WHAT 2022 LOOKS LIKE
ERITREAN-CANADIAN HUMAN RIGHTS LAWYER SARON GEBRESELLASSI POSITIONS HERSELF AS AN ANTIDOTE TO THE STATUS QUO – AND A FUTURE MAYOR
On October 10, the first day of advance voting, mayoral candidate Saron Gebresellassi congregated with a small contingent of first-time voters and community organizers at Nathan Phillips Square. With her parents by her side, the Eritrean-Canadian human rights lawyer outlined the key tenets of her progressive platform: affordable housing, free public transit, less policing and more jobs for youth.
“The experts tell me our communities – the working-class, immigrant communities – don’t vote. I see my primary mission to convert non-voters to voters. That’s the real key ingredient to success,” says Gebresellassi the next day over the phone. “I’m not trying to woo the folks who would vote for John Tory.”
Instead, she positions herself as the antidote to the status quo.
Gebresellassi, 31, grew up in a Toronto Community Housing high-rise near Eglinton and Keele. She studied law at the University of Ottawa, worked on Bay Street, then founded her own firm focused on human rights work. Past cases include a $1 million lawsuit against Starbucks Canada after a female barista was allegedly physically assaulted by her supervisor, and a lawsuit against the Toronto Police Services Board on behalf of a Black mother who alleges officers illegally raided her home. She’s also been the legal counsel to Black Lives Matter–Toronto and was part of the mass mobilization around the G8 and G20 summits in 2010. She came through the ranks of Women Win Toronto, the boot camp championed by Kristyn Wong-Tam to encourage more women in politics.
Throughout the campaign, she’s been a fierce critic of both Tory and Jennifer Keesmaat, who the media has painted as Tory’s only real opposition.
Gebresellassi says neither have shown leadership on the issue of affordable housing, a point that was underscored when Tory skipped the affordable housing debate on October 15, less than a week before the election. After 15 minutes, Keesmaat left the debate, too.
“We have a housing crisis in Toronto, and John and Jennifer lack that sense of urgency,” says Gebresellassi. “I think part of the reason is that they
Saron Gebresellassi (centre) with supporters at an event in Nathan Phillips Square on the first day of advance voting.