Toronto the not so good

Spacing contributor Jessica Hume wrote an account in today’s Star of her experience last Friday night walking home through Riverdale:

Maybe it’s because I was born and raised in the heart of Toronto the Good, but dark alleys, empty schoolyards and parks have never been places I’ve avoided — day or night.

So last Friday night when my male friend and I left the bar, even though it was dark and getting close to 3 a.m., we decided to take the shortcut home, the one that goes through the track field beside Eastern Commerce Collegiate, south through Phin Avenue Parkette and across an unlit alleyway heading west toward Riverdale.

It wasn’t long after we’d entered the schoolyard when I heard shuffling behind us. I turned around and saw three stocky men walking toward us, each wearing a black sweatshirt, hood up.

I’ve been walking around Toronto for 7 years now, through alleys, deserted parts and pitch black ravine paths, and nothing like this has ever happened to me. A few pushes on Yonge street with a group of teenagers once, but I pushed back and it was over — an isolated incident, just as Jessica acknowledges in her opening paragraph here. Still, reading this you almost understand how a Bernard Goetz type might find some motivation, because I can viscerally imagine taking a crowbar to those three stocky men, though I’m not sure I even know what a crowbar is. And the more I imagine it the better I feel.

Hope the police catch these assholes — but let’s keep walking anyway, and Toronto the Good will endure.


  1. I’ve been assaulted in broad daylight at Bloor & St George. A thug tried to take my camera from me. Lots of people walked by. Did anyone stop to help? No. Did anyone call the police? No. They just kept walking. It took me 10 minutes to get away from them (thug and his girlfriend).

    I’ve seen a motorist almost run two men over at Queen and Duncan at 9 in the morning. One of the men smacked the back the fellow’s Saab. Mr Saab stopped, got out of his car, ran after the fellow, grabbed him, and tried to assault him. Lots of people were walking past on their way to work. Did anyone try to help? No. Did anyone call the police? No. They just kept walking. I intervened and Mr Saab told me to get lost or he’d break my face. I threatened to put Mr Saab into a wheelchair and after a hard shove or two from me he decided he had better leave.

    Lesson learned? You’re not really safe anywhere. No one will help you if you do get into trouble. So you’ve got to defend yourself. And depending on the situation (no gun no knife), getting very aggressive very early is your ticket out. Bullies assume you won’t stand up to them. And when you turn the tables on them they get scared and leave.

  2. I don’t Luke, I’ve had the opposite experience. And heard as many anecdotal good-Samaritan stories as I have heard bad. So, I do believe you are mostly safe everywhere, and people will often help you.

  3. I’m a native Torontonian, but I’ve never felt safe walking through deserted alleyways, or anywhere pitch dark. Ever. I’ve walked through town at late hours, but always stuck to lit streets, and seldom alone for the longer journeys (particularly because I’m female). I just don’t want to try fate. Things like what happened to Jessica certainly are isolated incidents, but for me, even that possibility is not worth shaving minutes off a walk.

    I hope her friend gets well soon.

  4. I have always felt safe in Toronto and compared to many cities around the world we really have it good here. I have had attempted assaults in other places, but never in Toronto. That still doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take the necessary percussions (avoid dark alleys). Most people are good and decent, but all you need is a few to ruin it for all of us. To me the worst is the majority that prefer not to intervene in helping those in need.

    Shawn, I have a crowbar at home (doing some demolition) you are always welcome to it if you ever find out who those thugs are, I will bring along the sledgehammer. I despise those who make my city look bad…

  5. I usually feel safe around Toronto. I think you’re going to be hard pressed to find a high population city where there is no crime. I do not believe for a second we are in the midst of some crime wave.

    I thought it was interesting to read the last paragraph where the authour mentioned how if she had heard of what happened to her, had happened to another, she would’ve felt sympathy for the assaulters and claimed them to be victims of society. However once she was the victim, her perspective had changed totally. Many things could be drawn from that but the one that came to mind first was how many seem to make claims on the root of problems basing them entirely on theory and not observing the real world activities. In this case it kind of looked like a wing shift from left to right.

