“Whoa. It looks like two chicks are in the lead to be the leader of the Liberal party.”
(As this conversation is taking place in the table next to me, the Canadian politics lecturer in me is resisting the urge to bust out my Canadian Politics slides on federal and provincial politics and explain to these men how the system actually works).
30-something man to his buddy: Whoa. It looks like two chicks are in the lead to be the leader of the Liberal party.
Buddy: Whoa, two girls, eh? I hope they don’t get too emotional when in power. (Both chuckle).
30-something man: Wait. What happened to Justin Trudeau? Isn’t he in the running?
Buddy: Yes. So I guess these girls beat him?
30-something man: Ha. Who’d have thought this was possible?
Me (thinking): Different race! Different campaigns! One is the federal Liberal party race! The other one is provincial! Arrghh. And “girls” - really? Fuck you.
The Toronto Star’s Rosie DiManno Makes Light of Rape and Sexual Assault
The Toronto Star’s Rosie DiManno has never been someone who I follow. DiManno in my mind is in the same category as Wente, Christie Blatchford and Barbara Amiel; all three represent the most reactionary and most insipid tendencies of Canadian opinion columnists. (With the probable exception of Chantal Hebert, the question of why Canada doesn’t have a “strong” female political voice is a blog post I will save for later.) Whenever I run across these women’s columns, I immediately skip them for fear that their trite and troll-baiting diatribes will end up ruining my day.
Try as I might, though, I couldn’t help but click on DiManno’s column entitled “Resilient witnesses give graphic details of doctor’s alleged sex assaults,” published by the Toronto Star on Friday, January 18. I regretted doing so as soon as I read the article. DiManno’s attempts to make her article more interesting led her to obfuscate the facts that form the basis for this case, presenting irrelevant information that result in victim-blaming.
Consider the very first sentence that DiManno used as a lede for her article:
“She lost a womb but gained a penis.”
Based on this lede, one would think that DiManno was talking about - oh, I don’t know - gender reassignment surgery. But no, folks, DiManno used this sentence as a lede to discuss how Dr. George Doodnaught, an anesthesiologist, has been caught sexually assaulting his patients while they are “sedated and immobile.” In doing so, DiManno conflated rape, a violent act of sexual domination, with “gain(ing) a penis,” thereby making light of Doodnaught’s actions. This made it appear as though Doodnaught’s actions weren’t that reprehensible; hey, these women didn’t get raped, they just gained a penis, didn’t you know?
Following this lede, DiManno provided excerpts from one of the victim’s narratives, hastily adding that such narratives were provided by an “attractive, married woman.” Why exactly DiManno decided that the victim being “attractive” was relevant to the case at hand was never made clear. Did DiManno think that victims who aren’t attractive don’t deserve the same sympathy? Did DiManno think that rape and sexual assault victims’ looks should factor into these cases?
Indeed, later in the article, DiManno almost wanted to make light of the accounts provided by the victims by observing that “neither woman wept or appeared undone” when recounting their experiences. Did DiManno believe that because these victims weren’t performing the role of “aggrieved” rape and sexual assault victims, their experiences weren’t harrowing? That because these victims did not appear that distressed, that their accounts needed to be questioned?
The excerpts DiManno used to describe the victims’ experiences added further to the impression that DiManno was selectively picking narratives that diminished the trauma felt by this women. The way she described the sexual acts Doodnaught forcibly enacted on his victims reminds me of the worst of pulp erotica.
Though I am aware that columnists are facing increasing pressure to have people read their articles, sensationalizating rape and sexual assault cases isn’t the way to do it. In doing so, DiManno was acting like an irresponsible journalist. I am happy to see that other sites such as Jezebel have covered the story, which may shame the Star’s editors into enforcing more stringent requirements for columnists. That said, I think that fellow Canadian news consumers should also write a letter to the editor complaining about DiManno’s article. It’s fine to try to lure more readers into visiting the sites of increasingly failing and revenue-strapped news outlets, but does it have to come at the expense of journalistic ethics?
