all. The scar would have been even deeper then, and more public in its impact, written on Facebook’s Bathroom Wall, and perhaps lead to suicide, as online postings have done for some gay youth in Canada, and the United States. I was able to lick my wounds privately, because no one tweeted or posted video of my attack. Today, I support campaigns such as ‘It gets Better’ which work to prevent gay teen suicide. These campaigns are made possible by those who work in the arts and media, such as Rick Mercer, but few have time to constantly generate responses to change public opinion. Social media campaigns cannot keep up with the generously funded, onslaught of news reportage, and online petitions are discounted by the government as ‘slacktivism’.

24/7 feedback on who you are does not allow adolescents to develop who they are independently of peer review, and form their identity backstage, with time down for family support. These same principles apply to the body politic as defined by news organizations. Our Canadian identity will be eroded by a barrage of misinformation masquerading as ‘news’, but will be really used to encourage bigotry and self-hatred if these CRTC regulations are weakened. Just as social media is beginning to determine adolescent identity, so will news deregulation alter our national identity, and embed the culture of name-calling, travelling down from the media into high school hallways. It will be alright to sling mud, and this news stream will not be able to be able to be turned off long enough to be examined in light of where and how it originated, particularly for impressionable youth, as there will simply just not be enough time to do so. As a journalism student said on the petition ‘Keep Canadian Media Honest - Don't Let The CRTC Deregulate Truth in Journalism',
‘I'm currently a Media and Communications student in my final semester. I chose this path so that I would be able to share the truth with the public. How can that be taken seriously if journalists can lie?’
And I add to this- why does the onus have to shift to the public to have us verify facts, rather than fact-checking the core mandate of the broadcaster? Who has time to do so?

Information is often separated from its original source in this social mediascape, and its content abbreviated through Tweets, links or viral memes, while traveling quickly to impact public opinion before its sources are confirmed for their veracity. (An example of this is the accusation that a cinema had bedbugs; the Toronto International Film Festival spent hours doing damage control to end this unfounded rumour, but still lost business.) The proposed easing of the CRTC regulation will encourage this trend, and allow a quick and dirty ‘truthiness’ to dominate the airwaves. Hate speech is powerful, and is used to end political discussion with epithets like ‘leftard’, ‘poverty pimps’, ‘commies’ and ‘pinko-kooks’- terms originated in Sue-Ann Levy’s Toronto Sun articles, names which now frequently come up in the online comments. Ms Levy, who is married to a woman, will have a soapbox on the new Sun TV channel to name-call in public, as of March 31st, and if this CRTC regulation passes, without censure. It is curious that Ms Levy feels she has the right to vilify the left, but would be quick to call foul if her sexual orientation was mocked in kind. May I remind her that the left fought for her right to marry?

The Conservatives govern through emotion, and it is not a coincidence that revisioning of what constitutes truthful reporting is being slyly introduced by the Harper government to be enacted September 1st , before Sun TV takes to the air on March 11th. Emotion will be permitted to trump rational-critical discourse, and ramp up the volume on vicious attacks on the left by the right. Truth in journalism is essential to a functioning democracy, and this narrowing of the scope of truth will make us callous to the nuances of kindness, just as researchers are finding with adolescents, who are exposed to constant criticism through their social media networks, are becoming more callous to their peers. We have built a just, tolerant, and diverse society, with a higher standard of journalism and education, and Canadians deserve more from the CRTC in terms of what defines acceptable information for broadcast.

In addition, the easing of this ban further harmonizes Canada with the United States, and its Fox News Network, to undercut our Charter Rights and Freedoms. The right contends that Sun TV guarantees freedom of speech, and its opponents, such as Margaret Atwood, are anti-free speech, however, is it my right to say anything I want without social repercussions? The Crown did not think so in the case of Ernst Zundel, and his NeoNazi denial of the Holocaust. His case was determined "to likely to incite hatred against an identifiable group"- and if that group is the left, progressive, ‘elitists’, why it is permissible that it is put further under attack by Sun TV through the CRTC?

