U of T community radio sued for defamation by former labour union president

Unifor organizer Lisabeth Pimentel suing over allegations of racism, harassment

U of T community radio sued for defamation by former labour union president

U of T’s community radio station, CIUT 89.5 FM, has been caught in the crosshairs of a dispute involving organizers from two major labour unions in Toronto: Unifor and Unite Here. Lisabeth Pimentel, former President of Unite Here Local 75 and current organizer at Unifor Local 7575, is suing CIUT for allegedly allowing defamatory content about her to be aired on its radio shows.

CIUT is one of many defendants in a case that started as an internal conflict within Unite Here Local 75, which has now escalated into a multi-party defamation lawsuit with $500,000 in damages on the line.

Unite Here and Unifor both represent workers in a variety of industries, including hospitality, airport industries, and manufacturing.

The lawsuit

The case stems from Pimentel’s claims that a number of her former colleagues at Unite Here made comments on air alleging that her leadership was plagued with “racism, discrimination, harassment and bullying.”

According to the court filings, the majority of the alleged defamatory comments were made on social media, including Facebook and Twitter. However, a few of the statements identified in the statement of claim, which commenced the lawsuit, were made as a part of interviews broadcasted by CIUT and posted on the internet as podcasts.

The lawsuit claims that on January 30, 2018, a U of T graduate and member of Unite Here was a guest on CIUT radio show WeAreUofT, during which she spoke about how she was assaulted by another staff member. The claim also alleges that this guest claimed on the air that Pimentel informed the assailant that the guest was accusing him of assault, putting her “into an even more vulnerable position.”

The claim further states that the guest further remarked on air that Pimentel “was going to such lows to dismiss the voices… of racialized people who had built the union. To not have to listen to them, to not have to listen to them question her leadership. That is how far she was willing to go.”

Rik Hockley, former member of the executive board of Unite Here Local 75, was also a guest on The Taylor Report, a CIUT radio show. The lawsuit claims that on February 21, 2018, Hockley alleged that there was a racial divide between white people and people of colour within the office and that some of the rank-and-file organizers were “being treated like criminals.”

Because these allegedly defamatory comments were broadcasted by CIUT on its radio programs, Pimentel is also seeking damages from the station.

“I filed this lawsuit because facts matter,” wrote Pimentel in an email to The Varsity. “The allegations that CIUT published are false.”

“There is a dispute about the takeover of a Canadian local union of hospitality workers by its US-based parent union. Instead of addressing the merits of this dispute, the supporters of the US parent union turned this into an unwarranted personal attack on me, and CIUT allowed itself to be used as their pawn,” wrote Pimentel.

She added that the case can end much more quickly if CIUT would “apologize and admit that… it failed in the most elementary of journalistic ethics by failing to contact me before it participated in an attack on my integrity.”

Pimentel also added that her lawyers have been in contact with CIUT’s lawyers since the lawsuit was filed.

The defendants’ responses

In the months following Pimentel’s lawsuit, the defendants hired lawyers themselves and announced their intentions to defend.

All of the defendants except for CIUT were represented by the same law firm, Cavalluzzo LLP, and filed a joint statement of defence in which they asked that the “action be dismissed with costs.”

The statement of defence included background allegations of what the defendants called the “chaos, dysfunction and bitter internal conflict” within Unite Here during Pimentel’s tenure.

The defendants claim that no defamation had occured on the grounds that some of what Pimentel claimed never happened. In addition, the statement of defence claims that Pimentel had harmed her own reputation through her actions, and that they were allowed to say what they did because of qualified privilege.

Qualified privilege is one of the defences for defamation in the Canadian judicial system and can be used in cases where a person has a legal or moral duty to give a defamatory statement because it is in the public interest. A statement protected by qualified privilege cannot be made with malicious intent.

The defendants claim that “they had a duty and an interest in communicating their respective views on the internal conflict.”

CIUT has likewise engaged lawyers and announced their intention to defend.

Legal background

According to Brett Caraway, a UTM Assistant Professor teaching internet law, Pimentel may have a good chance of winning her case against CIUT. “In Canada, and in Ontario specifically, the need to protect the reputation of individuals actually gets more weight than freedom of expression,” Caraway told The Varsity.

Inferences aligned with this can be found in both the Ontario Libel and Slander Act as well as in case law. In the 1995 case of Hill v Church of Scientology of Toronto, the Supreme Court of Canada decided to reject the American “actual malice” standard from precedence that gives more protection to broadcasters from being sued for defamation. Actual malice establishes whether broadcasters knowingly or with negligent disregard publish something that was untrue and defamatory; it also places the burden of providing this proof on the plaintiff.

Caraway also pointed to the fact that radio programs are treated as traditional broadcasters with a publishing role in the eyes of the law. According to Caraway, radio programs have the ability to edit their content in some capacities, and by way of actively engaging and interviewing people, radio shows have a degree of control over what they disseminate.

This set of conditions — Ontario’s tough defamation laws and the classification of radio shows as broadcasters — is why Caraway believes that Pimentel could have a strong case.