Rob Ford’s Removal: A Note of Caution to all the revelers
Now that my elation over Rob Ford’s being ousted as mayor has somewhat abated, I’ve had more time to reflect on what his ousting actually signifies. Although I still fundamentally think that Judge Hackland’s decision was fair - after all, Ford did flout conflict of interest regulations and inappropriately use his status as councillor to solicit donations - Ford’s reaction to the ruling, as well as that of his very vocal supporters, makes me suspect that we haven’t seen the last of Ford and that Toronto will continue be deeply divided along unbridgeable partisan lines.
Consider the absence of any semblance of contrition on Ford’s part. Immediately after the ruling, Ford said the following:
This comes down to left-wing politics. The left wing wants me out of here and they’ll doing anything in their power to. I’m going to fight tooth and nail to hold onto my job. And if they do for some reason get me out, I’ll be running right back at them as soon as the next election hits. If there’s a byelection, my name will be the first one on the ballot. I’m running for the great citizens of the city. I’ve fought for them for two years and I’m going to continue to fight for them as long as they want me here. The people are going to speak. I’m not going to have people saying that I can’t do this, I can’t do that. I’m going to fight for the taxpayers as I always have. I want to thank them for their support. The calls are coming fast and furious now, telling me to fight it, telling me to run again. I want to thank them very much. I’ll never give up on the taxpayers of the city.
Ford’s bull-headed interpretation of events, shared by his many supporters, sees the issue as a matter of partisan politics rather than an issue of ethics. For Ford, this whole escapade was akin to a witch-hunt. The many ad hominem attacks levied against Ford, some of which don’t even have to do with the man’s policies, but his appearance (specifically, his weight), his ‘stupidity’ and his thuggishness gives traction to Ford’s claims of left-wing persecution. Rather than allowing him to govern as he saw fit and to represent the “taxpayers” who voted for him, the latte-sipping left-wing elite - which consist primarily of lawyers, judges, and urban Torontonians - have repeatedly set roadblocks for Ford to stumble on, thereby impeding the ‘democratic’ will of the people.
Even though such interpretations make my eyes roll, the sad reality is that such sentiments have the most traction among the people who voted for Ford. At face value, ousting the mayor to them may seem disproportional to the actual crime committed. If the issue is only the $3000 or so dollars that Ford obtained unethically, and which Toronto council even argued that Ford didn’t have to repay, then his supporters may see his ousting as mayor as a partisan overreaction. Legal justifications aside, the optics actually work in Ford’s favour. If I were a political strategist, the way I’d spin it is by telling people that Ford was kicked out of office for donating to charity. Even though this isn’t what happened - it was Ford’s sense of entitlement and flouting of the rules that led to his removal - it’s easy enough to say that this is what occurred, no?
And trust me, the vision of Ford as a populist hero, as the mayor maligned by left-wing bullies, will be the vision that Ford will milk in the next few months. We haven’t heard the last of Ford. There is, of course, the appeals process. Then there is the possibility of a by-election where Ford’s supporters will surely vote en masse to support their fallen hero. If anything, the backlash to the ruling might ensure an even larger voting turn-out during the by-election and an even bigger proportion of people who will vote for Ford out of sympathy. Those who may have otherwise been indifferent to Ford may be inclined to vote for him just to show “the elites” that ‘democracy’ can never be trumped. People always like a redemption story and Ford’s re-election would allow them to have just that.
So, folks, a note of caution amidst our celebrations: let’s think about how to move forward. If we truly don’t want Ford to return to power, then it’s time to seriously consider bridging the partisan divide that led Ford to being elected in the first place. Rather than outright dismissing Ford’s supporters as idiotic suburbanites, perhaps we should consider a candidate who appeals to “them” as much as “us” and who can bring the city together.
