Mayor Tory defends police chair’s support for “Canadian values” candidate Kellie Leitch


Mayor John Tory finds the U.S. election both “intensely” and “immensely disturbing.” He paired both adverbs with the adjective in an October 27 speech at the Fairmont Royal York hotel at an event in support of the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Halifax’s Pier 21.

Without mentioning Donald Trump by name, he said that he was unnerved by seeing “so much polarization and so much anger and so much division” on the subject of “who belongs and who doesn’t,” and by the fact that’s being held up as “a determinant of what makes a country great.”

But when NOW later asked whether he has similar concerns around the deployment of the same tropes by Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch — whose campaign, apparently inspired by Trump’s, has centred on a proposal to vet potential immigrants, refugees, and visitors for their compatibility with “Canadian values” — Tory declined to address the question directly. 

And when pressed as to whether police board chair Andy Pringle’s fundraising for Leitch complicates the board’s efforts to build trust with racialized and immigrant communities — as has been suggested by a number of past and present board members — Tory dismissed the idea.

“I think most people wouldn’t be aware of what Mr. Pringle was doing, including the fact that he’s raised money for a lot of things like CANFAR, to help with AIDS research, and Ryerson University, and sponsored Syrian refugee families and raised money for that,” said the mayor, himself a police board member and longtime friend of Pringle, who served as Tory’s chief of staff when he was opposition leader at Queen’s Park. Tory benefited from Pringle’s fundraising as recently as the 2014 mayoral election.

“Mr. Pringle should be judged by his actions as chair of the Police Services Board first and foremost,” Tory continued, arguing that Pringle has been responsible for advancing reforms “with a specific view to increasing and enhancing trust.”

(Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, a U of T sociology professor who studies perceptions of policing in Toronto, recently told NOW that since the departure of Pringle’s predecessor, things have actually been moving in the other direction: “It seems like support’s going on the side of the police and the police union more than it is on the side of concerned community groups and community members.”)

In an oblique allusion to Leitch’s values-based screening proposal, Tory expressed his support for Canada’s current immigration policies. 

“I see no reason why we need to particularly change the model that’s worked so well for us,” he said.

“There are not a lot of sort of big failings of our system that I would point to, and I think that’s one of the reasons why we don’t have a polarized discussion going on here about immigration or about the contribution that immigrants have made, past, present or future.”

The Canadian discourse may not be quite as thoroughly divisive as the States’, but there are certainly those who would like it to be. In a September interview with The Rebel Media, for example, Leitch told the far-right online outlet that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was a “Canadian-identity denier.”

Her campaign is being run by top conservative strategist Nick Kouvalis, who played a key role on Tory’s 2014 election team and is expected to return for the mayor’s 2018 re-election bid. (In the meantime, the Star reports that Kouvalis has also been retained by Toronto Hydro to conduct work around Tory’s proposed privatization of the utility.)

And while in his speech, Mayor Tory partly attributed the US polarization to “a very generalized and unfair stereotyping of Muslims,” Kouvalis has tweeted, “This is the argument. 100%. This is what Kellie Leitch has been talking about,” in reference to a Rebel clip in which the hosts bemoaned the fact that Trudeau didn’t lecture Muslims on the appropriateness of gender-separated worship when he paid a recent visit to an Ottawa mosque.

The closest Tory came to acknowledging the parallel came toward the end of his talk, when he expressed his view that xenophobia should be countered with education rather than admonishment.

“Those who sort of call into question the wisdom of immigration for our country…I think we have an obligation not to lash out at them, and not to sort of put them down,” he said. “But rather, just to go back over what the history of this country has been and not to let anger and division take root in this country. That’s the most important thing.”

That’s valid wisdom when it comes to confronting the prejudices of individuals, but those who deliberately exploit such sentiments for their own narrow ends surely deserve harsher. | @goldsbie



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