Opinion: The beautiful game? Not anymore

An account of racism in soccer

Opinion: The beautiful game? Not anymore

It was a chilly evening in London on December 8 — the setting for one of the biggest clashes of the English Premier League, between Chelsea and Manchester City. But when Manchester City’s star winger Raheem Sterling went to the byline for a throw-in, he was meted out abuse by a fan. An unapologetic, gory insult to his skin colour. That’s when Sterling decided it was enough. 

“The way they were looking at me, I had to see where all this anger was coming from,” he said. “I was listening in to hear what they were saying.” He said he dismissed it immediately: “Nah, that can’t be what I heard.”

This is not an isolated incident either. Danny Rose, an English defender for Tottenham Hotspur, expressed looking forward to retirement, as the politics of racism are frustrating. “There is so much politics and whatever in football and I just can’t wait to see the back of it, to be honest.” Players are being called ‘monkeys,’ and obscene chants and gestures are directed at them for no other reason than the colour of their skin.

What’s worse is that media outlets and sports broadcasters shine a negative light on young Black players. Sterling, 24, is a successful player who earns as much as, or even more than, most of his white contemporaries. However, news reports circulate showcasing him as a flashy, brash youth with no regard for his hard-earned wealth. The truth is, he owns a single car, and his partner owns one more, like millions of white, suburban families in the UK and around the world. “When people are making the public believe you are a character you aren’t, that is hurtful, and it is degrading,” the young star said. 

Solidarity among players, including the white ones, is a step in the right direction, though this doesn’t happen often, with Moise Kean’s treatment serving as the prime example. An 18-year-old player with Juventus, he was faced with racist chants in a match against Cagliari. He took a leaf out of Sterling’s book and raised his outstretched arms to the opposition fans. This didn’t go well with his teammates, especially Leonardo Bonucci, a stalwart of Juventus and the Italian national team, who said the blame lay “50-50” with fans and players, especially if the fans are taunted. 

He was widely condemned for these comments, and later backtracked on them, but the damage was already done. A young player was left alone and shamed by his mentor on the team. The Italian Football Federation has confirmed that Cagliari and their fans will face no disciplinary action.

After England’s game against Montenegro, when many players of African origin were abused, Tottenham Hotspur’s Danny Rose said, “It’s sad, but when countries only get fined what I probably spend on a night out in London, then what do you expect?” This problem runs far deeper than stringent, superficial measures. Unless it is acknowledged, studied, and systematically purged by FIFA, UEFA, and other bodies, it will fester underneath, robbing the essence of the game.


Editor’s Note (August 27, 3:49 pm): An earlier version of the article incorrectly stated that the December 8 match was between Chelsea and Manchester United. In fact, it was between Chelsea and Manchester City.

Hundreds show up at #UniteAgainstRacism rally at Nathan Phillips Square

Rally also commemorated victims of Christchurch mosque shooting

Hundreds show up at #UniteAgainstRacism rally at Nathan Phillips Square

In recognition of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, hundreds of people showed up at the Unite Against Racism rally at Nathan Phillips Square on March 21 to demand migrant justice, fight xenophobia and Islamophobia, and commemorate the 50 Muslims who were victims of a recent terrorist shooting at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

The event was organized by the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change and the Migrant Rights Network. Activists demanded a “$15 minimum wage” and “full labour rights”; “universal access to public services including healthcare, education, income security, childcare, pensions, and more”; “permanent resident status and family unity for all migrants and refugees”; “Indigenous self-determination, gender justice, and an end to discrimination”; and finally, an “end to practices of displacement and persecution that force [migrants] to move.”

The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination marks the 59th anniversary of the Sharpeville massacre in South Africa, during which police shot and killed almost 70 peaceful anti-apartheid protesters.

The Toronto event was a “participatory community space,” rather than a protest: along with speeches and performances on the main stage, various anti-racism and migrant justice groups hosted activities in the square, including singing, painting, and selfie stations.