Pauline Marois: Xenophobically Redefining ‘Secularism’
Being a Canadian politics junkie, I have been avidly following coverage of the upcoming Quebec elections. Based on conversations with friends from Quebec, I am struck with how nearly everyone has lamented the absence of reasonable options. While it is true that people don’t vote for the best person but for the person who can do the least amount of harm in most elections, there is the prevailing sentiment that this is really the case in Quebec. Of course, after reading what Marois said during tonight’s rally in Montreal, I can most definitely say that of all of the leaders, it is Marois – more that corrupt Charest and blustering Legault – that makes me the most dubious.
This feeling has been building up over the past few weeks. The many blunders Marois has been making on the political campaign trail first made me pause. That she perpetually seems to be backtracking makes me feel like she is either showing her inexperience or masking what she really feels about certain issues, which makes me question her competence. The clincher for me, though, was hearing Marois defend the need to protect Quebec’s values by guaranteeing secularism, which she feels can best be promoted by banning public servants from wearing religious symbols “with the exception of the crucifix.”
It is easy enough to parse out what is egregious with this stance. If secularism is predicated on the separation between church and state and on “neutrality,” then that means that Marois’ proposed policy should extend to all religious groups and not only to non-Christians. Logically, this means that all religious symbols including the crucifix should be banned. Although I adamantly disagree with such policies, these would be somewhat more justifiable if all religions are equally affected; in a purely secular state, no religion receives special treatment. In providing an exception to the wearing of the crucifix, Marois is saying that Christianity is acceptable but other religions aren’t. It’s hard not to come to the conclusion that Marois is evoking the spectre of ‘undesirable,’ minority groups when insisting on secularism, but only for non-Christians.
Although Marois qualifies her statements by saying that she would like to ensure the “integration” of minority groups, it is hard not to ask at what costs such “integration” would bring. Does this mean completely hiding one’s religious beliefs? Does this mean having to ‘prove’ one’s allegiance to progressive, liberal values by abandoning key cultural practices? Does this mean becoming Christian? I’m not sure. All I do know is that what happened during the Bouchard-Taylor commissions has indelibly left an uncomfortable feeling among the immigrant activists that I interviewed for my research. Although the Bouchard-Taylor commissions technically created a safe space for different minority groups and members of the larger Quebec majority to articulate their needs, the absence of any serious attempts to follow up on the findings of the Commission has made it difficult for these activists to feel that their concerns were adequately addressed. And with Marois leading the charge against non-Christian values, I can’t imagine that different religious, immigrant, and ethnic groups in Quebec, not to mention the Aboriginal nations living within the province, would feel at ease.
A Facetious Response to the Bank of Canada and Francois Legault
I swear, sometimes I think the Canadian Press is trolling me. It was bad enough to read headlines earlier this week indicating that the CAQ’s Francois Legault indicted Quebec kids for living the “good life” and encouraged them to be more like “hard-working Asian kids.” Beyond the fact that Legault is completely missing the point of the Quebec student protests – an issue which colleagues of mine articulately defended - Legault is also reinforcing the idea that Asian kids aren’t Quebeckers and that all Asians adhere to the model minority stereotype. I was angry for about ten minutes, then quickly forgot about it because surely, this just shows that Legault is an idiot?
Then today, I found out, again from a Canadian Press article circulated via the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail, that the image of an “Asian-looking woman peering into a microscope” was removed from Canadian $100 bills after focus groups protested. Although focus group participants in Toronto applauded this image for showing Canadian multiculturalism (yay Toronto!), participants from Fredericton and Quebec found this image objectionable. Someone from the former flatly stated that, “The person on it appears to be of Asian descent which doesn’t represent Canada. It is fairly ugly,” while people from the latter were upset that this image unfairly privileged Asians at the expense of other ethnic groups. Because the Bank of Canada is apparently spineless, the decision was then made to amend this image in favor of one where the “woman scientist had neutral features.” So what, then, count as neutral features? Why Caucasian features of course!