  6. But if we compare crimes per 100000 people, Toronto is one of the safest large cities in the country. Eventually the cold hearted statistics line up with a journalist. We could have crime stats per 100K like Winnipeg or Regina – 2 to 3 times the rate of Toronto in some cases.

    We should aim to be safe, but crime happened in Muddy York and the Methodist Rome as well (just out of the public eye) – thugs and thuggery happened then as they do now.

  7. > I thought it was interesting to read the last
    > paragraph where the authour mentioned how if she had
    > heard of what happened to her, had happened to
    > another, she would’ve felt sympathy for the
    > assaulters and claimed them to be victims of
    > society. However once she was the victim, her
    > perspective had changed totally.

    Same here. Isn’t it ironic how everything changes when it’s suddenly about us rather than some strangers. I am going to sound harsh, but those people who sympathize with muggers and stabbers in a sense deserve to be mugged. If that’s what it takes to make them figure things out and forget this idiotic “ah, poor innocent victims of society” nonsense…

  8. I don’t feel safe walking around Toronto, especially at night. I lived in Manhattan for ten years and felt safe walking around the streets and taking the subway there at 3 am. Sometimes you can’t even get a seat on the subway at 3 am in Manhattan! There are people everywhere, along with diners, coffee shops, grocery stores, boutiques etc all over the city that are open 24 hours. The streets are also very well lit. It feels very safe. People are active at all hours of the day and night.

    But Toronto is deserted at night and there are many neglected, impoverished neighbourhoods in the downtown. It’s a creepy, scary, dangerous experience walking around Toronto at night.

    What this city needs is more middle and upper middle class density downtown and more all-night shops, restaurants, grocery stores etc. so that there is safe street life on the streets at night.

    We also need a mayor like Guiliani who will clean up the city and put a zero tolerance on crime. The fact that kids can buy handguns in Toronto so easily is just unbelievable. A law needs to be implemented that if you are found walking around with a gun you get thrown into jail and have to serve some hard time. Period. No questions. You’re found with a gun, you go to jail.

  9. In no way is this placing blame on the victim, but I think the best thing to do in those situations, especially when a weapon is shown, is to give up your valuables. I’ve been mugged once before, in London, England, and gave up what I had. A friend didn’t, was thrown in front of a car and almost died. Its not worth it to lose a life over what you’ve got on you. If the people want what you’ve got bad enough, they’ll get it.

  10. “But Toronto is deserted at night and there are many neglected, impoverished neighbourhoods in the downtown. It’s a creepy, scary, dangerous experience walking around Toronto at night.”

    DL >> How much more offensive can you be? More middle class neighbourhoods downtown? Toronto has probably the most diverse and active downtown core *outside* of NYC.

    Secondly, there are maybe two “impoverished” areas *close* to downtown, but even then it is fairly safe. I live in Parkdale and nothing ever bad happens to me since I have nothing to do with the criminal element.

    Even then, as you can see from the comments above, that you don’t *just* get mugged in the poor areas of town. You get it on campus, in parks, in *good* areas.

    I have livedin Toronto my whole life and I’m happy we don’t have a Guliani as mayor. We’d be a much more sterile and worse city for it.

    Lastly, how do you know it is easy to buy a hand gun for kids? Have you tried? If it is easy, it has nothing to do with laws — we already have a law banning hand guns.

    I think you got your cities mixed up when comparing TO to NYC.

  11. I can certainly see why the author would lose all sympathy for gangs of teens with knives. The teens who attacked her are responsible for their choices, and maybe it’s too late for them. But I hope that she can still find some sympathy for the kids who, as they grow up, are at risk of getting involved with gangs. They weren’t born “stupid and angry”. Things we do as a society can give kids more chances, and help them make better choices, before they end up in that alley.