Many justice groups came to the event, including the Workers’ Action Centre for fair employment and Uyghur community representatives. The Uyghurs are a Muslim minority in China who are facing persecution from the Chinese government.

There was also an Indigenous medicine wheel, with shoes around it to represent the struggles of migrants, as well as a memorial for the victims of the Christchurch mosque shooting, where people could make a pledge toward anti-racism.

Organizer Syed Hussan explained the reasons for the rally, touching on the divisiveness that is encouraged by “right-wing populist authoritarians,” and why it’s important to be united against racism.

Hussan believes that it is politicians and corporations who demonize migrants and refugees, while the wealthy fill their own pockets.

“We know who is stealing jobs, we know that CEO salaries have gone up 200 per cent over the last few years while the rest of our wages are stagnating and dropping,” Hussan said.

“That is why we are here today: for each of us to meet people, to connect, to build solidarity, to educate ourselves — because that’s what it will take. We will need to know how to have each other’s backs as the situation gets worse and worse and worse.”

“We need to turn out for each other and that’s why we’re here.”

There were several speakers at the event who discussed Islamophobia and migrant worker rights.

Terri Monture, from the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) Wolf Clan from the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory in southern Ontario, urged everyone to fight racism and to show solidarity with each other.

“No one is illegal on stolen land,” Monture said. “Fight racism. Fight Islamophobia. Fight anti-Indigenousism. Fight against people who are saying trans rights don’t matter.”

Audrey Huntley, of mixed settler and Anishnaabe ancestry, and co-founder of the No More Silence activist group, teared up on stage while talking about Canada’s “ongoing genocide” of Indigenous people.

“White supremacy is at the root of this violence,” Huntley said. “We really have to be uniting together to fight this. We cannot afford to silence ourselves.”

Azeezah Kanji, a legal academic and writer, explained how actions in our everyday lives and by the state enable white supremacy, referring both to the Islamophobia that spurred the mosque attacks and systemic racism in general.

“If we all come from the same place, and if we are all going to the same place, then all of these bullshit hierarchies we come up with to justify systems of oppression, domination, and exploitation are created by humans,” Kanji said.

Other speakers at the event also included Kara Manso, a former live-in care worker and current coordinator at the Caregivers Action Centre, and immigration rights activists Olukunle and Kimora Adetunji.

Controversial white nationalist and former Toronto mayoral candidate Faith Goldy also showed up alongside a group of protesters with banners saying, “It’s Okay To Be White.” Their presence later led to agitated brawls. Toronto Police were on the scene and at least one person was arrested, although no charges were laid.

The myth of the post-racial society

Why Canada cannot afford to forget reality

The myth of the post-racial society

The myth

In a recent interview that set the internet ablaze, actor Liam Neeson recounted how, upon hearing that his friend had been sexually assaulted by a Black person, he proceeded to stalk the town with a weapon, hoping some “Black bastard” would provoke him so that he could kill them. Neil Price, Associate Dean at Humber College, wrote in The Globe and Mail that Neeson’s remarks destroyed the “poisonous and persistent idea that we live in a postracial society.” But what does Price mean by post-racial, and why is it so poisonous?

The esteemed civil rights advocate Kimberlé Crenshaw wrote in a 2017 article, “Race to the Bottom,” that post-racialism could be defined as a “veritable orgy of self-congratulation” that uses markers of racial progress to place racism “decisively in the past.” An American herself, Crenshaw used the rhetoric around Barack Obama’s presidency to demonstrate her point. With the election of Obama, she says, liberals and conservatives alike touted the repeal of the “painful, violent legacy of white supremacy… in one miraculous fell swoop.” However, this claim was quickly and forcefully rebuked by the election of Donald Trump, whose policies targeting both racialized immigrants and American citizens have exposed Obama-era claims of racial harmony as a façade. In Canada’s case, we have never elected a prime minister who identifies as a person of colour and acts as the “photographic negative” of leaders like Trump. Yet Price is a Canadian writer writing for a Canadian outlet, suggesting that he believes that the fallacies of the post-racial society are applicable to this country too.