It’s not as easy to dismiss the focus group participants’ responses and the Bank of Canada’s attempts to appease these participants. Sure, I can say that they’re idiots. But these are idiots who make policy and who I live with in this country. It saddens me to see that Asians still do not merit inclusion into Canada’s so-called multicultural society. Despite the fact that Asian Canadians’ economic, political, and social contributions have been vital to the establishment of Canada, Asians are still construed as a threat.
You see, this is why the model minority stereotype is so dangerous. One could look at what Legault said, and think, “well, isn’t it good to be thought of as hard-working?” (Even the abhorrent MacLeans magazine article that asked whether there were “too many Asians” in certain Canadian universities rested on the assumption that Asians are diligent and industrious so the counterpoint to my discomfort with this piece is the idea that at least these stereotypes are good stereotypes.) What the model minority stereotype does, though, is further the divide between Asians and other ‘regular’ Canadians, making it clear that despite years being part of Canadian society, Asians are forever going to be seen as ‘visitors’ to Canada. More insidiously, the model minority stereotype makes it all too easy for others to justify ostracizing Asians. The other side of being ‘hardworking’, after all, is being ‘robotic’; ‘industriousness’ translates into ‘stealth’; ‘diligence’ becomes ‘dishonesty.’ This is why whenever there are economic crises in various countries, Asian communities are the first to be scapegoated for purportedly stealing jobs away from citizens. It doesn’t matter that these communities being targeted have been in the country for multiple generations. Thus, the reactions of Legault, the focus group participants from Fredericton and Quebec, and the Bank of Canada are two sides of the same coin.
None of what I am saying, of course, is original. At the risk of being facetious about this, read and repeat this with me, dear readers: like everyone else, Asians come in all shapes and sizes! No, we do not all look alike! Not all Asians are thin, not all Asians have straight hair, not all Asians are short, and not all Asians have flat feet! We have different backgrounds and beliefs and do not all adhere to ‘Confucian’ values, which idiot academics always try to say is the ‘reason’ for Asian dominance. (On that note, Samuel Huntington, please note that Asian ‘civilizations’ cannot just be reduced to Chinese, “Japonic”, “Hindu”, and “Buddhist” history and culture.). We work in different occupations! We are not robots and have emotions! And, please rest assured, Asians in Canada are not part of some secret underground society where we are plotting to conquer Canada by organizing a revolution!
Or are we…? Actually, you’ve got me there! Like Voldemort’s henchmen, all Asians actually have a ‘dark mark’ that activates when our big daddy Asian overlord summons us!
Pretty soon, there will be an Asian uprising where we will conquer Canada through our love of rice, karaoke, and expensive electronics!*
*For those who lack reading comprehension skills, this is also a stereotype which I am deliberately mocking. And seriously, we’re not out to get you. Unless you dis me to my face and call my Asian features “ugly,” like the focus group participant from Fredericton. Then I may gouge your eyes with chopsticks.
I am an Immigrant. Maybe Rob Ford Wants to Make My Life Miserable
Today, our erstwhile Mayor in Toronto, Rob Ford, showed a vile streak of vigilantism by blaming rising immigration for gun violence. In an interview with the radio station AM 640, Ford disclosed his plan to “sit down the prime minister and find out how immigration law works” in order to get these deviant immigrants out of the city. An official statement he wrote on Tuesday night corroborates these sentiments. In it, he asserts that, “we must use every legal means to make life for these thugs miserable, to put them behind bars, or to run them out of town. We will not rest until being a gang member is a miserable, undesirable life.”
While I admit that there are incidences of violence inflicted by immigrants in Canada – a trend that has been documented extensively by sociologists – attributing gang violence only to these groups smacks of xenophobia. After all, as criminologist Scott Wortley asserts, gang violence is a “home grown” problem and not one that is “exported from other countries.”
