Photo: courtesy of Sarah Thomson’s Facebook page
Happy International Women’s Day, everyone! I come bearing greetings from the mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford, sent to me just this afternoon by email:
“This is a day we should all take the time to reflect upon the women in our lives and in our society. It is a day when we can envision the changes we want to make in our communities to ensure that all people are equal and that violence and discrimination against women comes to an end.”
Excellent! When I reflect on the lives lived so far and yet to be lived by my mother, 12 aunts, sister, wife, and two daughters, a life ever more free from violence and discrimination against women—and ever more full of equality—is one of the things I most hope for. A touching sentiment from which we can all take inspiration, isn’t it?
But wait a minute. What inspired this message from the mayor? Ah, look, I skipped the first part of the message.
“Early this morning, false allegations were made regarding a number of disgusting actions. I am shocked, dismayed and surprised. I can say without hesitation that they are absolutely, completely false. What is more surprising is that a woman who has aspired to be a civic leader would cry wolf on a day where we should be celebrating women across the globe.”
Oh my. That kind of harshes the vibe a bit, now doesn’t it? How does a message like that come about? I can only imagine…
Hey guys, are we working up some kind of feminist-y lady thing to send out for the IUD or whatever?
Got it right here, boss!
Great, ’cause I got a kind of woman situation I need to deal with, so we’ll just hit the two chicks with one stone, so to speak. If we just tweak it a bit, we can use the same statement to shame this particular woman. Like on this solemn occassion we’re supposed to be celebrating chicks and here’s this chick de-solemnifying it all by accusing me of ass-grabbery and adultery-talkery.
Good thinking, boss.
I mean, is nothing sacred? How are we supposed to be thinking about women’s equality and all that crap when there’s this woman talking about assault? It’s like that particular kid in the story who repeatedly lies about having his precious sheep attacked by a wolf.
Right boss. Crying wolf.
Yeah, you know how that one ended, amirite? THE SHEEP GET IT IN THE END. Let’s use it. It’s the perfect International Women’s Day sentiment.
Wait, boss. You sure you don’t want to do the feminism-y message and the assault-allegation-denial-thing separately?
Nah. They’re the same topic, right?
Good thinking, boss. As always.
…Or so I imagine it might have went. But I’m getting ahead of things. Sorry if you’re just catching up.
Let’s take a moment to parse this out.
The “woman who has aspired to be a civic leader,” you will know by now if you live in Toronto and have access to the internet, radio, or eardrums, is former mayoral candidate, small-time magazine publisher, and civic activist Sarah Thomson. Last night, after a big open-bar (from what I read on Twitter) party thrown for political bigwigs and hobnobbers of all stripes by JPAC, Thomson posted the photo above on her Facebook account, above an allegation of one of those “disgusting actions” Ford was talking about:
“Thought it was a friendly hello to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford at the CJPAC Action Party tonight until he suggested I should have been in Florida with him last week because his wife wasn’t there. Seriously wanted to punch him in the face. Happy International Women’s Day!”
Hmmm. Is it possible she misunderstood?
Well, wait, there’s more. “I’ve never seen him so out of it. I know I shouldn’t be pissed but after spending 10 months on the campaign trail together you expect a little bit of respect at the very least for my husband,” Thomson wrote in the comments. And then, “guess where his hand was in this picture? I must go shower….” and then, “Is grabbing someone ass assault?”
Hoo boy. Thomson clarified this morning in various interviews with radio and newspapers. In a live-chat with Daniel Dale of the Toronto Star, she wrote, “He is usually very professional and polite – and this was completely out of character. We posed for a few pictures and he put his hand on my ass and squeezed. I backed out of the circle around him and told my assistant what he had done. In shock.” And then, “I backed away immediately after that and told as many of the people I knew that there was something wrong with the Mayor, he had grabbed my ass and would never normally do that. There was no sign of his Chief of Staff although my assistant and I did look for him. I was hoping that they would get him out of there worried he might do something worse.” And finally, she says she was told by “20+” people “who knew him and had talked to him” that he was “hammered.” Though she notes he didn’t slur his words or smell boozy, she wrote on her Facebook page that “Anyone who talked to him tonight could see he was out of it.”
So to recap, Thomson says the mayor made an inappropriately suggestive comment and then groped her butt, and that he was “out of it.” The mayor says Thomson is “crying wolf,” that the allegations of these disgusting actions are false, and that he’s “shocked, dismayed, and surprised.”
With that last bit, he speaks for a lot of us. When the definitive history of the Ford administration is written, “Shocked, Dismayed, and Surprised” might make a fitting title. Why, we’re hardly over this morning’s headline about how lobbyists have been lighting up City Hall with their wit and wisdom at unprecedented rates under Team Ford. And the follow-up stories are still coming about how parents, teachers, and students object to Ford’s constant characterization of his football players and their fellow Don Bosco High School students as feral gangland beasts tamed only by the siren play-calling of their Coach. And speaking of football, another complaint about it has been filed. Just another week in the the All-Shocking! All-Dismaying! Ford Extravaganza—recently held over for another two smash years.