  12. I am extremely tired of the culture of polite mediocrity and appealing to the lowest common denominator in Toronto.

    This city needs to set higher standards for itself in so many ways. I think people are afraid of demanding higher standards for fear of being “offensive” to various minority interest groups, or just plain lack of awareness of standards that exist in truly great cities.

    Blake: you say that have lived your whole life in Toronto. Well, great! But perhaps if you had lived (I mean LIVED, not travelled to as a tourist) in some world class cities around the world you’d actually have a basis for comparison and would view Toronto in terms of global standards. All you have really experienced is Toronto and that is all you have as a reference point.

    As for the facility of kids buying handguns in Toronto, please just read the newspapers! There are articles after articles in the mainstream press about how easy it is for kids to buy guns. And that is unacceptable. If someone is found with a gun or a dangerous weapon, they need to go to jail. There should be zero tolerance, like with drunk driving!

  13. Hey DL>> “If someone is found with a gun or a dangerous weapon, they need to go to jail. There should be zero tolerance, like with drunk driving!”

    There is Zero tolerance. Its called “in possession of a dangerous weapon”.

    And your assertion that there are lots of articles in the paper about kids buying handguns: how does that make it easy for kids to buy them? They have to know where to go, who to get it from, etc. As a grown adult, I do not know how to get a gun. I can’t just go to a gun shop.

    And Blake doesn’t have to live in another city to know how to make comparisons. WEe all have friends that have lived all around the globe how can help us forge those opinions. I have lived here all my life too, but I have spent 2 months here, 3 months there, and I have to agree that you sound like a scared little kitten that wants to protect your car and starched shirt from the unwashed hordes.

    Your assumptions about poor ‘hoods being where crime is was never addressed probably because you realize how offensive your train of thought is. If you don’t like it in Toronto move to Mississaaga. Oh wait, there crime is just as bad and *no one* is on the streets at night.

  14. Please read the United Way’s Report on Poverty in Toronto. The increase in poor neighbourhoods in this city is alarming and shocking!!

    Healthy middle class neighbourhoods are the building blocks of sustainable, competitive cities. Toronto is in a truly shocking state of decline.

    What this city needs is a Guiliani — a mayor who is tough on poverty and tough on crime and who fights for the city’s best long-term interests. Our city’s leadership is too weak and is letting the city sink farther and farther behind first-world cities around the world.

    It is pathetic and sad.

    See below.

    TORONTO – Poverty in Toronto neighbourhoods has dramatically intensified, particularly in the inner suburbs, says a new report issued by United Way of Greater Toronto.
    Poverty by Postal Code: The Geography of Neighbourhood Poverty is a comprehensive analysis of new Statistics Canada census data from 1981 to 2001 conducted as part of United Way’s ongoing research into social issues, and to help determine organizational priorities. The report details the dramatic increase in the number of ‘poor’ Toronto neighbourhoods, and the increased concentration of ‘poor’ families in higher poverty neighbourhoods. In 1981, higher neighbourhood poverty was primarily concentrated in the old City of Toronto. Today, it has spread widely across Toronto’s inner suburbs, particularly in the former cities of North York and Scarborough.

    “The increase in poor neighbourhoods is alarming,” says Frances Lankin, President and CEO, United Way of Greater Toronto. “We know that the consequences of living in a poor neighbourhood are significant – and long-term – for children and youth, for newcomers to our country, for the entire community. Poor neighbourhoods can spiral into further poverty, increased crime, and abandonment by both residents and businesses. And shockingly, Toronto is losing ground faster than almost all other urban centres in Canada.”

    Poverty by Postal Code, prepared with assistance from the Canadian Council on Social Development (CCSD), will enable United Way to develop responses and action to urgent social issues. In 2002, A Decade of Decline provided hard evidence of growing poverty and income disparity that accompanied robust economic growth, especially outside the downtown core. Three months later, United Way launched its Strong Neighbourhoods, Healthy City strategy to address the lack of services in several of Toronto’s most underserved communities through new funding and innovative partnerships.

