Jun 11

The cell phone mayor: “You have the wrong number”

Rob Ford, as a candidate and now as mayor, has always implored the people of Toronto to call his ubiquitous cell phone to express their concerns about city issues. At the New Year’s Day levee that came only weeks into his office term, the Toronto Star’s Amy Dempsey reported that the mayor had a repeated refrain for anyone who visited him with a problem or question: “Call me. Just call me.”

Representing Xtra!, reporter Andrea Houston had a problem of her own. Despite being only a few short weeks away from the kick-off to the Pride festivities, the Mayor has not issued the traditional proclamation.

So Houston called the mayor:

When Xtra called Ford’s cellphone June 7 to ask if he will read the proclamation and raise the rainbow flag, he said, “You have the wrong number” and promptly hung up.

via Pride Week not on list of city proclamations.

To be fair, the idea that the mayor of a city of more than two million people could manage issues personally via cell phone was never realistic. Still, though, if Ford isn’t responding to every phone call he gets, he likely should stop making blanket references to the people who call him whenever he speaks about an issue he supports.

By the way, Ford has still not committed to marching in the Pride parade. Since June Rowlands, who never marched, every subsequent Toronto mayor has made an appearance in the parade.

May 11

Mammoliti pretends city can withhold Pride funding if QuAIA participates

On Tuesday, the city’s Executive Committee — after a really awkward and largely unnecessary meeting — decided to accept the City Manager’s report that the phrase “Queers Against Israeli Apartheid” does not violate the city’s anti-discrimination policy. Despite rumours and threats, Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti did not move some kind of ridiculous and hard-to-enforce motion that would require Pride Toronto to write a letter promising that QuAIA would not take part in the parade.

Afterwards, Mammoliti played tough with his warnings, as reported by the Toronto Sun’s Don Peat:

“If QuAIA surfaces and does their thing and if Pride doesn’t attempt to squash them, then I will be moving forward, as some others, to hold the funding,” Mammoliti said.

The decision means the status quo stays in place but allows councillors the option of going after funding if the group takes place, Mammoliti said.

Council agreed last yeart to withhold Pride funding until after the parade in case QuAIA participated.

via Pride Toronto clears city hurdle | Toronto & GTA | News | Toronto Sun.

Except that isn’t true. The motion councillors agreed to last year said this:

City Council direct that funding for Pride Toronto be paid after the parade and be conditional upon Pride Toronto requiring all registered participants to comply with the City of Toronto’s Anti-Discrimination Policy.

Notice that the motion says nothing specific about QuAIA whose message, it’s been ruled, does not violate the city’s anti-discrimination policy.

Without an additional motion or a change to the city’s anti-discrimination policy, my read on this is that the city has no recourse to deny Pride Toronto its funding this year, even if QuAIA participates.

May 11

The Cover of QuAIA: Why is Rob Ford avoiding Pride events?

In a few hours, the city’s executive committee will discuss EX6.21, “Compliant with the City of Toronto’s Anti-Discriminaion Policy.” By definition, this item amounts to little more than a staff recommendation that the executive committee receive a city report “for information.” In practice, however, this items presents an opportunity for someone — likely Giorgio Mammoliti — to attempt to pull city funding for this year’s Pride event.

This all stems from the potential participation of the Queers Against Israeli Apartheid group. Though they’ve promised not to march in the parade this year, the Toronto Sun’s Don Peat reports that, for Mammoliti, that’s not good enough:

Mammoliti vowed that if the group takes part in Pride — and they’re is outrage — he will move to strip the city’s portion of funding.

“If the group shows up and people get upset in the city then it becomes a political decision on whether or not the funding should continue,” he added.

Ask if he’s worried he and Ford will be accused of being homophobic if they try to stop Pride funding, Mammoliti shrugged.

“It’s not about being homophobic, it’s about taking care of taxpayers’ dollars and where they should be going, they shouldn’t be going to help spread hatred,” he said.

via Pride funding controversy heats up | Home | Toronto Sun.

The whole thing is ridiculous, of course. Whatever your feelings on QuAIA and their message, the city doesn’t get to dictate a cultural group’s actions and associations simply because they feel like it. A $128,000 cultural grant isn’t much of a ransom when you consider the millions upon millions of economic activity the city would forfeit if Pride disappeared from the city’s event calendar.

The issue was dead the moment staff ruled that the phrase “Israeli Apartheid” didn’t violate the city’s anti-discrimination policy.

The far more interesting story in all of this is the mayor’s continued disregard for the city’s gay community. In addition to his checkered voting record at council, in recent weeks Ford has skipped two major Pride-related events. And before apologists pull out the argument that says the mayor is busy and can’t be expected to attend every event in this city, it must be pointed out that both these events took place at City Hall. A token appearance would have required the mayor only to make a short trip from his office.

The first snub was bad but somewhat forgivable. Taking place on a Monday evening, the “Proud of Toronto” ceremony was part of the International Day Against Homophobia & Transphobia. There were no major meetings at City Hall that day, so it’s possible the mayor was tied up in another part of the city.

