WHAT 2022 LOOKS LIKE

ERITREAN-CANA­DIAN HU­MAN RIGHTS LAWYER SARON GE­BRE­SEL­LASSI PO­SI­TIONS HER­SELF AS AN AN­TI­DOTE TO THE STA­TUS QUO – AND A FU­TURE MAYOR

NOW Magazine - - COVER STORY - By SA­MAN­THA ED­WARDS

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.

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