    “Neighbourhood decline is not inevitable, and investments in communities do make an enormous difference,” says Lankin. “That is the lesson to be learned from successful neighbourhood revitalization efforts in the United States and Britain.”

    Key findings:

    The number of ‘poor’ families in Toronto increased by almost 69% between 1981 and 2001, compared to just a 15% increase in the number of families overall.

    There has been a dramatic increase in the number of higher poverty neighbourhoods in Toronto. In 1981, there were 30 such neighbourhoods; 20 years later, there were 120.

    Toronto alone is facing the challenge of increasing numbers of higher poverty neighbourhoods. In 2001, the rest of the Toronto Census Metropolitan Area* had only one higher poverty neighbourhood compared to the City of Toronto’s 120.

    This increase has been especially acute in the inner suburbs – the former municipalities of Scarborough, North York, Etobicoke, York and East York – where the combined total of higher poverty neighbourhoods rose from 15 in 1981 to 92 in 2001.

    The concentration of family poverty is increasing, with 43.2% of ‘poor’ families living in higher poverty neighbourhoods compared with 17.8% in 1981.

    Since 1981, there has been a 484% increase in the ‘poor’ immigrant family population living in higher poverty neighbourhoods, from 19,700 in 1981 to 115,100 in 2001. Immigrant families accounted for two-thirds of the total family population living in higher poverty neighbourhoods.

    Strong, healthy neighbourhoods are the building blocks of sustainable, competitive cities,” says Lankin. We must take action to successfully turn the tide of neighbourhood decline with a comprehensive, integrated approach from all sectors – business, government, labour and community – and create a strong, vibrant city.”
    United Way will help address this growing issue through its three new priority areas – assisting youth, helping newcomers achieve their potential and building strong neighbourhoods – through funding, partnerships and solutions. It will work with other partners to develop long-term, multi-pronged solutions for stronger neighbourhoods, including investments for new social infrastructure in high needs neighbourhoods.

    To download the report and maps depicting the changes, visit

    * The Toronto Census Metropolitan Area include the City of Toronto plus 23 surrounding municipalities.


  15. having read the report you’ll notice that the greatest increase in poverty and crime is in the inner suburbs, not downtown like you suggest.

    You don’t *fight* poverty. You provide services to get people out of it. That is by building neighbourhoods with sound planning, not by white washing or giving homeless people one-way tickets out of town a la Guliani.

    Move back to NYC if you want American-style politics.  It seems that system has been a roaring success (insert snide snicker).

  16. “A law needs to be implemented that if you are found walking around with a gun you get thrown into jail and have to serve some hard time.”

    It is just another of David Miller’s abject failures that the city cannot amend the provincial and federal criminal codes. If we had a Guiliani-like mayor, he’d rewrite all sorts of crazy laws he has no jurisdiction over!

  17. DL>
    “But Toronto is deserted at night and there are many neglected, impoverished neighbourhoods in the downtown. It’s a creepy, scary, dangerous experience walking around Toronto at night.

    What this city needs is more middle and upper middle class density downtown and more all-night shops, restaurants, grocery stores etc. so that there is safe street life on the streets at night.”

    That’s funny, because I think it’s safe to say that the downtown is currently experiencing unprecedented levels of middle and upper middle class density AND all-night businesses downtown. Have you not noticed the condo boom? Have you not noticed the booming downtown housing market? Have you not noticed plethora of the new chi-chi downtown bars, restaurants and grocery stores???

    If you still think that the city is deserted and dangerous, then apparently the kind of socio-economic shift you’re advocating isn’t the cure-all you seem to think it is.

    Based on the underlying assumptions of your first post–assumptions that I found particularly offensive–my guess is that the problem isn’t on the city’s streets at all, but in your head.

    If you think that “safe street life” consists of “middle/upper-middle class” people out shopping and eating, then I would suggest that perhaps it’s your unsettling perspective that needs to be reshaped, not downtown’s demographics.