University of Toronto professor and postcolonial scholar Sherene H. Razack undoubtedly agrees. Dialing in on the Canadian identity, Razack argued in “Stealing the Pain of Others” that, through the consumption of media about Canada’s peacekeeping role in the Rwandan genocide, Canada reaffirmed itself as a humanitarian nation, a “compassionate middle power who is largely uninvolved in the brutalities of the world.” In this way, “the pain and suffering of Black people can become sources of moral authority and pleasure, obscuring in the process our own participation in the violence that is done to them.” For example, why does Canada’s support for the Catholic Church, which participated in and abetted the Rwandan genocide, go unquestioned by many Canadians?

While Razack used international examples to explain how Canada forms its mild-mannered identity, I believe her argument fits nicely within Canada’s domestic affairs as well, particularly with regard to the country’s relationship with Black history. Fitting, considering February is coming to a swift conclusion.

What we don’t talk about when we talk about Black history

Consider the narrative of the Underground Railroad. A remarkable feat to be sure  over 30,000 slaves from the American South fled to Upper Canada under the guidance of several leaders including Harriet Tubman in the mid-1800s. But what does it mean to understand this story as foundational to this country’s national history? Portrayed as the destination for fleeing slaves, Canada imagines itself as a safe haven for the persecuted and the enslaved. Not only are racism and slavery relegated to the past, they are conceptualized as geographically separate from Canadian borders.

More recently, consider the new Canadian $10 bill, featuring civil rights activist Viola Desmond. There’s nothing inherently problematic about celebrating Desmond; her act of protest in a Nova Scotian segregated movie theatre deserves to be recognized. However, the ways in which Desmond and her immortalization on the $10 bill are talked about are very characteristic of the “orgy of self-congratulation” that Crenshaw described.

At the new bill’s reveal, Minister of Finance Bill Morneau commented on the importance of Desmond’s pursuit of beauty school. Despite the apparently “hard to believe” fact that beauty schools did not admit Black students, considering this was already the ’30s and ’40s, Desmond shone in a time when “the deck was doubly stacked against Viola, because of both gender and the colour of her skin” — as if women of colour today do not face similar intersectional barriers. To his credit, Morneau acknowledged that “though we’ve come a long way… we do still have a ways to go in our country.”

In a speech marking the beginning of this year’s Black History Month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shared similar sentiments, saying that “Canada is a country built on diversity… a place where everyone is equal,” even though “the struggle for equality continues.” In the same speech, Trudeau said that “Black Canadians face discrimination and systemic racism, and that’s not right,” asserting that his government is making sure that “every Canadian has an equal opportunity and equal chance at success.”

The Trudeau government’s treatment of Indigenous communities across the country makes it difficult to take this commitment to racial justice seriously. The most recent example that has reached media attention is the Wet’suwet’en Nation’s standoff against TransCanada, in which Indigenous people and supporters gathered in the Unist’ot’en camp to prevent employees of the pipeline company from accessing the road and bridge that runs through their territory. In December, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police entered the Nation’s Gidimt’en camp, arresting 14 people while enforcing a court injunction to stop the Wet’suwet’en from preventing workers from gaining access necessary for the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

The treatment of former cabinet minister Jody Wilson-Raybould further demonstrates the lack of consideration that the Trudeau government is putting into reconciliation efforts heading into the federal election this fall. An Indigenous member of the First Nations Summit task force in British Columbia criticized the federal government for this and much more. “The prime minister has said on numerous occasions that there was no relationship more important to him than that between himself and Indigenous peoples of his country,” she said. “There are so many things… that are giving rise to questions… as to whether those words ring hollow, whether his promises ring hollow, because that’s what it’s starting to look like.”