By issuing these statements, Ford is anointing himself the Sheriff of Toronto, whose job is to harass and hound them colored, foreign darkies to breaking point. (Violence committed by white, non-immigrant Canadians is clearly not worth looking into because boys will be boys, amirite?). He is sanctioning the scapegoating of immigrants by cutting their access to key resources that are necessary to facilitate their transition to Canada. That Ford, in a later interview, mentioned that he wants to funnel city resources away from “hug a thug” community programs towards more policing shows he has initiated proceedings enabling said scapegoating. The irony that Ford is basically defunding community programs that specifically try to make the city safer by providing alternative livelihood projects, employment placement services, and gang prevention must have been lost on him. Or maybe it isn’t. After all, why bother trying to understand the structural roots of violence when the quick-fix of greater policing is just right there?
What depresses me further is the fact that Ford supporters are defending his actions. On his Facebook page, a random commenter said:
“heres a thought, anyone who is from another country that pulls a weapon and uses it, gets deported back to their own country. We as Canadians have to finally stick up with some things were brought up to believe in and one is NOT violence, maybe Mr.Treadau thought he could allow every kind of being to reside together peacfully, it has not come to be……….. Just a thought ..:)”
While I was initially tempted to post my own comment telling this person to learn how to spell and how to think critically, I stopped myself. I find that Internet-based discussions are never fruitful. Also, once you engage with one troll, another dozen or so appear, until you are ensnared in this virtual free-for-all where the level of discourse degenerates into a cesspool of misogyny and racism. In this particular discussion, different Ford supporters have gathered to express their admiration for his actions, with multiple commenters wailing that the “city has been lost to us” (read: the immigrants have taken over!) and waxing nostalgic for a mythic, peaceful past when Toronto was still “ours”. So why waste my time trying to have a reasonable discussion with people who have already indicated their distate for immigrants?
Thinking about this further makes me completely helpless. In fact, I can’t sleep, which is why I am blogging about this at 2 am. When I first read about Ford’s comments this afternoon, I was outraged. I clicked on the link, read it, and immediately felt my blood pressure skyrocket. Later this evening, when I read about Jason Kenney’s support for Ford’s statements, I was unsurprised. Soon thereafter, though, I began to feel an overwhelming sense of defeat. While you can tell me all you want that no one needs to listen to Tweedledee and Tweedledum’s chorus of buffoonery, saying so won’t make it true: we actually do need to pay heed to what these guys are doing because the majority of our neighbors elected them. What depresses me further is the realization that my political values are actually in the minority in this city and in this country! My neighbors actually do harbor the belief that Ford is the best bet – that rash actions through tougher sentencing that drive away the darkies are what is needed, rational thought and process be damned! And that ultimately, the very same people who I live in this city with see me – a woman of colour and an immigrant – as someone who should make sure not to overstay her welcome in this country. If I make one misstep, hey, I should be deported.
In case you think I am exaggerating, note that one of the people killed on Tuesday was Joshua Yasay, a fellow Filipino-Canadian who recently graduated from York University and was a community worker mentoring at-risk immigrant youth. The area where the shooting took place – Danzig Street and Morningside Avenue– is at the heart of Scarborough, where the majority of the residents are immigrants and racialized communities. While Yasay was said to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, I can’t help but fear that his death in a block party now being depicted by the media as a raucous gang party makes him guilty by association. For instance, I can just imagine the same commenter from above thinking that while his death and the death of Shyanne Charles, an Afro-Canadian, is tragic, none of this would have happened if “such people” were not let into the Canada.
That one of the commonly held stereotypes of Filipinos in Canada is that of being a gang member – a trope that we examine in our book “Filipinos in Canada: Disturbing Invisibility” – means that Ford’s proposal will encourage such stereotyping, not just of Filipinos, but for other immigrant and racialized people whose bodies are coded as being dangerous and violent. My fear is that we are a hop, skip, and a jump away from Bill SB1070 in Arizona that makes mandatory ID checks for people whom authority figures deem suspicious. Maybe I should start embroidering all of my clothes with a scarlet “I” for ‘immigrant.’