Defamation lawsuits have been on the rise since the advent of the internet. Some attribute this to a lack of public understanding that social media users are legally liable for their posts and comments.

Even though Caraway said that he does not “want to live in a world where people are scared to call racism out.” He warned that “if you’re going to [call out racism or prejudicial behaviour], I wouldn’t be flippant about it. And I would definitely take into consideration that you may end up in a courtroom.”

The Varsity has reached out to the guest who appeared on the January 30 show and Hockley for comment, but has been unable to secure a response. CIUT declined to comment.

Disclosure: The Varsity has previously engaged the services of Cavaluzzo LLP.

Editor’s Note (September 10): The online version of this article has been updated to protect the identity of the guest who appeared on WeAreUofT’s January 30 show. The guest appeared on the show anonymously — a recognized practice for sources discussing their personal experiences with assault. While the guest’s name is included in the court filings and is a matter of public record, The Varsity respects the importance of protecting the identity of those who come forward with allegations of assault.

Breaking down the Toronto van attack

The chaos in North York last month compels us to scrutinize toxic masculinity, racial double standards, and irresponsible journalism

Breaking down the Toronto van attack

On April 23, a van struck and killed 10 pedestrians, injuring 16 others, on the sidewalks of Yonge St. Eight of those killed were women, including 22-year-old U of T student So He Chung. The alleged perpetrator, Alek Minassian, a 25-year-old Seneca College student, now faces 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder.

In trying to explain conflict and violence, the gender variable is frequently overlooked — particularly the ways in which toxic masculinity and misogyny push young men to express their anger and disaffection through violence against women. The Toronto van attack is an example of the gender variable close to home.

Misogynistic ideology

Prior to the Toronto attack, Minassian posted a message on his Facebook page referencing an “Incel Rebellion” and expressing admiration for Elliot Rodger, who committed a massacre in Isla Vista, California in 2014, also motivated by a hatred of women.

Minassian’s Facebook post has shone new light on a little-known subculture on the internet. ‘Incels,’ or ‘involuntary celibates,’ are an online community of men who attribute their lack of sexual success to biology, feminism, and society as a whole. Due to genetic factors such as appearance or height, incels believe themselves to be inherently undesirable and destined for a life without sex. They typically view their lot in life as unchangeable, describing themselves as having lost the genetic lottery. Incels hold particular contempt for women, whom many incels feel owe them sex and romantic attention. Some incels are more extreme, discussing and encouraging violence against women.

Like Minassian, some of these more extreme incels also idolize Elliot Rodger. Before carrying out his attack targeting women, Rodger recorded a manifesto about his lack of sexual success, his disdain for women, and his desire to seek revenge. After the Yonge Street attack, some incels celebrated online when news of it broke and said women were to blame because they wouldn’t have sex with the accused person.

Racial double standards

Even though far-right extremism — a category to which Minassian surely belongs — is a far greater threat than Islamist violence in Canada, mass murders are frequently  associated with Islam because of the political weight the religion carries in the War on Terror climate.

Following the attack, CBC’s Natasha Fatah tweeted a witness statement that the attacker appeared “Middle Eastern.” Although Fatah later deleted the tweet, it  went viral and was exploited by right-wing media outlets, including the Toronto Sun, Breitbart, and Infowars, and far-right personalities like U of T alumnus Faith Goldy. For hours, an unverified and politically charged statement was treated as fact. Although Fatah had later tweeted another witness statement accurately describing the attacker as white, it circulated far less on social media.

The National Post’s Barbara Kay, immediately after the attack, with no confirmation of the motive or identity of the attacker, argued that it was reasonable and preferable to assume that the attack had been inspired by ideology — namely Islamism — because “patterns lead to predictions,” and Islamist van attacks are one such pattern. She argued that ideological attacks provide some sense of order and hope because they can be understood and addressed, whereas isolated attacks produce chaos.

In her column, she cited University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson on his explanations of order and chaos. The very same Jordan Peterson was quoted as saying, in a recent New York Times piece,  that Minassian was “angry at God because women were rejecting him,” and that the “cure for that is enforced monogamy” — a model for the redistribution of sex.

The problem, however, lies in the fact that we generally do not ascribe terminologies like ‘ideology’ or ‘terrorism’ when the motive is gendered and when the perpetrator is white, as we would when the attack is somehow connectable to Islam. Even though Minassian’s ideology is clearly misogyny, he is conversely justified by comments like Peterson’s that suggest that the responsibility lies upon women to not anger or reject men. Minassian’s misogyny is protected by our culture’s misogyny: we blame the victim while we afford the attacker humanity.

Indeed, the media granted Minassian a complex narrative which warrants the reader’s sympathy: a “socially awkward software developer,” a “failed military recruit” with “health challenges” and autism. The problem is stripped of ideology and individualized. Yet we would never do the same were the attacker to be brown, Black, or Muslim and their motive linked to Islam. The fact that the Toronto Police were praised for their de-escalation and arrest of Minassian, for example, stands in stark contrast to the notoriously fatal cases of police escalation against racialized men like Sammy Yatim and Andrew Loku.

