that mayor mel has so far escaped official censure for his recent racist quip on Africa is troubling.
Despite the fact that there are policies on the books to address this kind of negative stereotyping by city officials and staff, councillors clearly don't have the stomach to call Curly on the carpet.
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Not a single councillor joined labour unions and minority groups that sponsored Tuesday's (July 24) anti-racism rally. The demo was meant to put politicians on notice that these kinds of comments by elected officials won't be tolerated.
A couple of hundred people showed up to hear a dozen speakers from visible-minority groups demand the mayor's resignation and tear into a city government that they strongly feel has disenfranchised them.
The event was endorsed by practically every major visible-minority community group in the city, from the Jamaican Canadian Association to the Chinese Canadian National Council of Toronto. However, not all of them are calling for the mayor's resignation.
"Mel Lastman was elected by people of colour," says Margaret Parsons of the African Canadian Legal Clinic, adding, "We will not put up with this."
Parsons demands that the city's access and equity office "must have teeth" to deal with these kinds of racist and hurtful incidents in the future.
At the very least, council should have officially distanced itself from Mel's quote. At last month's council meeting, the city's diversity advocate, Sherene Shaw, failed to get the two-thirds council support needed to introduce a notice of motion officially apologizing for Mel's remarks.
Surprisingly, there is nothing in the city's code of conduct regulating inappropriate public comments by members of council. And the city's human rights and harassment policy and procedures also don't address racist comments made by councillors in public.
Shaw tells NOW that she's still awaiting word from city staff about what's happening with the 97 recommendations made by the access and equity task force two years ago.
However, councillors have conveiently forgotten that just prior to amalgamation the former Metro council adopted the "Principles Of Good Practice And Conduct For Holders Of Elected Office And Political Campaigners." The principles were recommended to council by the Urban Alliance on Race Relations in the wake of former councillor Gordon Chong's 1997 reference to Roma refugees as "pimps and criminals."
Chong apologized to Metro council for his remarks at the time, but was still roundly condemned by his colleagues during a council meeting. At the time, Metro's Anti-Racism, Access and Equity Committee even had the public solicitor explore what was required to remove Chong as chair of the then Human Services Committee.
Among other things, the principles adopted then call on elected officials to "ensure that in any dealings with the public, no words or actions are used which may cause racial hatred or lead to racial prejudice" and that "action must be taken by the appropriate political bodies against any elected… members who are found to have knowingly broken these principles. This may include their removal from any formal role on behalf of the political body and a public disavowal by that body."
According to the city's current access and equity office, those principles are still in force. But finding the political will to enforce them is another matter.
"In this kind of thing there's nothing very clear, ever," says councillor David Miller. "But the mayor should have made a statement during council at a minimum. And it's the diversity advocate's role to raise these kinds of things. She should be dealing with it as well."
Councilor Olivia Chow adds that asking the mayor to resign is "a non-starter. He's humiliated enough."
That Mel should get off so lightly is ironic given that in 1993 the mayor called for the resignation of North York school board trustee Stephnie Payne after she made an anti-Semitic remark.
Payne, who opposed Garth Drabinsky's production of Show Boat at the North York Performing Arts Centre, told a television interviewer that "most of the plays that portray blacks or any other ethnic group in a negative way are always done by a white man, and usually a Jewish person is doing plays to denigrate us."
In addition to demanding her resignation, Mel also wanted Payne hauled in front of the Ontario Human Rights Commission. Payne publicly apologized, although she refused to do so again when a fellow school board trustee requested it during a meeting.
But at least that political body addressed the slur.
Payne, who has since been re-elected trustee three times, says she won't join the chorus calling for the mayor's resignation.
But prior to the Tuesday rally, she tells NOW she believes the black community has been "silent and accepting" of Mel's comments. "It's about time they do something," Payne says. "I'm glad they're doing something. The mayor of this diverse city should not be saying things like that."
Forgiving politicians and local media pundits have also been quick to argue that the mayor has a fairly progressive record when it comes to promoting race relations. We are reminded that Curly started Canada's first race relations committee (which is debatable) and helped establish the Marcus Garvey Centre in North York.
But what we don't hear is that after black leaders endorsed him in 1997, Curly didn't follow through on making school teacher and former North York mayoral candidate Lennox Farrell his race relations adviser.
And as for the Marcus Garvey Centre, since city money has dried up, the black community has had to finish internal renovations on their own. The centre is hosting a gala fundraiser in September. Curly has been invited. Maybe he should think about throwing his considerable fundraising talents their way to help undo the damage he's done. firstname.lastname@example.org