• Lily Cheng

Is the Toronto Star Biased Against Female & Racialized Candidates?

I have been reading the Toronto Star since childhood. I have paid for a subscription for years because I believe in the importance of unbiased reporting as a critical part of democracy. The work of an independent paper is crucial to the functioning of our democracy. However, this past week has caused me much anguish.

I am a visible minority, a woman and the mother of two young children. I am currently the Executive Director, NeighbourLink North York, a community non-profit. Yet, in several articles in the Star, I am reduced to being described as the Founder of the North York Moms Facebook Group. My current job running a charity, my work founding a food bank, and many other examples of my community service and organizing are never mentioned, even in an article about homeless people and senior citizens living in public housing.

Unlike my main opponent, I do not have the benefit of the endorsement of the incumbent, the mayor, the school board trustee, or the former MPP, all of whom are white men. Willowdale is made up of 67% minorities, and it is insulting that all these influential white men, including the Star’s longtime City Hall reporter, David Rider, seem to think that the only people who can represent the voters of Toronto at City Hall are other white males. This problem is so widespread that even though more than half of the residents of Toronto are visible minorities, 70% of the mayor’s endorsements are white men; only two are women, and the Star does not even call attention to this disturbing pattern.

This bias became especially clear to me in an article in which I was misquoted last week by David Rider.

I showed him a folder of almost 100 screenshots of Toronto Police & Emergency Service visits over the past year to an area where Modular Supportive Housing has already been implemented. I described the frequent calls to police and emergency services as events that seniors would experience as intense and disturbing. I never used the word “criminal,” and never said there would be a rise in crime, but in the article, I am accused of suggesting that crime would increase.

I should not have been surprised, since before turning on his recorder, Mr. Rider challenged me personally on my position on Modular Supportive Housing at 175 Cummer Ave. Worse, when city staff reversed months of communication with the community, and gave Mr. Rider a statement claiming that the modular housing project was intended for older adults and seniors, he did not challenge this claim even though the claim contradicted the city’s own zoning changes to allow housing at the location for people other than seniors. The city had repeatedly said they would not screen or vet who would be the tenants in the building, and the three-story building was designed without the elevator necessary for older adults to live on the upper floors!

This was not the first time Mr. Rider has not challenged empty claims relating to my campaign. In an earlier article, he quoted the incumbent councilor complaining about the decline of civility in recent politics, but makes no mention of the councilor’s recent public attacks on my integrity, the councilor’s attempts to subvert the integrity commissioner’s restrictions on using public resources to campaign, and the illicit use of his Twitter account to benefit my opponent.

Mr. Rider’s predisposed views led him to ignore evidence present in his own article, that contrary to the headline, modular housing is not the key issue across Willowdale. Voters are concerned about a range of issues, including several relating to housing, affordability, and the unhoused. However, my experience at the door, including the day that Mr. Rider accompanied me while canvassing, indicated that the proposed project at 175 Cummer Ave is primarily a concern for those in that one part of Willowdale. For many voters, including one quoted in the article, it is just one example of how the incumbent leadership has not consulted with the community, and yet another example of how trust in our city’s government has eroded.

Voters across Willowdale are skeptical that 175 Cummer is truly the best location. For example, Penticton, BC, has guidelines for finding locations for shelters and supportive housing which stresses the need to avoid locations near seniors and schools. So, when I say that the front lawn of 600 seniors is not the right location for modular supportive housing, I am clearly not alone. Other government leaders acknowledge that supportive housing has an impact on communities that make such developments unsuitable to be near children and seniors. That does not make me unsympathetic to the homeless population. I tell voters that I am fighting for the best, most sustainable solution because both the low income seniors and the homeless are vulnerable and deserve our community’s attentive support.

As someone who has spent years serving vulnerable populations, and who has a track record second to no other candidate in Willowdale in actually making a difference in the quality of life of people living in poverty, it is upsetting to have both my views and the views of people across Willowdale misrepresented. I can’t help but think if there were more diverse reporters covering municipal politics, perhaps the reporting on the campaign in Willowdale would be more accurate and unbiased.

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