Evidently, terrorism remains restricted to a particular script that is invoked only when the attacker and their motives relate to a politically charged issue. The facts remain that we fail to identify misogyny as an ideology that informs mass murder, and that Black and brown people who are suspected of violence are not afforded the same humanization as people like Minassian.

Necessary conversations

From the 1989 École Polytechnique massacre in Montréal to the recent Toronto van attack, misogynistic violence should compel us to have difficult but necessary conversations. It is an urgent problem that we must address ideologically and institutionally, not simply in the context of the attacker’s ‘mental health.’ Our culture must encourage young men to deal with emotions in healthy, constructive ways. We must also scrutinize the racial double standards in legal and political reactions toward mass violence. This includes the media, which must commit to a more responsible journalism that evaluates the consequences of reporting in politically sensitive contexts.

At U of T, there must be conversation on misogyny and how it operates within our institutions. The work of Silence is Violence on campus and Tamsyn Riddle’s human rights complaint against the university and Trinity College remind us that educational institutions must answer for their role in violence against women. Whether in our campuses, workplaces, or homes, there is much work to be done if we are to realize gender justice and eradicate the ideology known as misogyny.

BSA organizes in response to racism in Faculty of Engineering

Town hall held November 28 after recent incidents of racial harassment

BSA organizes in response to racism in Faculty of Engineering

The Black Students’ Association (BSA) organized a town hall on November 28 in response to a recent series of racist incidents in the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering.

Dozens of students and faculty members gathered at the Sandford Fleming Building to share their experiences with anti-Black discrimination, find ways to eliminate racism on campus, and create a sense of community. U of T’s Black Liberation Collective (BLC) and the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) attended and co-organized the event.

In September, an international student in her first year of engineering approached the BSA with screenshots of two group chats in which three non-Black students repeatedly used the n-word and sent a picture depicting blackface.

One of the group chats consisted mainly of engineering students attending an orientation for incoming international undergrads. The racist remarks were initiated by one of the orientation leaders. The other group chat was a first-year civil engineering group.

In response to an email from the BSA, BLC, and NSBE outlining the racist incidents, Dean of the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering Cristina Amon met with the respondents — the three students implicated in the anti-Black racism — to inform them that the incidents had been brought to her attention. Shortly after, an official investigation was initiated.

The email was also sent to Vice-Provost Students Sandy Welsh and the Anti-Racism and Cultural Diversity Office.

According to BSA President Anyika Mark, the three investigated students subsequently reached out to several Black students in hopes of finding the student who filed the complaint. Mark said that she is concerned about the safety of the complainant, especially with the recent white supremacist posters on campus.

“We’ve literally had to create a safety plan for her,” she said. “She’s the only Black student in her class so, sometimes we walk with her from classes and tutorials.”

 

Criticism, calls to action from the BSA

The BSA called for the expulsion of the three respondents, in addition to a $500 fine and 25 hours of community service, which are stipulated as possible sanctions in the Code of Student Conduct. Mark believes that there must be serious consequences in order to set a precedent for anyone who thinks that racial harassment is acceptable.

Other demands include an independent Black studies department, funding an anti-Black racism campaign on campus, funding NSBE, and a higher recruitment of Black faculty and staff members in the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering.

Mark also added that they were told that the investigation may take up to a year. She believes that this process is long, bureaucratic, and intended to tire people out. “It’s meant to derail conversations about real social change,” she said.

The duration of Code of Student Conduct investigations varies on a case-by-case basis, according to U of T’s Director of Media Relations, Althea Blackburn-Evans. More complex cases may last up to 18 months, but resolutions are usually reached much sooner.

“The goal is to have a fair process in a timely manner if possible,” said Blackburn-Evans.

The BSA contested the language of the Code of Student Conduct, stating that the inclusion of specific terms such as “anti-Blackness” and “anti-Black racism” was crucial. U of T keeps its definition of discrimination very broad.

Blackburn-Evans emphasized that, because of the university’s diverse campus, its policies must remain broad in order to include all kinds of discrimination. “We make these broad references to ensure that our very diverse community is included in those policies.”

Another concern raised by Mark was the lack of policies that specifically address cyberbullying. U of T’s Code of Student Conduct does not include any mention of online harassment. Blackburns-Evans, however, stated that the legal terms used in the code may also cover online harassment.

Students at the town hall shared their experiences with anti-Blackness, expressed their frustration, and urged the university to support its Black students, faculty, and staff.

“Black representation in STEM matters,” said Mikhail Burke, a PhD candidate at U of T. He believes that anti-Blackness in the science community is due to a lack of representation. “We need to tackle one in order to tackle the other.”

Chimwemwe Alao, Vice-President Equity of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) was present at the event, but not in his capacity as a representative of the union.

“There’s been a lot of conversation about racism on campus that I experience every single day,” said Alao. He said he was supporting his community and engaging in an “important conversation.” As a Black student, he said that racism is a daily experience and includes anything “from microaggression and small interactions to very overt incidents of anti-Blackness.”