This notion can perhaps be best summed up in the following: Trudeau’s appeal to the dreams of Indigenous people and other racialized Canadians, embodied in his Indigenous raven tattoo, blissfully ignores the criticisms of Robert Davidson, the Haida artist who inspired this very tattoo. Following the Trudeau government’s approval of the Pacific NorthWest liquefied natural gas terminal near Lelu Island, Davidson said that Trudeau “presents himself as an ally… with our ink on his body. We feel he’s stabbed us in the back.” The project threatened one of British Columbia’s largest salmon runs, and one of Haida’s most critical resources. The project has since been cancelled, citing untoward market conditions.

This dismissal of Indigenous rights and priorities is the exact same thing that the Liberal government should have been criticized for during its consultations for a new national anti-racism strategy last year. Rodriguez said that ‘systemic racism’ is “not a part” of his vocabulary, citing the fact that Canada “is not a racist society, wherever one lives.” Pressured by New Democratic Party MPs, Rodriguez eventually walked the statement back. Interestingly, multiculturalism critic Jenny Kwan said that the minister’s remarks were a “slap in the face of Indigenous peoples,” which is undoubtedly true.

His remarks were also a slap in the face to Black Canadians.

Black Canadians make up less than three per cent of the population but are overrepresented in the prison population at about nine per cent. Black students are also by and large being streamed into applied programs instead of academic ones in high school, and 42 per cent are suspended at least once by the time they finish high school, according to data from the Toronto District School Board. Despite the fact that the Black population of Toronto is just 8.3 per cent of the city’s, Black people accounted for 36.5 per cent of fatalities in encounters with Toronto police from 2000–2017.

On a broader level, the idea that Canada is immune to systemic racism is, of course, not true. A 2018 study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives found, unsurprisingly, that racialized workers are “significantly more likely to be concentrated in low-wage jobs and face persistent unemployment and earnings gaps compared to white employees” in Ontario. Additionally, racialized women were “25 per cent more likely to be working in occupations in the bottom half of the income distribution than white men.”

How are we doing?

So how is an institution like the University of Toronto dealing with such a reality?

To understand a bit about Black student experiences at U of T, I got in touch with Irene Duah-Kessie, a second-year graduate student in the Master of Science in Sustainability Management program and Communications Officer for the Black Graduate Students Association (BGSA). “I believe every program at UofT can do more to acknowledge and integrate Black history, issues, and scholars into its curriculum,” Duah-Kessie wrote when asked about whether U of T adequately integrates Black history into its academics. “In my first-year as a UofT graduate student, it was quite challenging for me to find a space or people to discuss Black history and some of the issues I was facing specific to the Black student experience.”

Explaining how the BGSA fills those gaps, she said that it plays an “integral role in fostering a stronger support system” for Black graduate students at U of T. “As one of the few Black graduate students in my program, finding out about BGSA was super exciting for me because there was finally a space where I [could] meet people that look like me and understand my struggles with academia and life in general.”

However, Duah-Kessie cautioned that the prevalent academic and social gaps for Black students cannot be filled by groups like the BGSA alone as students can only do so much, but that the group is “a step in the right direction.” She elaborated that “there is still a need for more Black staff, faculty, and support services that address the unique needs of Black students. For instance, I remember wanting to speak with a counsellor of colour after my first year, but unfortunately there was only one available and he was restricted to only servicing students that belonged to a specific program.”

The university, she continued, “should be working closely with its Black students and the community at large to create more services and capacity building opportunities that reflect our needs and experiences. I see UofT taking strides to fill some of these gaps with the Black Faculty Working Groups, Black Student Application Program and the Community of Support Program in the Medicine Department; however, we still have a long way to go to make other Black students, faculty, and staff feel at home at UofT.”

Her previous work with First Nations House opened her eyes to potential models for bettering resources and opportunities for Black students on campus. “It was a great experience as I got to meet with many Indigenous students and staff on campus, where I learned about the various resources, workshops and events they have available to us. I think what stood out to me was their library filled with knowledge from Indigenous scholars, and I thought to myself how cool would it be to access a space at UofT with a library of Black and African-Canadian scholars.”