At Harvard, one can say anything one likes, as long as there is a name attached to it to debate it. Will there be time for debate when the burden of proof lies with the judiciary system as to whether the Canadian version of Howard Stern, or Glenn Beck, spewing hate speech, "is likely to incite hatred against an identifiable group"? Will it be possible to protect the Charter of the Rights and Freedoms then?

I was fortunate after I was beaten up. I had a friend follow me into the bathroom, and console me in an era where homophobia was the norm. I dedicate this column- which is also my submission to the CRTC - to every adolescent I know who is different, and is told so daily, and to the gentle courage of my long ago friend. I do not want the media to be allowed to aid and abet hate crimes by the loosening of norms for truth in reporting, and encourage name-calling on air, so that adolescents are left on their own, with no back up from the government, to be attacked by words just as I was bodyslammed against a cafeteria wall, with no recourse to defend me from the culture of hatred perpetuated by high school in groups.

If it is not true, it is not news, and it should be recognized for what it is - tabloid journalism descending into hate speech for the purpose of entertainment. Words have the potential to be used a weapon to incite hate crimes against specific groups, and that whether this hatred is accrued incrementally, or immediately, it will be difficult to trace its point of inflammation in this ceaseless flow of media which determines our public and private identity. My small town encouraged the homophobic small talk; I paid the price for their ruthless pettiness. Ernst Zundel and his denial of the Holocaust was the Canadian test case for this theory; I was a minor player in the application of free speech in the public domain, and I was allowed to lose my dignity, throwing my body in rage against the bathroom cubicle that day, undefended by authority.

As a new media expert, educator, and a committed, sustainable designer and environmentalist – an active member of all the groups which will be taunted, derided and dismissed by the SunTV network- I ask that the CRTC take into account Canada’s communitarian history in relation to the application of free speech, and ensure that news networks are held accountable. As a petition-signer wrote, “A less regulated news culture will be created where the public may be inflamed by hidden agendas or political biases which will divide the people of Canada instead of uniting them.” I add to that that this new regulation will enable homophobic bigotry to be supported by public name calling, and it will be difficult, if not impossible, to determine when words turn into physical assault, after these names become legitimized through entertainment-driven news.

As Canadians, we pride ourselves on the higher level of integrity usually present in our media. Let's not endanger that special trust. There may be a student in a small town high school who is waiting for their rights to be defended by the CRTC, not overturned.

I encourage all those who want to submit their comments to the CRTC to do so today, February 9th, at and sign the petition at

RMR: Rick's Rant - 'Bullying - It Gets Better' at
‘Keep Canadian Media Honest - Don't Let The CRTC Deregulate Truth in Journalism’ at
Gloria Galloway, 'CRTC plan to lift ban on false news prompts political investigation', Globe and Mail, February 8th, at

Friday, February 4, 2011

Getting to Work on Transit City

This is the deputation I gave in City Hall on February 2nd regarding bus service cuts. Meeting Room #2 was overflowing -- 160 constituents, 30 above fire code -- waited their turn for over 5 hours for 5 minutes of time to speak to Toronto Transit Commissioners, and City Councillors. Run by Councillor Stintz, the new TTC Chair, the deputations were tightly constrained to five minutes. To her credit, she was unfailingly polite to the deputants, although she showed visible irritation when Transit City was defended.

The diverse face of Toronto was out in full force. York University students asked for late buses so they could attend basketball practice and night classes, the Roller Derby chicks pleaded for safe access to their arena to practice their moves, and a 90 year-old man spoke eloquently about his need to have access to a pharmacy for his medication, and visit his wife in a chronic care facility. His neighbourhood would have bus service cut in half, and isolate even him further. The TV reporters fled with his heartfelt testimony, but I have yet to find it on CTV news.

With no further ado, here is my deputation.

TTC Deputation: Proposed Transit Cuts on Bus Schedules for the Davenport Riding in relation to Lower Income Residents and Support for Transit City

Dear TTC, Mayor Ford and Toronto City Councillors,

I am a constituent of Ward 18, part of the Davenport Riding. I am also a member of the Clean Train Coalition, and have spent the last two years advocating for all-encompassing, sustainable transit policy in Ontario.

