Ontario Oreo: Court the Ethnic Vote, Keep the Centre White

Paikin's non-indian tweetBy Desmond Cole

How do you court the approval of white voters while trying to make everyone else feel included? In Ontario, you do it very carefully. Our province is home to a large percentage of Canada’s visible minority population, and has received the biggest share of immigrants to Canada for the last 10 years and beyond. But you wouldn’t know it by following our political campaigns.

As Ryerson professor Myer Siemiatycki pointed out in a recent Toronto Star piece, white voters need to believe they are at the centre of political conversations. Politicians seen as giving too much attention to immigrants and people of colour face potential backlash. Immigrants and people of colour are disproportionately struggling in today’s economy, but saying so during an election is risky because it may make white people feel left out. When party leaders do talk about immigrants, the piece illustrates, it is most often to celebrate their vague potential value to the economy.

This dynamic is real, and it only works in one direction. There can never be too much focus on issues that appear to impact middle-class white voters—especially since such voters are rarely named and scrutinized as a group.

Politicians dare not campaign on the health of Ontario’s immigrants, even though many of them are being denied basic health care. They can say little about the disproportionate numbers of black and aboriginal people incarcerated in provincial jails. Our politicians refuse to address these issues directly–they seemingly prefer to pose for selfies with people with dark skin, or turbans, or exotic flags.

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On Being Muslim and “Dark-Skinned” After Boston


Yassine Zaime and Salah Barhoun are both innocent, but worried that this New York Post cover could affect the rest of their lives

By Ali Zafar


Last Monday’s trending hashtag intensified my suffocating sense of dread, the one that’s ebbed and flowed since Sept. 11, 2001.


That dirty word stripped Dzhokhar Tsarnaev of his white privilege: he had been identified in news reports as a Chechen, terrorist and radical, but never American.

Because he’s Muslim. Like me.

I’d logged off from the 24-hour cycle of the world’s misfortunes that afternoon, deciding to take a breather before my workday started. I always expect something big to be breaking when I show up for my evening newsroom shift, but the news of the Boston Marathon bombings was still a shock. My stomach churned as I looked at graphic images on the newswire: the blood-splattered streets, the volunteers racing to help a man in a wheelchair with a missing leg.

And my heart dropped when I logged onto Twitter and saw #Muslims trending alongside #PrayforBoston. Was it possible that a person who calls himself a Muslim was behind those horrific images? What if his first name was Mohammad? Like mine? What if he had dark hair? Dark skin? Like me?

Anxiety, embarrassment and a shade of fear began bubbling inside me like a violent thunderstorm. Watching the news made it worse.

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Rob Ford’s Diversity Distraction

By Desmond Cole

Since 2006, it’s been City of Toronto policy that all advertised civic appointments—both paid jobs and hundreds of volunteer opportunities—make a direct appeal for applications from “women, youth, First Nations, people with disabilities and racialized communities.” In late September, a damning report by the city’s ombudsman, Fiona Crean, (who is, in fact, a woman) revealed that mayoral staff tried to delete the line calling for diverse applications during the appointment process for 120 citizen positions on city boards this past spring.

The revelation of mayor Rob Ford’s interference was another troubling window into his administration’s dismissive approach to inclusion and diversity. It also shed more light on Ford’s bizarre political posturing: even as he trumpets his private commitment to charity for marginalized people, the mayor reassures to his base that public, systemic change is out of the question.

Ford’s response to Crean’s report was a standard denial and dismissal. “That’s a ridiculous question,” he said when asked if he was against diversity. In the face of such a serious accusation, it would have been easy to drag out Toronto’s well-worn “Diversity, Our Strength” motto to placate concerned residents. The mayor’s refusal to even pay lip service to the idea was a silent statement that those who believe in the motto, and its accompanying policies, are not worth his attention.

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Racism, Future: Racial Profiling & the Toronto Police

By Septembre Anderson

“Blacks arrested by Toronto police are treated more harshly than whites….

“Black people, charged with simple drug possession, are taken to police stations more often than whites facing the same charge.

 “Once at the station, accused blacks are held overnight, for a bail hearing, at twice the rate of whites.

 –“Singled Out,” Jim Rankin, Jennifer Quinn, Michelle Shephard, Scott Simmie and John Duncanson, October 19, 2002

 “You were sent here to protect us but who protects us from you?”