Despite no official UTSU presence at the town hall, UTSU President Mathias Memmel said that anti-Blackness is a systemic problem. “The BSA’s efforts to counter anti-Black racism are important, and we support them.”

Op-ed: Reconciliation at Massey College

An Indigenous Junior Fellow shares her story

Op-ed: Reconciliation at Massey College

A few years ago I was approached by a lovely, incredibly talented graduate student through my role on the Native Students Association (NSA) here at the University of Toronto. We were walking through Queen’s Park on a brisk fall afternoon after a class we shared that combined undergrads and grads. I was the infectiously optimistic undergrad who had big dreams and a million projects on the go to work towards positive changes for First Nations in Canada — notably, our youth. As a mature student, I was elated at the countless possibilities for collaborations, projects, student groups, and jobs available within the university community. My plan was to try to advocate my cause in as many forums as possible.

As we swayed through the park with no urgency or regard for time, the student told me about the Walter Gordon Symposium being organized at Massey College. The theme was reconciliation through policy with respect to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) Calls to Action. The committee wanted to consult with Indigenous student groups on campus and have members join them in their work. Though I had never been to Massey College, I agreed to go meet the committee and hear more about the project.

Once I got past the gatekeeper, I was mesmerized by the land and space hidden behind the outer walls. A quaint water bed lay still collecting Mother Nature’s brightly hued leaves, benches lined the courtyard yearning for company, and best of all, I was warmly greeted by the few faces I saw. ‘Not bad at all,’ I thought to myself when I approached this tiny doorway in the left corner that led me into what they called the round room. The room was impressive. The walls echoed with secrets that whispered softly. I could feel the presence of some very interesting stories being told here. I looked around and found the smiling face of my friend, who eagerly invited me to sit next to her.

It was here in this fateful moment that I was introduced to Massey College. From that day, I have built meaningful relationships with some of the kindest, smartest, and warmest group of students — Junior Fellows — I have met so far. Through my collaboration on the symposium, I learned more about this community.

The committee, and notably, their fiercely organized and extremely dedicated Chair, delivered a great symposium filled with meaningful and engaging topics, which gave birth to new ideas and the urgency for change and action on this idea of reconciliation. This word has been used loosely since the TRC, but here, I felt it was dissected and given context; more importantly, feasible steps and actions were discussed in order to begin the process.

The best part of this process was the ability to work with a man that I highly respect due to the outstanding changes he is a part of within our First Nations in Ontario: the Regional Chief Isadore Day. The symposium began with an address from Day that took place in the upper library at Massey College, and was loaded with facts about the Treaties with First Nations and its very complex history, along with some contemporary examples of where we are today. The room was filled to the brim, every chair was occupied, and the walls were lined with an attentive audience. At the end of the symposium, I left feeling very hopeful that the audience was inspired to take action and gained a greater understanding of the complex issues facing First Nations in Canada.

After some time had passed, my new friends had approached me to apply to become a Junior Fellow. I was invited to meet the Dean and Head of Massey Hugh Segal for lunch. During lunch, they warmly welcomed me to join the community, approaching me with humility and honesty. These attributes deeply affect me as an Indigenous woman because they are embodied in the Teachings of the Seven Grandfathers and a foundation for the governance of the NSA. That lunch was key to my engagement in the college’s community.

I have witnessed and participated in the diversity of Massey College through orientation events, high tables, low tables, lunches, and of course meaningful conversations. I am now a second-year Junior Fellow, and though my experience at Massey has been very pleasant, this is only one story — a story from a student who has faced tremendous adversity at an institution that has caused my family great pain.

My mother is a residential school survivor. When we speak of her experience, she always tells that the Creator has a plan for us all: through the dark times there is always light and a purpose. I am still avidly working on my purpose, and I face challenges and barriers daily. When I feel lost, my mother tells me a story and my Elders tell me stories; through that gift, I wanted to share mine with you.

What happened to the Junior Fellow who experienced racism at the College recently is terribly sad and incredibly painful. I still bear the scars of inappropriate remarks and outright hateful speech. I know how damaging it can be. We are a community, and that community has the responsibility to create safe and inviting spaces for all. Moving forward, I hope that my story is mirrored by new faces and of course encouraged by the Senior Fellows. Miigwech — until next time.

 

Audrey Rochette is a second-year Junior Fellow at Massey College. She is the Crane and Governance Leader of the Native Students Association.

Op-ed: The importance of forgiveness

A former Don of Hall reflects on moving forward from conflict at Massey College

Op-ed: The importance of forgiveness

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” These days, Charles Dickens’ words might apply to Toronto’s Massey College. While its alumna Julie Payette was installed as Canada’s Governor General, distinguished senior member Professor Emeritus Michael Marrus was being pushed out the college door.

As a graduate student in computer engineering, Payette entered Massey College in 1988 with sparkling eyes, remarkable energy, and delightful eagerness to serve on the social committee and to converse with everyone around the dining room table. She lent her clear soprano voice to college events and quietly advanced academically in ways that would prepare her to later soar into space in 1999.  

Before Payette arrived at Massey, Marrus was already a Senior Fellow and had recently published a book with Oxford University Press titled The Unwanted: European Refugees in the Twentieth Century.