    I know it’s hard to believe, but “non-middle/upper-middle class” people are not by definition dangerous criminals out to rob you at knife-point. People who are working low-paying jobs, receiving social assistance, unemployed, without homes of their own, etc. are not evil, and the neighbourhoods where these people live, the places they frequent, and the streets that they use to get from one place to another cannot be defined as unsafe simply because of their presence.

    If you want to be able to walk around the city at night without feeling scared, creeped out or that you’re in danger, then you have to start seeing all of the people you share the city with, regardless of economic means, as friends and neighbours instead of threats and dangers.

  18. New York is one of the safest cities in America now, so maybe we *should* be looking at their policies.

    It’s hard to argue with DL with such staggering numbers being presented. An increase of high poverty neighbourhoods from 30 to 120 is a big deal. It’s not good for the downtown, or inner suburbs.

  19. Like DL, I think we should be concerned by the increasing number of poor neighbourhoods.

    Unlike DL, I’m not convinced Giuliani’s tough-on-crime approach is the answer. Anecdotally, it seems crime in Toronto is down since the kinder, gentler Bill Blair replaced tough guy Julian Fantino as police chief. Statistically, the “Giuliani effect” has been called into question: the book Freakonomics points out that NYC’s violent & property crime had already dropped 20% over the three years before Giuliani took office. It also claims the rest of the New York crime drop could be attributed to simply hiring more police, not any change in attitude or policy.

  20. Sam> I doubt anybody will say the United Way report isn’t alarming, and that “something” shouldn’t be done.

    It’s DL’s link to some fictional scary city that is supposed to be Toronto that I believe most people are taking issue with.

    Posting articles like this is always risky because the conversation can become instantly black and white with a few shrill comments, and get everybody’s back up. Toronto has one of the most mixed social and economic central cities in the world, with Saab parked next to anarchist-cart-thing (ie, Parkdale) — just one of the things DL claimed we need — so there’s much for people to take issue with even if there are parts one might agree with. That’s the trouble with idealogical approaches.

    Anticorum said it well — what can the city of Toronto do about gun control…nothing — just Guilianni had no jurisdiction over gun control. Bloomberg is currently in a bit of war with the State of Virginia, where many of the guns used on NYC streets come from. See here:

  21. DL>

    You do realize that you’re totally misquoting that United Way report, don’t you? The United Way didn’t use the word “middle-class” anywhere in what you posted. What they said was, “Strong, healthy neighbourhoods are the building blocks of sustainable, competitive cities.”

    It’s an interesting read, but it doesn’t sound like you actually bothered to read it. The United Way thinks that the way to address “neighbourhood decline” is “with a comprehensive, integrated approach from all sectors – business, government, labour and community – and create a strong, vibrant city” by assisting youth, helping newcomers achieve their potential and building strong neighbourhoods – through funding, partnerships and investment of new social infrastructure.

    I have no idea how you understood this to mean “flood the area with middle-class/upper-middle class people and impose strict controls and regulations,” since the United Way’s recommendations are pretty much the polar opposite of the approach you are advocating.

  22. And the next thing DL is going to tell is, is that that there are terrorists living under his/her bed.

  23. If you walk around Toronto late at night it is dead and desolate. There are 20 somethings spilling out of clubs in the Entertainment District and in other areas with clubs and bars, but really there aren’t many people walking around in other areas or from other age groups.

    Yes tons of condos have gone up downtown, but most of these neighbourhoods don’t have much in the way of amenities, so people are not walking around outside! There really is a lack of all-night stores, shops and restaurants that would contribute to a healthy night life in the city.

    When you walk around New York or London late at night there are people in their 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and 50’s etc all over the city – coming and going, eating and drinking, shopping, walking dogs etc.

    It would be nice to get some comments on this post from people who have lived in New York, London, Paris, Tokyo, Boston or some other global city, as well as Toronto, so we can have some perspective on the city.

  24. Other perspectives are good, but what is most important is how Torontonians feel about this since they are the ones walking the streets. I’m more concerned walking in the burbs than downtown.

    Having spent time in Boston, that city is dead downtown by 11.