On Black History Month, Duah-Kessie said that “in a society where people of colour, particularly Black people, still face the challenges of living in a White supremacist world, I personally think that it is important to celebrate Black History Month… I see it as a month where we are able to remind one another of the accomplishments Black people have made to society in the face of systemic barriers.”

While designating February as the special month could limit conversations celebrating Black history, Duah-Kessie wants to have year-round conversations. However, she believes February is an important springboard for broader discussions. “Although some people may argue that Black History Month in February poses barriers on talking about Black history for the rest of the year, I like to think otherwise. I see it is as a month where we can come together in celebration of what our society can begin to look like if we are open and willing to embrace the past, just as much as we embrace the future.”

The myth revisited

Experiences like Duah-Kessie’s demonstrate the need for increasingly inclusive curricula at all levels of education going forward. Initiatives like the Toronto District School Board’s Africentric Alternative School is a great example. The school, which just celebrated its 10-year anniversary, has a curriculum that focuses on “the perspectives, experiences and histories of people of African descent.” Children who attend the school say that their instructors “encourage us to love ourselves,” emphasizing the confidence they gain from attending the school.

U of T can learn a lot from these positive and diverse learning environments. While restructuring the entire institution’s approach to curriculum would be an incredible undertaking, declaring a renewed focus on diversifying the academic voices we learn from, both in person and on paper, would be a huge step in the right direction.

Diversifying the curricula can also help rid us of the persistent post-racial mindset. As Crenshaw said, “The brutal fashion in which Trump’s rise repealed virtually every plank of post-racialist self-congratulation underlines how flimsy and premature the celebrations of Obama’s top-of-the-ticket symbolic breakthrough were.” Post-racial thinking isn’t just delusional, it’s dangerous. We cannot say to ourselves that the mission is accomplished, when it is clearly far from so, especially in Canada where white nationalist Faith Goldy placed third in last fall’s Toronto municipal election.

We, as students and as Canadians, must make a committed effort to creating diverse curricula that exposes us to the multitude of ways in which Canadians experience this country. That, I think, is one of the lasting messages of Black History Month, and one that will help the country grow in constructive ways, hopefully leading to more inclusive environments in institutions and communities that can truly claim to embrace difference.

White nationalist posters found around UTSG

White nationalist group Students for Western Civilization advocates against “multiculturalism” in poster campaign

White nationalist posters found around UTSG

Posters that read “If everyone is Canadian, then to be Canadian means nothing” were found along St. George Street and Bloor Street on Monday night, in promotion of a group called “Students for Western Civilization” (SWC). SWC is a white nationalist group that was founded on claims that universities have fostered “extreme antagonism and hostility towards white people.”

According to a blog post on the group’s website about the campaign’s intent, “Multiculturalism and a Canadian National Identity are mutually exclusive.”

The post then goes on to argue against multiculturalism and calls for “European-Canadians” to “enlist” with SWC.

A similar poster campaign from SWC occurred in 2015, advertising a “White Students’ Union,” and again in 2017 at UTM.

According to the SWC website, one of the organization’s goals is to “organize for and advance the interests of European peoples.”

The front page of the group’s website links to a video from white nationalist Faith Goldy’s YouTube channel and a tweet from its Twitter feed reads, “Terms like ‘Racist’ and ‘White supremacist’ are weapons of oppression.”

In response to the presence of the posters on campus, University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) President Anne Boucher wrote to The Varsity, “Being Canadian is not defined by whiteness. Being Canadian is defined by our shared values, traditions, and our embrace of multiculturalism.”

Boucher also questioned SWC’s intentions, calling its actions “malicious and unCanadian [sic],” and encourages students who feel unsafe to reach out to the university’s Anti-Racism and Cultural Diversity Office.

UTSU Vice-President, University Affairs Joshua Grondin echoed Boucher’s sentiments, writing that the union condemns “racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.”