Now this distinguished historian is a refugee himself. His community of Massey scholars is driving him out after he made a single tactless and remarkably insensitive reference to slavery to a Black graduate student.

The irony is great. On October 2, Payette spoke to the packed audience in Parliament’s Senate Chamber about how Canada is “rich in values, openness, tolerance, mutual cooperation, and compassion.” But there is little tolerance or compassion for Marrus, who has unreservedly accepted responsibility for his remark, denounced it as wrong, and attempted to apologize. The victim of the offensive remark is apparently unwilling to meet with Marrus to receive his apology.

By what code of conduct is this banishment appropriate? The Hebrew Scriptures tell the story of Jacob, who wronged his brother, Esau. Esau’s willingness to receive Jacob restored life to his penitent brother. The encounter prompted Jacob to declare, “To see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favourably.”

What code of conduct permits a person to refuse to receive favourably a community member who wishes to apologize? The New Testament speaks of the duty to offer forgiveness to the repentant — Matthew 18:21–22 reads, “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me?  Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.’”  

The young scholars who reside at Massey College represent some of the best of their generation. Smart, industrious, knowledgeable, and diverse, they will change the academic enterprise to benefit us all. But they must be fair, and they should develop wisdom.  

If these students are fortunate, then they, too, will grow old. If they are lucky, then they will live in a community where the young protect the elderly against the merciless advance of age that can cause disinhibition. If they are blessed, then they will spend their last years among people who are kind.

In her years at Massey College, Payette lived the adage she recited in Parliament: “We can always do better together than on our own. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” The obvious task of Massey College members is to put the parts back together. The very inscription on the college wall challenges the students to “make of worth the fellowship to which they belong,” inviting them to be the change they wish to see.

The road back to collegiality will not be easy; it might best be guided by a university chaplain. But all who value the collegiate enterprise must embark on that journey. Who among us is so unworthy as not to be forgiven?

Perhaps one day, great Canadians will gather again in the Senate Chamber to welcome another Massey College alumna — a new Black female Governor General. She might speak of her difficult challenge in moving from hurt to forgiveness. She might say that the day Payette became Governor General was a great day, but the day Massey College chose compassion and generosity was its finest hour.

 

Juliet Guichon is an assistant professor at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine. She served as Massey College’s Don of Hall from 1989–1990 while Julie Payette served as a college Fellow.

Condemning hatred in Charlottesville is just the beginning

Media organizations and educational institutions must avoid equivocation when encountering white supremacy

Condemning hatred in Charlottesville is just the beginning

It has been about two weeks since the Unite the Right rally took place in Charlottesville, Virginia, where far-right white supremacists and neo-Nazis gathered in support of a Confederate monument and clashed with anti-racist counter-protesters. The violence that ensued culminated in a car crash that killed 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injured 19 others.

Although the events of Charlottesville may feel geographically distant, we need not look further than our own backyard to see hatred manifest. In light of recent events here in Toronto, it is important for media organizations like The Varsity and institutions such as U of T to take a strong stance against racism and white supremacy.

Back in July, self-described “white nationalist” Paul Fromm spoke at a rally organized by U of T-based group Students in Support of Free Speech. In the same month, the Toronto Public Library permitted members of neo-Nazi groups to hold an event at one of its branches. Such acts of hatred and bigotry are prevalent in the online community surrounding U of T; after The Varsity posted a Facebook status condemning what happened in Charlottesville, we received a message peppered with racist and transphobic slurs (pictured below, with slurs and obscenities redacted). 

 

Most recently, a day after the Unite the Right rally, the Canadian Nationalist Party (CNP), a newly formed white nationalist group, expressed intentions to hold a “nationalist rally” on the U of T St. George Campus.

As an institution that prides itself in being one of Canada’s leading universities, U of T needed to make it clear to the U of T community that such an event would not be tolerated. Although the university administration eventually confirmed that no such event would take place on campus, they were initially unwilling to confirm that they would indeed reject a potential room booking from the CNP, if requested. It is no surprise that 129 faculty, staff, and students have signed a letter criticizing the university’s tepid response.

It was incredibly disappointing to hear US President Donald Trump claim that “both sides” were to blame for what happened in Charlottesville. There is no equivalency between neo-nazis and so-called “alt-left” antifa activists. While it is true that members of both sides may employ violence to achieve their ends, white supremacists do so in the name of an indefensible ideology — one predicated on the hateful idea that some people are subhuman and do not deserve rights due to the colour of their skin.

In turn, institutions like universities and libraries are meant to be places for facilitating learning and dialogue. With that comes the right to hold those who choose to engage in debates accountable to basic standards of human decency. Some people may consider booting Nazis and white supremacists out of public spaces to be unjustifiable violations of free speech. We disagree. In the interest of promoting respect for all persons, institutions of higher learning can, and should, shut their doors to bigots.