It’s the second snub, coming the day after, that’s less defensible. Taking place during the lunch break on the first day of last week’s City Council meeting, this short event saw the raising of a flag on the roof of City Hall by PFLAG — the Parents & Friends of Lesbians & Gays. The headline speaker was Brian Burke, the General Manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs and father of the late Brendan Burke.

The event seemed a natural fit for our mayor. Restrained, respectful, and tangentially related to a major sports team, it’s challenging to even come up with reasons why he wouldn’t make an appearance. Toronto is not a city with a large anti-gay voting bloc, and even for those social conservatives that do exist, where are they going to take their support? The mayor loses no political capital with his base by showing up, shaking hands, and posing for a quick photo.

Calling someone homophobic is a harsh accusation in this day and age, and probably too weighty for this set of circumstances. But the mayor’s actions — or lack thereof — have given the label far more plausibility than it should have. It’s time for the mayor to stop hiding behind the pretenses of the QuAIA controversy and make at least a token gesture to the queer community in this city.

A leisurely downtown stroll during Pride week would be a good place to start. But, oh, he says he might be busy that day.

May 11

VIDEO: Giorgio Mammoliti on Drag Queens

During today’s council meeting, Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti rose to speak on item EX5.3, the elimination of citizen advisory committees. After submitting a motion that would refer the item to the mayor’s office for independent consideration, Rob Ford’s self-professed “quarterback” was questioned by Councillor Gord Perks. And then this happened:

The drag queen visit in question happened last week, as part of the awareness campaign for the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, which was celebrated Monday with a ceremony at City Hall. Mammoliti did not attend.

May 11

The Mayor might be too busy to march in the Pride parade

The Toronto Sun’s Don Peat asks Rob Ford if he’ll be marching in the Pride parade this year, and the Mayor responds with a hearty….

“I have no idea what events I’ll be in and what events I’m not going to be in,” Ford said. “I can comment when we are closer to that date…I can’t commit to it now, I don’t know what my schedule is like.”

via Ford won’t commit to marching in Pride parade | Toronto & GTA | News | Toronto Sun.

That’s weird, because the version of the Mayor’s schedule released last week revealed that he had a ton of free time.

Related: Since 2006, the Mayor of Toronto has officially proclaimed every May 17 as “Day Against Homophobia in Toronto.” Last year, it became “Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia in Toronto.”

The language used in these proclamations is essentially the same every year, with a little bit added about the year’s theme. This sentence appeared in every proclamation from 2006 to 2010:

Toronto has taken a leadership role in the fight for the elimination of all forms of discrimination and is committed to equal treatment of all people and their right to live in conditions of dignity, respect and peace.

This year, it appears again, but slightly modified:

Toronto is an active participant in the fight for the elimination of all forms of discrimination and is committed to equal treatment of all people and their right to live in conditions of dignity, respect and peace.

From a ‘leadership role’ to an ‘active participant.’ Weird, right?

P.S. Don’t read too much into this. I have no idea who writes these proclamations. They could come from outside agencies — perhaps, in this case, Foundation Émergence — and I doubt anyone at City Hall gives them a lot of thought. I just thought it interesting that someone, at some point, decided to alter the text this year.

Apr 11

Pride and Prejudice and Revisionist History

Since last week’s announcement from Queers Against Israeli Apartment stating that they would not march in this year’s Pride parade, some have advanced the idea that we shouldn’t trust QuAIA or Pride because they pulled a tricky bait-and-switch last year, where Pride temporarily banned the controversial group, accepted the city’s money, then unbanned QuAIA and allowed them into the parade.

The National Post’s Matt Gurney is guilty of doing this an incredible THREE times over the course of the last week: here, here, and finally here.

Even the mayor is mistaken about the nature of the motion council adopted last year, as reported in My Town Crier by Kris Scheuer.

If the organization doesn’t participate, then Ford said that Pride Toronto can still get a city grant of about $125,000.

“Last year council agreed if they don’t (participate), they (Pride) will get their money after the parade. That’s what we agreed on,” the mayor said at an April 15 media scrum. “If (Queers Against Israeli Apartheid) does march in the parade (Pride) won’t get their money.”

via Funding fracas – TownNEWS – MyTownCrier.ca – the online home of Toronto’s Town Crier Group of Community Newspapers.

For the record, there is no such agreement in place. There never was. Council has never even considered a motion that would specifically ban QuAIA from the parade.

Two items came before council last year related to this issue, both moved by Giorgio Mammoliti. First, he attempted to ensure that Pride Toronto enforced the City of Toronto’s anti-discrimination policy if it wanted to continue to receive city funds. When that got punted to the executive committee and then ruled redundant after Pride announced they would tighten review standards for parade participants, Mammoliti later moved a second motion that made Pride’s funding contingent on their being compliant with the city’s anti-discrimination policy — the city would only deliver funds after the parade. This passed 36-1.

This is why the news last week that staff had ruled that the phrase ‘Israel Apartheid’ did not violate the anti-discrimination policy was so important. It makes the motion irrelevant, at least as far as QuAIA goes. Without adopting a new motion that explicitly bans QuAIA, Council has no grounds to deny Pride funding this year, even if the group does march.