“Unless you are Indigenous, you came to this country as a settler or an immigrant. If you are not Indigenous, it is hypocritical to condemn multiculturalism in Canada,” Grondin said. “Toronto is a place where people from all countries call home.”

From Pittsburgh to Toronto, antisemitism must be challenged

A Jewish U of T student reflects on the Tree of Life synagogue shooting and the need for anti-fascist mobilization

From Pittsburgh to Toronto, antisemitism must be challenged

I grew up inside a synagogue. I went to services every week on Saturday, and on every holiday. It was where my parents announced my name when I was born. It was where I had my bat mitzvah. It’s where I said the kaddish — or mourning prayer — after the death of loved ones.

It wasn’t just a physical place either. It was a space of community in every sense of the word — a place where people celebrated and grieved and prayed and remembered and laughed and ate bagels and sang and loved. It was very similar to the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, where 11 people were recently murdered — including a U of T alum — and six were injured.

In the immediate aftermath, I felt a sudden fear consume me. What if this had been my hometown synagogue, the one where I teach Hebrew School on Sundays, or any of the ones where my family and friends attend? The horrifying truth is that none of these spaces are immune to the spread of violence and antisemitism that reached its horrifying peak on Saturday.

This attack, in all of its terror and violence, is the natural conclusion of the seeds of violence, hatred, antisemitism, and racism that have been nurtured over the past few years. It’s been nurtured by the US president, whose history of antisemitism and stoking of white supremacy has allowed this tragedy to occur. But don’t think for a second that this is merely an American phenomenon. Antisemitism, white supremacism, and racism are alive and well right here in Toronto — and right here on campus.

The votes of 3.4 per cent of voters in the recent Toronto municipal election resulted in a third-place finish for Faith Goldy — 25,667 Torontonians wanted an unabashed racist and white supremacist in charge. This was a candidate who appeared on a neo-Nazi podcast, defended protesters in Charlottesville who chanted “Jews will not replace us,” and uttered the Fourteen Words — an antisemitic, white supremacist slogan.

During the Ontario elections, over two million voters decided to cast votes for Doug Ford, ignoring his long history of bigoted and misogynistic comments and use of antisemitic Jewish stereotypes.

On campus, it is impossible to forget the posters circulating around campus last year with the white nationalist slogan “It’s Okay to Be White.” It is impossible to forget when swastikas were found drawn on various parts of campus.

And it is impossible to forget the controversies with the infamous group, Students in Support of Free Speech. The group held a rally in support of the Proud Boys, whose founder has propagated antisemitism, and claimed ignorance when a noted Canadian white supremacist attended that rally.

Meanwhile, the organizers of the Munk Debates decided to include Steve Bannon as a speaker. Bannon, among many other things, is one of the founders of Breitbart News, which has faced criticism for promoting racist, xenophobic, and antisemitic materials during his tenure.  

When I say that we need to take a stand against white supremacy, racism, and antisemitism and organize anti-fascist movements, I sometimes find myself greeted with questions. Why does it matter what someone says at a rally or posts online? What about free speech?

Here’s why it matters: because every time we excuse it, every time we ignore it, every time we pretend it doesn’t matter, it grows a little bigger. It festers and sprouts until it reaches the inevitable conclusion: Pittsburgh.

It matters because, for me and for everyone else belonging to a marginalized group, this is not politics. This is not an abstract debate or a theoretical inquiry. This is life. This is the safety of my family. This is my continued existence as a Jew.

The attacked synagogue’s name, Tree of Life, is a reference to a quote from the Book of Proverbs in the Torah: “It is a tree of life to all those grasp to it, and all of its supporters are happy.” I still believe that we can build a tree of life, of healing, and of love. Let us water that tree instead.

And let us not forget the eleven victims. Zichron l’bracha. May their memory be a blessing.

Adina Heisler is a fourth-year Women and Gender Studies and English student at University College.

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.

The Varsity’s editorial board is elected by the masthead at the beginning of each semester. For more information about the editorial policy, email editorial@thevarsity.ca.

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.”