A PERSONAL LETTER TO MAYOR JOHN TORY ABOUT HIS BETRAYAL OF TORONTO’S BLACK COMMUNITIES
Dear John, it’s been a while. The last time we connected was at that semi-clandestine meeting you hastily arranged at City Hall with members of the Black community back in April 2016. Remember? That was a rough time for you. You were under a lot of pressure to meet publicly with Black Lives Matter–Toronto. In a panic, you reached out to a number of us – activists, former politicians, academics, community leaders – in the hope of receiving some advice on how to move forward.
It may have been a cool spring morning outside but you were getting roasted inside – you and police chief Mark Saunders, that is. Both of you mostly sat there with blank stares on your faces, like two schoolboys being scolded for cheating or, more aptly, failing.
When the meeting mercifully came to an end, you looked at us with gravity and said, “I’ve received the message.” You promised to meet with BLM-TO publicly, but you never did.
Which brings me to the crux of the matter as we head to election day on October 22. If you didn’t know it before, you ought to know it now: you have a serious credibility problem with Black communities in this city and I don’t think it’s reparable.
It’s become apparent to many of us that you say things you don’t mean and make promises you know you can’t deliver. Either way, we can’t trust you. Let me recount a few reasons why.
First, you put yourself on the Toronto Police Services Board and manoeuvred your long-time pal Andy Pringle into the chair’s seat because you wanted to put the brakes on policing reformer Peter Sloly’s candidacy for chief and ensure the compromise candidate Saunders got the job instead.
That barely concealed ploy to keep the police union happy was one of the earliest indications that you couldn’t be trusted.
Then there was your mishandling of the carding file.
We watched in horror as you appeased the police brass by initially supporting their suspect claim that carding leads to successful investigations. It was only when you were shamed by your privileged white peers at a press conference at City Hall that you came to your senses and publicly rejected the practice.
One of your key promises when you ran for mayor in 2014 was to repair the broken trust between Black communities and the police.
But you supported the hiring of 200 police officers even though we told you over and over again that increasing police presence in our communities is not the answer to gun violence. On top of this, you put your signature on a plan to install expensive, unproven surveillance technology in our neighbour- hoods. So much for trust.
Despite your betrayal, many of us were still willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. We understand that leading what you like to call an “emerging global city” filled with competing interests and agendas is hard. We were prepared to cut you some slack and give you some time to turn things around. But then you went Rambo on us.
In response to an upswing in shootings this summer, you used words like “sewer rats” and “thugs,” among other things, to describe the alleged shooters. Several people criticized you for this. They pointed out that such irresponsible language conjures up and perpetuates stereotypes that are harmful to racialized and marginalized communities. But you refused to apologize.
The perplexing thing about you is that your true intentions are almost impossible to pin down. You’ve been hailed as a friend of Black communities for many years, but your actions suggest otherwise.
Some of our elders who know you personally vouch for your likeability and approachability. They tell us that you take time to listen.
But you come at us sideways, leaving many of us to ask: is he with us or against us?
Sometimes you show you get it, like at the recent mayoral candidates’ debate in Scarborough focused on Black communities, where you finally admitted white privilege exists. That was the honourable thing to do.
However, observing your body language that evening made it plain to see that things have changed between you and Toronto’s Black communities. The jig is up. You were there in body, but your spirit was missing. In fact, it never made it into the building.
It seemed to bother you that the other candidates – Saron Gebresellassi, Jennifer Keesmaat and Knia Singh – found more favour with the audience than you did that night. Their messages on housing, transit and community development were resonating while your commitments seemed recycled and old hat.
Gebresellassi talked about providing 1,000 youth with jobs by repurposing portions of the police budget, while Keesmaat spoke about the need for a cultural hub for Black communities run by Black communities. Singh got people going when he spoke about setting up rent-to-own programs for Toronto Community Housing residents.
You thought you had an ace up your sleeve: the city’s anti-Black racism plan. And you didn’t miss an opportunity to mention it.
The plan calls for increased diversity training, hiring and investments in Black youth. You emphasized its focus on policy development to redress damage done by anti-Black racism, all of which is laudable.
But here’s the thing. Many of us no longer believe you. And a plan without credible leadership is no plan at all. Just because you’ve gotten comfortable using the term “anti-Black racism” doesn’t mean we see you as being genuine about wanting to actually tackle it.
Despite a track record of letting our community down, you’re leading in the polls. This doesn’t surprise anybody. You seem to have made the political calculus to offend us because you figure it won’t hurt you at the polls, which means you’ll go on promising but not delivering for another four years if you’re reelected.
I suppose that’s your definition of “leadership that works.”
YOU SEEM TO HAVE MADE THE POLITICAL CALCULUS TO OFFEND US BECAUSE YOU FIGURE IT WON’T HURT YOU IN THE POLLS.
Is he with us or against us?