As tensions continue to rise, when covering stories about racism and hatred, media outlets have a responsibility to identify them as such. Strict neutrality and the practice of weighing all sides of an issue as equally valid are commonly favoured standards within some journalistic circles, yet in light of these events, the media cannot in good conscience equivocate white supremacists with groups fighting against oppression. To do so would erroneously imply that the people whose livelihoods are at stake in these conflicts somehow share responsibility for their own dehumanization.

As is well known among our regular readership, this isn’t the first time The Varsity has come out against false balance. In our coverage of a so-called “rally for free speech” organized in support of Professor Jordan Peterson last October, we made it clear that some attendees at this rally were propagating hatred. Some attendees were overheard uttering transphobic slurs, while one attendee could be heard saying that “we need more Michael Browns,” referring to an unarmed Black man who was brutally killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014.

In the wake of The Varsity’s coverage of the rally, then-Editor-in-Chief Alex McKeen penned a Letter from the Editor adamantly rejecting the notion that the two sides involved in the conflict were equivalent. We continue to stand by McKeen’s statements and will strive not to allow false balance to creep into our news reporting in the future.

We also refuse to tolerate hatred that is directed our way. Though we welcome input and criticism from readers who wish to engage in respectful dialogue about our coverage, bigots and cowards have no standing in that conversation.

It is imperative that media organizations and powerful institutions alike do not fall into the trap of normalizing hatred by affording credence to its perpetrators. Though the administration has now banned the CNP from hosting a rally at U of T, it would be deeply disturbing if the university were to treat such an event as it would any other rally.

Reflecting on Charlottesville in a statement issued on August 16, U of T President Meric Gertler wrote that “bigotry, hate, intolerance and violence have no place on our campuses.” In this regard, we encourage students to be watchful of the administration’s future responses to hatred. On our part, as journalists, we will strive to hold them accountable to their word.

Blackness under scrutiny

Amid disappointing portrayals of Black Lives Matter, the Canadian media must do more to advocate for racial justice

Blackness under scrutiny

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once warned of an unsuspecting threat to Black liberation called “the white moderate.” He defined white moderates as people who prefer the “absence of tension” over the “presence of justice” and say, “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action.” The white moderate “paternalistically believes that he can set the timeline for another man’s freedom.”

If Black Lives Matter (BLM) is today’s civil rights group, then Canadian media is the white moderate at best and an antagonist at worst. This has become strikingly evident, given the outpouring of disappointing coverage in response to BLM Toronto’s (BLMTO) recent sit-in at Toronto’s Pride Parade — coverage that makes a mockery of the BLM movement, while simultaneously refusing to acknowledge that anti-Black racism continues to exist both in Canada and the United States.

In the Toronto Star, for instance, an editorial claimed that, while BLMTO is usually righteous, their actions at the Toronto Pride Parade went too far and stepped on the toes of allies. The activist group, an ’honoured guest’ at the parade, apparently should have opted for friendliness over confrontation, given the fact that the LGBTQ+ community are considered their allies.

Such a naive comment is symptomatic of the moderate, who supposedly understands and sympathizes with the cause of the marginalized but cannot tolerate the rage and urgency that naturally underlies it. It also ignores the fact that LGBTQ+ people can be racist as well. When reflecting on the public’s response to their sit-in, Rodney Diverlus of BLMTO tweeted that the first group of people to chant “all lives matter” —  a phrase that trivializes racism and violence against the Black community  by insisting everyone be treated equally despite unequal levels of disadvantage —  were white queer people. There is clearly still more work to be done.

As John Ibbitson wrote in the The Globe and Mail, the face of the gay rights movement has always been that of a white, middle-class man. Sexuality aside, an otherwise privileged group like this faces much less resistance in having their rights acknowledged than Black people, much less the many Black women and trans people who populate BLMTO. This reality explains why Pride can be infuriating to people of colour; at the end of the day, it still appears to be a celebration of cisgendered white men, despite the fact that monumental moments in the fight for queer rights, such as the Stonewall riots, were both initiated by people of colour and trans people.

Ibbitson’s more conscientious analysis is in stark contrast to that of his colleague Margaret Wente, The Globe and Mail’s star columnist and plagiarist-in-chief. In typical Wente fashion, her piece was condescending, bereft of depth, and overall dismissive of views that challenge her own. She called BLMTO “bullies” backpacking on the racial tensions of America, as if Canadians were innocent of racial resentment. For Wente, BLMTO simply ought to have been happy they were present at Pride; she believed the group’s protest was little more than whining. She crudely labelled most of BLMTO’s demands as asking for money for their personal projects, ignoring the fact that they have consistently urged Pride to strive for greater visibility, the inclusion of South Asian and Indigenous peoples, and increased accessibility for people with disabilities.

Wente took particular offense to BLMTO’s demand for the elimination of police floats in future parades. Her view that police floats symbolize “solidarity and inclusion” ignores the fact that both Black and queer people, and especially trans people, are justifiably fearful of police, who have a history of subjecting these groups and other marginalized groups to scrutiny, harassment, and violence. With this context in mind, seeing the police occupy space on a float in a parade dedicated to the inclusion of LGBTQ+ people is a taunt — and a violent one at that — for many queer people of colour.