I am here today to speak of the correlation between low-income wage earners, transit, and the right of citizens to public transit – transit which should be egalitarian, surface level, consistent and frequent. This right for accessible transit should be a democratic right, not a privilege, which can be revoked or suspended by City Council, to implicitly prioritize cars over public transit. By cutting bus frequency, and routes, the City Council will force people back into cars, or in the case of the Davenport Riding, to take taxis, which they can ill afford.

Cutting bus service in the Davenport Riding flies against equitable treatment of those who provide services upon which we are dependent- the invisible glue of our society. These constituents are night shift workers- nurses, office cleaners, factory employees, minimum wage earners – all of the most vulnerable members of society to transit cuts. And who are these workers? Single mothers, new immigrants, those just entering the workforce, night school students, and the elderly- all of whom need off rush hour transit to go to work, school and church safely.

It is well-known in transit system planning that once bus service is cut back, or becomes intermittent, passenger numbers drop throughout the route, so cutting back on bus frequency at any point in the schedule will reduce passenger numbers on that route. Eventually, the route will be avoided altogether if service frequency is cut back to the bone. In addition, low income constituents also have the least access to ‘just in time’ information for online information regarding schedule changes due to the high cost of Internet service, and are affected most by erratic schedules because they cannot access transit updates.

The residents of Davenport are particularly dependent on transit, as many cannot afford cars. As new immigrants, and service sector employees, they often have the least control over the hours of their employment, thus are the most vulnerable to service cuts during the evening and weekends. Traffic cannot shift into rush hour schedules; these constituents cannot determine the time and need for bus service. Those who work minimum wage jobs cannot afford to take taxis, and often require transit to ensure that they get home safely at night in at risk neighbourhoods. Minimum wage in Ontario is $10.25 an hour, and the cost of a cab from downtown Toronto to west-end Toronto can cost up to $40, more than half the daily rate of a minimum wage employee. Is this fair?

Davenport Riding has twice the number of racial minorities in Canada at 33%, a higher percentage of single people at 41% (as opposed to 33%), and 43% who are completely dependent upon public transit, a statistic much higher than the national average of 10%. Will cutting back services mean that riders will not be able to afford to go to work because of the cost of transit, if they are forced to take taxis at night?

In addition, many immigrants - Portuguese, Italian and Asian - have communities which centre around church. Cutting back Sunday service will restrict their access to their place of worship and right to congregation- cornerstones of society building- and which benefit the multinational city I am proud to call home.

The same principles of consistency and access to transit service apply to the proposed expansion of light rail transit for Transit City. This expansion of service level transit will revitalize and benefit entire neighbourhoods along its 75 km route, enable over three times this same demographic of rider to access and support businesses in their community, and build businesses within a far greater area than the area directly above subway stations. The air rights directly above the few subway stations proposed by Mayor Ford’s ‘Transportation City’ are not his unilateral right to sell to highrise developers. Transit City’s LRT is being implemented in dozens of cities internationally, and is proven to improve the quality of life within neighbourhoods, and provide interconnections to subway stations. Why wait seven years for a few subway stations, when Transit City can be built in three to serve almost four times as many riders, and provide facelifts and multiple transit stops for entire districts?

In summary, by cutting back bus service to Davenport Riding, one of the poorest in Canada, the Toronto City Council will make this community poorer, and may force riders to choose between being able to go to work, or not, based upon transit costs. Those who can afford cars are fortunate, and expect society to pay the cost of road maintenance, traffic control, and highway expansion, why are any cuts even considered in public transit, and car drivers prioritized over citizens’ rights to go to work on public transit? Taxpayers subsidize cars, and I have not heard of any cuts to any services required to maintain the highway system proposed by the current Mayor or City Council.

We need to support current bus routes, and get to work on building Transit City immediately, so that Torontonians in the GTA can go to work- safely, equitably and quickly.

Photo Credit Warren McPherson: Image of Transit Guru Steve Munro, and others, crowded into Meeting Room #2, waiting to deputize with great patience.