Apr 11

The high road: QuAIA withdraws from Pride Parade

Reading the news this week regarding Queers Against Israeli Apartheid’s participation in the Toronto Pride Parade, a single question kept coming to mind: would I be too pragmatic to suggest that QuAIA should withdraw from the parade to avoid the looming political storm?

Turns out I never needed to publicly ask that question, as this morning the group put out a news release indicating that they would not march:

“Rob Ford wants to use us as an excuse to cut Pride funding, even though he has always opposed funding the parade, long before we showed up,” QuAIA said in the news release. “By holding our Pride events outside of the parade, we are forcing him to make a choice: fund Pride or have your real homophobic, right-wing agenda exposed.”

via Queers Against Israeli Apartheid quits Pride parade and issues challenge to mayor – thestar.com.

I am not a member of the Queer community or the Jewish community. (I’m boring.) I’ve been reluctant to weigh in on his subject because of all the sensitivities and politics behind it. But I will offer this: I don’t  believe anyone can ever be called racist or otherwise intolerant for condemning the perceived actions of a government. They can, on the other hand, be called wrong.

That’s an important distinction, especially when it comes to barring a group from participating in an event.

That said, because of this years-deep controversy QuAIA has likely received a hundred times more attention than they would have otherwise as a smallish group marching in one of the world’s biggest parades. And they’ll be likely end up being a far bigger presence at Pride week than they would have been otherwise. As Daniel Dale notes in the above-linked Toronto Star article, they’ve promised to hold “independent Pride Week events outside the festival.”

The other reason this move is a smart one: if you work from the assumption that Ford would like to eliminate city funding for parades and festivals — a sentiment he expressed while campaigning — this removes a mechanism he could use to kill Pride. QuAIA is unpopular enough with the broader public — and the votes on council are still weighted enough towards the mayor — that any bid to drop Pride funding and support would have likely been successful.

In an article by InsideToronto’s David Nickle this week, Pride co-chair Francesco Alvarez said that, had the city withdrew its funding and support for this year’s event, it likely would have resulted in the city losing its license for World Pride in 2014.

QuAIA’s move changes the game: now if Ford wants to attack Pride, he has to attack Pride. He and his allies can’t hide behind issues on the periphery. It’s a better way to frame the debate and I’d argue that, as an advocacy organization, QuAIA hasn’t really lost anything either. Their core messages have spread further than they would have otherwise.

Feb 11

A short summary of Rob Ford’s voting record on HIV/AIDS

Last week the mayor was the only member of council to vote against accepting $100,000 from the provincial government to establish screening programs for syphilis and HIV. Here’s a quick look at how Ford has voted on other issues related to HIV/AIDs.

  • August 25, 2010 – Ford is one of seven councillors to vote against a motion by Kyle Rae that saw the city endorse the Vienna Declaration. Rae submits a communication urging council to vote for the (largely symbolic) measure because “research shows that the criminalization of illicit drug users is fuelling the HIV epidemic.” Read the Council Minutes.
  • July 6, 2010 – Ford is the lone dissenter in a 33-1 vote that saw the city approve $1,574,960 in funding for 40 programs recommended by the AIDS Prevention Community Investment Program Review Panel and $104,040 to Schools Without Borders “to enhance Toronto’s response to HIV/AIDS globally.” Read the Council Minutes.
  • August 5, 2009 – Ford is one of four councillors to vote against a Board of Health recommendation that the city approve $1,544,080 in funding for 40 programs recommended by the AIDS Prevention Community Investment Program Review Panel and $102,000 to Schools Without Borders. Ford also makes a motion that loses 7-26 to “Receive this item for information.” Read the Council Minutes.
  • June 6, 2008 – Ford is one of three councillors to vote against a Board of Health recommendation that the city approve $1,513,800 in funding for 47 programs recommended by the AIDS Prevention Community Investment Program Review Panel and $100,000 to Schools Without Borders. Ford also makes a motion that loses 3-23 to “Receive this item for information.” Read the Council Minutes.
  • June 19, 2007 – Ford is one of five councillors to vote against a Board of Health recommendation that the city approve $1,513,800 to fund 45 programs as recommended by the AIDS Prevention Community Investment Program Review Panel and $100,000 to Schools Without Borders. Voting on this motion was done simultaneously with several other community grant programs. Ford made a motion that lost 5-20 to “receive this item for information.” Read the Council Minutes.
  • May 23, 2006 – Ford is the sole councillor to vote against a motion by Kyle Rae, seconded by Pam McConnell, to put up three welcome banners over roadways for the 2006 International AIDS conference that was held in August 2006. The city did not require any extra funding to install these banners. The motion passed 32-1. Read the Council Minutes.

In fairness, Ford voted ‘no’ a lot. Far more than any other councillor. But his ideology wasn’t such that he mindlessly voted against every measure. The 2006 vote is particularly interesting because, as councillor, he tended to vote in favour of symbolic niceties – things like renaming arenas and streets and so forth.

Also of note: Rob Ford will be the mayor welcoming World Pride to Toronto in 2014.