Perhaps the most insulting part of Wente’s column is that she claimed Toronto is so much better for Black and queer people than other places in the world, consequently insinuating that Black and queer people should be grateful to only have to experience the lesser of two evils.

Nathan Chan/THE VARSITY

Nathan Chan/THE VARSITY

Similar sentiments were penned in the National Post, when Robyn Urback — despite acknowledging race as a factor in the pushback against BLMTO — wrote that Pride was an example of the political left “eating itself,” because two groups concerned with progress clashed. Holding groups that claim to be progressive to account can only be a positive thing, and BLMTO was right to expect more of Pride.

One can argue that today’s Pride, embellished with corporate sponsors, pinkwashing, and shallow support, is now more a celebration of past achievements than an event seriously concerned with marching further towards equity. Certainly, considering the backlash to BLMTO, the parade is a far cry from its political roots, meant to commemorate the Stonewall riots, which were initiated in protest against police brutality and led by queer and trans people of colour.

The media’s less-than-savoury takes on BLMTO are particularly appalling considering the position from which BLMTO is speaking. Amid the frequent shooting of unarmed Black people in both the US and Canada, BLMTO’s demand to ban police floats from the parade is not surprising. It is unnerving, to say the least, to march alongside an institution that can destroy you with impunity. One need only to look at the dozens of instances of police brutality against Black people in the United States ­— Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Alton Sterling, and Philando Castile are just four of the Black lives that have been taken by police. Closer to home, the violence persists: consider the shooting of Andrew Loku by Toronto police, and the recent death of Abdirahman Abdi, a mentally ill man that was beaten to death by the Ottawa Police.

It is not that BLMTO’s demands or their strategies cannot be criticized. Yet, such criticism must be directed in a constructive manner, in a manner that, at the very least, acknowledges anti-Black racism and does not obscure the truth.

[pullquote-default]All marginalized groups find themselves underrepresented in journalism, and that’s a moral and a business problem.[/pullquote-default]

Fortunately, not all media perspectives on BLMTO have been so narrow-minded. While it isn’t necessary to share the identity of those one writes about, Desmond Cole, a Black writer, provided much needed context and clarity in his Toronto Star column amid a series of tone-deaf hot takes elsewhere in Canadian media. He notes how the media-manufactured Black vs. queer dichotomy erases the intersectional issues that queer Black people face — issues that arise as by-products of two overlapping marginalized identities, each with their unique lived experiences of oppression. Furthermore, Cole discusses how queer people of colour are alienated at Pride and in LGBTQ communities as a whole. Though it was not his responsibility to do so, Cole did well in explaining why BLMTO’s actions were justified, and this was a welcome contrast to many of the more dubious perspectives provided by his colleagues.

The reaction to BLMTO’s actions at Pride are symbolic of a bigger issue in Canadian media: an alarming lack of diversity. All marginalized groups find themselves underrepresented in journalism, and that’s a moral and a business problem. Identity cannot replace journalistic ability, but it can add valuable nuance and context when covering queer and racialized communities. Journalism where people are able to tell their own stories — if they choose, not because they are tokenized and pigeonholed to do so — can only be seen as a positive.

This is not to mention the fact that the media, by means of reaching a large audience, can set the stage and the standard for what kind of content constitutes legitimate, appropriate journalism. When BLM is caricaturized, but their notable achievements are not given air time, the seedy priorities of the media shine through — they paint racial justice activists as people not worth listening to, while obscuring discussions of their actual work.

Even beyond this, there are undoubtedly more overt and crass instances of racist content being published by the media. The Varsity is far from innocent of this — in 2007, for example, a blackface cartoon was published in our paper, something that we have yet to formally issue an apology for; we aim to officially amend this disgrace in the coming weeks.

Canadian media should commit to increasing diversity in newsrooms, which would increasesthe quality of journalism. Without Desmond Cole, there would only be one Black columnist in the mainstream media: Royson James of the Toronto Star. The Varsity now has a diverse masthead, but we do not entertain the notion that the mere presence of diversity will be enough to combat racism, both in terms of our workplace environment and the content that we publish going forward.

In order to work to combat racism in the media, a conversation needs to be had about the way race and racial issues are portrayed to the public, as well as the responsibility that media outlets have to tell a conscious story, not just one that makes headlines.

Malicious is the message

Racialized narratives surrounding the Orlando shooting should make us wary of media bias

Malicious is the message

When I heard about the shooting at Pulse nightclub on Sunday, June 12, the first thing I did was turn on the news to learn all the details of what had happened. Yet, things were different for a Muslim friend of mine; he had little interest in going on social media, or anywhere else, for information about the shooting — because he knew people would be talking negatively about Islam.

He wasn’t wrong. On Sunday, within minutes of reporting that the shooter’s name was Omar Mateen, CNN also told its viewers that he was raised in a Muslim family, supported ISIS, and had Afghani heritage.

