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John Tory's story: a "proper" man being called out for inaction on racism

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
Photo: Alex Guibord
Photo: Alex Guibord

John Tory said a word last night, July 14, at the province's anti-racism meeting in Regent Park that I want to take a (long) sec with:


Such an innocuous word. Proper.

Maybe I'm making a mountain of a molehill, but I just can't help wondering what this word might mean coming from the former "mayor of Bay Street", now the mayor of Toronto?

The context: He was being called out repeatedly at the meeting for his seeming disinterest in addressing racism, which includes the fact that despite many people asking him for a public meeting he hasn't acted on that. Instead, he showed up at the province's meeting, which some say was an inappropriate cop-out.

Okay, so here's how he started off when taking the stage after being heavily criticized:

"First of all I am here tonight because I was invited by the Ontario government and I felt it was proper that I should come and I am glad I did."

To get the larger context, I want to get into his life experiences to understand his conception of proper.

Of note, his grandfather founded the law firm Tory's. His father, John A. Tory, then expanded Tory's into a true force in corporate Toronto, then became president of the investment company overseeing much of the wealth of Canada's richest family, the Thomson's (Roy Thomson, then Ken Thomson, and now David Thomson). John A. Tory was also a very influential director of the media company Rogers, and good family friend of Edward "Ted" Rogers.

Now, to the career of Toronto's current mayor. Family friend Ted Rogers gave him a journalist job working at a couple Rogers' media outlets in Toronto. Tory worked this job through his undergrad and law degree. Proper. Then he worked at Tory's law firm, the other family business, and went to the top of the organization.

Next he went into politics for various levels of conservative parties. Then he became CEO of Rogers. He was commissioner of the CFL for some of this time.

Take a second to appreciate how white all of this has been.

Okay. When he was elected mayor, he stepped off the Rogers Board of Directors, but has stayed active on various boards overseeing the investments of the Rogers family, out of a proper sense of obligation to his late family friend Ted Rogers to maintain the family's enormous wealth.

A proper career so far.

So, when Black people camp out for two weeks to protest police brutality and a whole list of other grievances round racism in the city, John Tory the mayor does not show up to talk. This is the same city where, 200 years ago, many legislators argued fiercely to maintain laws that would allow them to keep their slaves. The same city where in the 1990's riots broke out over racism.

But in his mind, shaped by his life experiences, talking to these people on the street, or inviting them inside somewhere, would not be proper.

After successfully bringing public attention to anti-Black racism, Black Lives Matter Toronto demands a public meeting with him. He resists.

He invites many prominent Black people to talk with him and the chief of police. He does not think it proper to invite Black Lives Matter Toronto. The people he does invite tell him he has been messing up by not engaging the group.

Around the same time, I see him speak at an exclusive event for alumni of the city's most prominent private schools at a law firm downtown (not Tory's). He says not a peep about anti-Black racism to the pale upper-class crowd. I guess he didn't think it would be proper.

He does not set up a public meeting with Black Lives Matter, as he has been encouraged to. Instead he shows up at the province's (already problematic) meeting.

"I felt it was proper" he says.

I believe he believes it. He has been trained in the ways of the system, and has likely received executive training on how to manage conflict properly (and sure, not showing up might have made for more ridicule sent his way, but that's not the point). What neither he nor the rest of white Canada has gotten, though, is an understanding of how to do anti-racist work.

That would be a different version of proper altogether.

As a sign of potential learning, Mayor John Tory did admit at the end of the night, when asked by Desmond Cole where he was during Black Lives Matter Toronto's Tent City occupation of police headquarters, "You're right, I should have been there." 

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David Gray-Donald (David Gray-Donald)
montreal and toronto
Member since September 2014


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