– KRS-One

 In 2002, a team of Toronto Star journalists sorted through mounds of police data from over 480,000 incidents to put together the Race and Crime series. The collection of articles, profiles, maps and statistics unveiled an unsettling trend in the Metropolitan Toronto Police culture: racial profiling.

For Toronto’s black communities, the Star series was just quantitative evidence of their qualitative experiences. In the rest of Canada’s most populous city, the numbers on racial profiling caused an uproar. Julian Fantino, then chief of the Toronto Police Service, denied the Star’s allegations, and in 2003, the police union launched a $2.7 billion class-action libel suit against the Star (which it eventually lost).

It’s been almost ten years since the Star released its groundbreaking report and while much has changed, much has remained the same. This year, the Star series “Known to Police” revealed that black people are 3.2 times more likely than white people to be stopped by the police.

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Racism, Future: Let’s Mix it Up

By Denise Balkissoon

Officially, Toronto is way multicultural. In my experience, it’s increasingly segregated. Aside from the subway at rush hour, I see deepening cliques and enclaves. Some of them don’t bother me as much as others—the white crowd at a Neko Case show is no biggie, the white crowd at the National Magazine Awards very frustrating—but the overall effect isn’t the city where I want to live.

We’ve long known that Toronto is split geographically by income, and that the growing low-income areas tend to be majority non-white. Poverty is definitely racialized in this city and it’s impossible to talk about racism without noting that all of the ways that people can be marginalized are infuriatingly linked. Remember, ethnic segregation in Toronto isn’t just about poverty—middle-class and affluent people often live in ethnic enclaves long after they’ve earned enough to have wider housing choices.

Now, I like that I can get three different Jamaican dishes from three different restaurants on Eglinton West. I’m currently soliciting invitations to go dancing at one of the Ethiopian nightspots on Danforth. But rigid enclaves can encourage an Us and Them attitude, especially since, in hyper-diverse 2012 Toronto, “racism” doesn’t just mean Anglos versus everyone else. Plenty of ethnic groups are ok with white people, but continue to throw shade at other ethnicities. Old country beef fought out in the new land keeps dominant groups dominant—grudges and in-fighting allows the historical cream to stay on top. Lack of interaction gives suspicion an incubator in which to flourish.

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Racism, Present: Housing, by the Numbers

By Sam Tecle


Per cent of Toronto’s poor families who were considered ethno-racial minorities in 2007


Average household income for a family living in Toronto Community housing


Average GTA household income


Salary of Chief TCHC Operating Officer Deborah Simon


Percent of newcomer renters who are in “core housing need,” meaning they spend over 30 per cent of their income on housing. Less than 25 per cent of non-immigrant renters are in the same situation.

85, 578

Households on Toronto’s affordable housing wait list in June of 2012 – an all-time high for a number that’s been steadily rising since 2008

158, 032

Total number of individuals on the wait list in June 2012


Number of single family homes owned by  Toronto Community Housing Corporation that City Council is deciding whether to sell

$751 million

Current repair backlog at the TCHC


Murders on TCHC property between 2007 and 2009


Percent of the city’s murders that occur on TCHC property


Percent of the city’s population that live on TCHC property. That means a TCHC resident is four times more likely to be murdered than the average Torontonian.


Number of TCHC community patrol officers, down from 200 in 2003. They are periodically augmented by regular police, such as anti-violence TAVIS teams.


Sam Tecle is a writer and a PhD student at York University. 

Racism, Past: Toronto’s Bygone By-Laws

By Chantal Braganza

This piece began with a simple premise and kind-of crude headline: A History of Racist Bylaws in Toronto. It presumed the existence of such bylaws, that there were enough of them to constitute a history (possibly a timeline—how readable!) and that they were as easy to find as a sushi shop on Bloor.

Surprise: it’s really not that simple. Happily (with one major exception) Toronto doesn’t have a history of enacting obviously prejudiced municipal rules. What we do have is a habit of going through municipal proceedings without considering all the different types of people who live here, who might not have certain Anglo-Saxon values or whose community-specific practices might be considered “undesirable” (whatever that means).

So forget the timeline. Here’s a look at what happens when the law gets in the way of a community who wants to do things differently.

Laundry Drama

The Wah Chong Laundry, Vancouver, 1884. Courtesy of City of Vancouver Archives and Civilization.ca

The oldest example of these bylaws is the most straight-up racist.

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