“This ‘Somali’ thing has to stop. Live/deal in Canada, you’re Canadian. Crack is a ‘Made in TO’ problem (that) we got to solve.”
The message barely concealed her anger.
And while most of Canada was in a state of shock, reading about allegations Ford was involved with drug dealers and smoking crack, leaders in Toronto’s ethnic communities were reeling from the cavalier approach the Star took in giving anonymity to criminals, but identifying the drug dealers as ‘Somalis’, not even Somali-Canadians.
Chilean-born Bravo sits on the board of the Hispanic Canadian Congress and is manager at Toronto-based Maytree Foundation. In 2006, she came 281 votes shy of winning a seat on Toronto’s City Council. She was not alone in noticing the perhaps unintentional insult to the Somali-Canadian community.
Another Toronto activist who goes by the Twitter handle @MadHatressTO, brought up her childhood memory of ethnic profiling. She noted:
“Remember when Ben Johnson was a Canadian and then became ‘Jamaican-born’ after he tested positive for steroids? I do; I was just 9”.
Ahmed Hussen, president of the Somali Canadian Congress, was particularly incensed that a newspaper, which for decades has positioned itself as reflecting the ‘multicultural rainbow’ of the city would indulge in the flippant use of the word ‘Somali’ failing to understand how the story maligned the entire Somali-Canadian community.
“In pinpointing the two men pictured with the mayor on its front page, the Toronto Star identified one as ‘Anthony Smith’ and the other man merely as ‘Somali’. What use is such anonymity when in granting anonymity to a drug dealer, the criminal tag is passed on from him to the entire community,” Hussen told me.
Hussen, who grew up in Toronto’s impoverished Regent Park of the 1990s and was the subject of a Star story celebrating his success in 2004, says the traditional liberal, pro-multicultural institutions like the Star do not get it. He asks:
“Has the Toronto Star ever labeled biker gangs as ‘European Gangs’? Did it ever identify the accused in Quebec’s municipal corruption scandals as ‘French’? Then what was the point in identifying the drug dealers allegedly supplying crack to Mayor Ford as ‘Somali’?”
The Star story on Ford was also heavily criticized from one of its own.
John Miller, a former Star editor and former Chair of the Ryerson School of Journalism, ripped apart the manner in which his old newspaper published the story. He asked: “Was it good journalism?” And then answered his own question with a crisp: “Not in my opinion.” In his blog, Miller suggested the Star violated its own editorial principles about identifying sources when it gave the drug dealers anonymity.
According to Miller, the Star’s policy states: “The Star does not provide anonymity to those who attack individuals or organizations or engage in speculation — the unattributed cheap shot. People under attack in the Star have the right to know their accusers.” Miller then raises the issue of whether the Star offered to buy the supposedly incriminating video in question. He writes:
“There is also the matter of which Toronto media outlet offered $40,000 for the video, as alleged by Gawker. If not the Star, which has policies against paying for news, then who? The Star only says it did not purchase the video; it does not say if it offered something and it wasn’t enough.”
If Ford paid money to drug dealers for crack, he must resign. And for the Star? They should know how angry the Somali-Canadian community is with their insensitive reporting of their “exclusive story.