By TOM GODFREY
Tension and name-calling are escalating in the Toronto mayoral race as supporters of some high-profile candidates are suspected of hurling racial slurs at rivals in a bid to gain office.
Mayoral contender Olivia Chow has recently been on the receiving end of multiple online threats and racial slurs, including an ugly one last week during a lively televised debate.
The heckler screamed insults about Chow’s ancestry, telling her “to go back home” and that “she’s Chinese, not a Canadian”.
Needless to say, the man was quickly subdued and escorted out of the hall by Toronto Police.
The incident would be different and jeers would probably ensue if the racial slurs were made by a Black man at either John Tory or Doug Ford.
Politics is a dirty game as the candidates would admit, but yelling racial slurs is never tolerated against anyone, especially in front of a roomful of people in a debate that is being broadcast live.
Chow said the slurs and threats on the web are coming in regularly as the televised debates help to raise her profile in the city.
“This is outrageous,” she told Share. “I was a Member of Parliament for many years and have represented Canada abroad in official trade delegations.”
Her team suspect the hecklers are supporters of other candidates but cannot prove it. There was speculation that last week’s heckler may have been a supporter of Doug Ford, a charge he denies.
“Racist comments have no place in this City or in our elections,” said Chow. “I try to ignore the comments since a majority of residents are honest, hardworking people.”
Ironically, that same day, Kristyn Wong-Tam, council’s only openly gay member, said someone identified as a Ford Nation supporter, sent her a letter entitled “let’s kick the fa _ _ ots out of city hall” and “I hope you get AIDS and die in public office.”
Candidates should be able to express themselves during a bitter campaign without fear of reprisal or condemnation. Insults are also bound to happen as the candidates stack halls with supporters to cheer them in debates.
Mind you, Chow is experienced and can take the heat. After all, she was an MP for Trinity-Spadina from 2006 to 2014 and held a seat on Council from 1991 to 2005.
“These racial comments are bad for us as a City and as a society,” she said. “We just have to focus and move on without dwelling on the past.”
There is also the case of Ward 12 candidate, Lekan Olawoye, who was repeatedly taunted by a more experienced former MP, John Nunziata, in a series of near-personal attacks during a televised debate on Rogers TV last week.
Nunziata kept on goading newcomer Olawoye, who at one point was called a “union toadie who lacks badly-needed experience”.
Olawoye, 29, who was born in Nigeria, is articulate and held his ground against Nunziata and incumbent Frank Di Giorgio, who is being called “out of touch” with the community.
Di Giorgio has held the ward for 34 years and looks tired and exhausted. Many residents claim he has not been around and the ward has been in a free fall for years.
“It is time for a change in this ward,” Olawoye told Share. “The established candidates are nervous because they are being threatened by myself and others.”
He has a team of 400 volunteers who are canvassing seven days a week and have knocked on more than 20,000 doors in the ward.
“I grew up in Jamestown and worked my way up,” said Olawoye. “This ward has long been neglected and it’s time for new blood and fresh ideas.”
He has been active in the ward and was a former executive director of For Youth Initiative, a program to help disadvantaged youth in the community.
Olawoye, like Chow, has kept his dignity intact and refused to be dragged into a name-calling street fight.