In this case of Sarah Thomson, there’s really no evidence to consider at this point, other than her word against Ford’s. The mayor’s chief of staff, Mark Towhey, apparently says Ford was drinking nothing but water all night. This lawyer on Twitter had his own take, and posted a photo (and also spoke to the Globe without addressing his perception of the level of the mayor’s refreshment):
I wasn’t there. I don’t know what happened. But there are a few things to consider.
First, what does Sarah Thomson gain by making something like this up? The negative attention and abuse of thousands on talk radio, Facebook, comments sections, and everywhere else. Has she lied publicly, boldly, and unprovoked like this before? About anything? I don’t know the answer to that, but I have never heard any suggestion that she has.
Now, what Ford has to gain by denying it is self-evident. And here’s a guy who knows something about crying wolf. Without drawing any firm conclusions, I’ll just take a look at some of Ford’s history of allegations and episodes involving women, alcohol, and general credibility:
1999: Rob Ford is arrested for failing to take a breathalyzer test after being pulled over, and also charged with possession of marijuana. “The def[endant] approached me and took all of his money and threw it to the ground. The def was acting nervous,” the arresting officer wrote, according to the Globe. “When the defendant spoke to me I could smell a strong odor [sic] of an alcoholic beverage on his breath. His eyes were bloodshot.” And then, apparently, he said, “Go ahead, take me to jail.”
Years later, when he was confronted about the arrest, he outright denied it. “No to answer your question,” Ford told the Sun. “I’m dead serious. When I say no, I mean never. No question, now I’m getting offended. No means no.” A day later, he owned up to it, but denied he’d been drunk and said he had forgotten the whole thing.
2005: Ford calls Councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby a “waste of skin.”
2006: Ford, drunk at a hockey game, berates those sitting nearby, including allegedly asking one man if his “little wife” wanted to “go over to Iran to get raped and shot,” before being thrown out by security. Confronted about the complaint, Ford initially denied he was even at the game. Later he admitted to the episode and apologized, claiming he had been drinking and was under a lot of stress.
2008: Rob Ford is charged with assault and uttering a death threat after a domestic dispute with his wife Renata. Weeks later, the charges were withdrawn because the Crown Attorney determined “‘there was no reasonable prospect of conviction,’ since there were ‘some serious issues’ and inconsistencies with Renata Ford’s allegations that raised ‘credibility issues,’” according to the Star. Ford and his wife had reconciled and were in counselling. “I’m exonerated. I’m not guilty. I’m just glad this is over.”
2011: A mother claims Rob Ford gave the finger to her and her six-year-old daughter after they scolded him for talking on his mobile phone while driving. Ford claimed this was “not accurate,” and responded to a television reporter’s question about it with a fit of sustained laughter, ending the interview. Later he clarified that he had been on his mobile phone, but denied making a rude hand gesture.
2011: When a CBC comedian dressed as a warrior goddess approached him in his driveway, Ford called 911. It was reported that he called the operators “bitches” and swore at them. His account of the event to reporters soon afterwards contained allegations contradicted by the CBC video evidence, for example, that it was dark at the time. He denied directing a derogatory slur at the operators, and Chief Bill Blair backed him up, while CBC, who reported the story, stood by their version. Ford did not consent to allowing the 911 tapes to be released in order to clear up the confusion.
2011: The Star reported that the Youth and Family Violence Unit was investigating two domestic disputes at the mayor’s house in two months, including one after his in-laws phoned the police. “The second domestic call came early Christmas morning. Sources told the Star Renata’s mother made the call after Ford—who she said had been drinking—took the children to the airport to go to Florida against Renata’s wishes. No charges have been laid and there is no evidence the Star knows of to suggest physical violence occurred.” Doug Ford, the mayor’s brother, told the Star the disputes had been “blown out of proportion” and that Ford had not even been drinking on the night of that second 911 call.
2011: Ford draws a complaint from a women’s group after suggesting into a live microphone that he could think of a word that starts with “B” to call a woman speaking before his Executive Committee.
2012: The Globe and Mail wonders if Ford has “female trouble.”
2012: “Party animal.”
2013: Ford’s 12-member Executive Committee of city councillors (a group that serves as his inner circle) contains one woman. Out of 16 people listed as staff members on his office directory, five are women.
Like I said, I don’t know what happened last night. I don’t know what happened in a lot of these cases. What I know is that if I was looking at my own history and it contained a series of stories like this, I might ask myself some tough questions about my relationship with alcohol. And my relationship with women.
And I know that if I looked at a statement I was sending out about International Women’s Day and saw that it included the phrase “cry wolf” with regards to an assault allegation, and that half its length was devoted to calling a woman a liar, I might think hard about the message I was sending. This is true whether I thought I had done anything wrong or not.
Anyhow, happy International Women’s Day, Toronto. Here’s hoping the rest of it will be free from shocks, dismaying incidents, and disappointments.