This comes in stark contrast with other news reports; on the same day as the Orlando shooting, a white man was arrested on route to the Los Angeles Pride Parade with multiple guns and explosive materials on him. Yet the media did not report on his race, religion, heritage, or family beyond that. Donald Trump did not jump on the chance to tweet hateful things about white people, and Hillary Clinton did not blame the man’s religion for his actions. On the other hand, both politicians used Orlando to further their Islamophobic agendas and rhetoric, with Trump reiterating that the USA needs to suspend Muslim immigration, and Clinton blaming ‘radical Islamism’for the day’s events.

[pullquote-default]For years now, whenever there has been a shooting or bombing in which the perpetrator has had anything to do with Islam, or has been a person of colour from another community, stories about the individual have dominated news cycles for days.[/pullquote-default]

This is clearly not a new phenomenon; the same thing happened after the attacks in Paris, Brussels, and Boston. For years now, whenever there has been a shooting or bombing in which the perpetrator has had anything to do with Islam, or has been a person of colour from another community, stories about the individual have dominated news cycles for days.

It takes both liberal and conservative news channels and political figures no time at all to blame violence on Islam, overshadowing what is arguably much more important — in this case, the fact that the Orlando shooting was clearly a hate crime against the LGBTQ+ community, and disproportionately targeted racialized persons.

The mainstream media’s greatest mistake when it comes to the Orlando shootings was using the deaths of queer people of colour, specifically the Latinx LGBTQ+ community, to vilify another marginalized group. Instead of deliberating on why it is that queer and trans people of colour face disproportionate amounts of violence compared to white queer and trans people, the media focused on painting Muslims in broad strokes as inherently homophobic people, neglecting to recognize how this might affect queer Muslims.

Instead of drawing attention to hypermasculinity and easy access to firearms as contributors to the attacks, much of the media fostered more hate following the deaths in Orlando by playing into the East/West dividing rhetoric — which ultimately helps radical terrorists to carry out their motives.

We expect the news that we consume to be objective. However, this is problematic, because people of colour and racialized religions are talked about disproportionately after events like the Orlando shooting. Even though research shows that the people who commit the highest number of mass murders in America are young white men, we continue to associate brown men with terror. The media is partially to blame.

[pullquote-default]The way that Islam and men of colour are talked about on the news feeds into an active discourse that condemns Islam and people of colour simply for existing. [/pullquote-default]

The way that Islam and men of colour are talked about on the news feeds into an active discourse that condemns Islam and people of colour simply for existing. When we hear so much negative information about certain groups of people — particularly in times of crisis, when emotions and tensions are high — this information only serves to reinforce other stereotypes and channels of discrimination against these groups. As a result, individuals begin to believe hateful messages about these groups. We become angry at Muslims, and afraid of people of colour.

Furthermore, these marginalized communities then have to bear the consequences of sensationalist news reporting. After Islamophobic rhetoric rose to the surface following the Paris attacks, many Muslims all over the world reported being harassed — a mosque in Peterborough was set on fire, several mosques in the States were vandalized, and harassment against Muslims in London, England tripled.

Every religion has extremists, yet every day people who have racialized faiths are held responsible for crimes they would never commit and do not condone. In the case of Orlando, while the media focused on Islam, we heard much less about other oppressive actions against LGBTQ+ people, including those who had been victimized in the shooting.

We heard little, for example, about the Westboro Baptist Church — a radical religious group — who viciously protested homosexuality outside a funeral for a victim of the Orlando shooting. We heard about all the politicians who were supposedly saddened by the shooting, but the media neglected to mention the names of the many politicians that voted against the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009, which makes homophobic hate crimes illegal under US federal law.

The way that we are given information in times of crisis should be something we are constantly analyzing and deliberating for ourselves. The Orlando shooting was a horrible tragedy, but the media has prioritized Islamophobia over paying respect to those 49 lives lost on June 12. Do not take what is given to us by major news outlets as absolute, and do not let rhetoric distract you from what is truly important.

In memory of the victims, here are their names.

Stanley Almodovar III, 23 years old

Amanda Alvear, 25 years old

Oscar A Aracena-Montero, 26 years old

Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33 years old

Antonio Davon Brown, 29 years old

Darryl Roman Burt II, 29 years old

Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28 years old

Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25 years old

Luis Daniel Conde, 39 years old

Cory James Connell, 21 years old

Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25 years old

Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32 years old

Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31 years old

Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25 years old

Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26 years old

Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22 years old

Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22 years old

Paul Terrell Henry, 41 years old

Frank Hernandez, 27 years old

Miguel Angel Honorato, 30 years old

Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40 years old

Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19 years old

Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30 years old

Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25 years old

Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32 years old

Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21 years old

Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49 years old

Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25 years old

Kimberly Morris, 37 years old

Akyra Monet Murray, 18 years old

Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20 years old

Geraldo A. Ortiz-Jimenez, 25 years old

Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36 years old

Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32 years old

Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35 years old

Enrique L. Rios, Jr., 25 years old

Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27 years old

Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35 years old

Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24 years old

Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan, 24 years old

Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34 years old

Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33 years old

Martin Benitez Torres, 33 years old

Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24 years old

Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37 years old

Luis S. Vielma, 22 years old

Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50 years old

Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37 years old

Jerald Arthur Wright, 31 years old

 

Shailee Koranne is a third-year equity studies student at Victoria College.