Written by Caity Goerke
It seems like all we can talk about these days is Rob Ford. And yet, even with so much coverage, there is so little being said. At WAVAW, we are very aware of the variety of ways in which our lives are made unsafe. We know that we all experience safety differently depending on our relationships to gender, sexuality, class, race, illness, and other factors. With this knowledge, what we are increasingly disturbed about is the ways in which Rob Ford’s actions function to make Toronto a less safe and less supportive space for its residents.
This list details what it calls a “decade of controversy” – in other words, it is a compilation of Ford’s oppressive and offensive comments and actions from his time as a city council member until now. What becomes obvious in reading this list (and what might have otherwise been obvious given Ford’s socially and fiscally conservative platform) is the disregard Ford has for social services. His opposition to funding and support services for HIV positive individuals, for trans* folks, and for homeless shelters and socially-funded housing directly relates to the safety of many Torontonians because it diminishes the ability to provide adequate care and support to marginalized communities. Similarly, when Rob Ford consistently makes homophobic and racist remarks he is contributing directly to a social climate in which racialized and LGBTQ communities face disproportionate risks of violence.
Furthermore, how can Torontonians trust their mayor to prioritize public safety when he openly mocks victims of crimes such as bikers who are hit by cars, when he admits to having driven drunk, and when he is recorded on tape threatening to commit murder? Given the reality that, on average, a woman in Canada is murdered by her partner every six days what does it say about the prioritization of women’s safety in Toronto and in Canada when the mayor of our largest city has been charged for assaulting his wife and making death threats at her? How can we talk about Toronto being a safe city when school children are no longer allowed to visit city hall due to safety concerns?
Rob Ford’s actions speak volumes about safety in Toronto. They express a disregard for the wellbeing of marginalized Torontonians, they contribute to a culture of oppression and violence, and they point to what little concern Ford has for public safety. However, the public discourse on Ford itself also has safety implications. On “Shameless,” blogger Julia Horel writes about the deeply entrenched fatphobia surrounding public discourse on Rob Ford. Horel calls on progressive media to do better than relying on fat shaming and points out that
“we decry sexist criticisms leveled at conservative politicians like Sarah Palin and Michele Bachman, not because we agree with their politics or want to defend them personally, but because we know that attacking them on the basis of their gender is unfair, demeaning, and reduces the legitimacy of their criticism.”
Horel’s criticism is of great importance because it points to the ways that the presence of fatphobia can make talking about Rob Ford an unsafe space for people who experience fatphobia in their own lives. How can we call Ford’s actions oppressive if we replicate oppression in doing so? Horel encourages us to consider that
“when you use fatness as an insult, you are chipping away at my hard-earned sense of dignity, acceptance and self-love of my fat body. And when you brush off my concerns about the language we’re using in our critiques of the mayor, I’m hearing, loud and clear, that I don’t have the right progressive body, that I fall outside your realm of acceptability as a progressive person in Toronto.”
The reality is that a fascination with Rob Ford that draws on the celebrity-making quality of political scandal and feeds into the sort of superficial drama one might expect to see on an MTV reality show is an unfortunate waste of Canadian media space. However, there are incredibly important conversations to be had about what Rob Ford’s position as Toronto’s mayor means in regards to the safety and well-being of the 2.5 million Canadians who reside in Toronto and we must work to ensure that engaging with these conversations is safe for everyone.