  25. Good ol’ Toronto: a story about mugging, and people are debating gentrification in the downtown core. Sheesh! I’m all for an intellectual approach, but this is ridiculous. When it’s 3 a.m. in a deserted schoolyard and dudes with hoods up are coming towards you, it’s time to put aside the socioeconomic theory and get to running (or fighting, depending on your preference).

  26. I am a little surprised by the naivete of Ms. Hume. First rule – walking in dark deserted alleys is not a good idea.
    Second rule – why argue over a purse – just hand it over – surely being hurt is not what you want compared to a few items in your purse.

    Not condoning or excusing these thugs, but please use some common sense.

  27. Agree with DL in spades regarding the safety of NYC. And I lived/partied in a hardscrabble part of Queens, not tony Manhattan. Seems Toronto must have something to learn from New York. But where this took place is hardly “downtown”. The E01 and E02 neighbourhoods are defintely very shady at night.

  28. Someone’s house in Toronto was broken into yesterday. Should we start debating regarding that too? I mean this story really isn’t something new. It just happened to happen to someone who gets paid to write and they took advantage of it. I sensed lots of melodrama from the original article itself. Almost from someone to eagre to show off their English degree.

    Bonus points to the person who finds a grammar error in my post and then makes a witty retort to the poor English of my post.

  29. cynical Chris> I think there’s value in hearing a first person account of something like this. Too often the city is painted in broad brush strokes — “it’s awful” … “crime is everywhere” — so something specific is enlightening. I’d say being stabbed justifies a little melodrama. Or real drama.

    But again, it’s always stunning how one incident can get some people and certain groups claiming the criminal sky is falling. Hume was emphatic at in her opening paragraph that this has never happened to her before.

  30. From what I’ve been able to find on the web, in 2005 Toronto had a homicide rate of 3 per 100,000 and an overall violent crime rate of 1,006 per 100,000, while the numbers for New York City are 6.6 and 673, respectively. Based on this, it would seem that you’re more likely to get hurt in Toronto, but much less likely to get killed. Of course, you’d have to look more carefully at how the numbers are distributed across different parts of the city, across different age groups, what percentage involve strangers, what percentage involve acquaintances, etc. And they’re might also be differences in how crime statistics are calculated in the two countries.

    Anyway, just thought this debate could benefit from some actual facts.

  31. You want dangerous desolation and the risk of getting whacked? Go to downtown Brantford, Belleville, whatever–great place to get gay-bashed without being gay…

  32. i’ve lived in tokyo, so i’ll take DL’s invitation to respond. most of the streets in tokyo are just as deserted as those in toronto late at night. the trains stop at midnight. yet tokyo has one of the lowest crime rates of any major city worldwide. the reasons why are complex. urban density, police deployment, the justice system, and culture all play a role. but ultimately every city is unique and comparisons only go so far in the search for causality or truth. toronto is not new york, not tokyo, not london. so our streets may not bustle between the hours of 12-5am (especially in february). what remedy do you suggest – turn all the rich people out of their beds each night to forcibly repopulate the streets with “trustworthy” citizens? 365 nuit blanches perhaps?

  33. Toronto is totally safe, try living in Miami where I had a drive-by shooting in the middle of my gated community. Or, if you want something a little closer to home, go for a walk at night anywhere in Durham Region, now that’s terrifying.

  34. Shawn Micaleff says “But again, it’s always stunning how one incident can get some people and certain groups claiming the criminal sky is falling.” Yet he’s the one who is contemplating Bernie Goetz after this one incident. Nice.

    I can certainly empathize with Jessica Hume, but the sentence “I’d have assumed they were alienated youths,… people who don’t feel represented by their politicians” just screams “out of touch!”

  35. The Guiliani factor has pretty much been discredited and the Freak story gives the best overall take on that.

    What non-New Yorkers are not aware of is that Guiliani was not was really that popular of a mayor until 9/11. His city hall was a constant whirl of infighting and partisan politics. Many residents were weary of his style of government, treating the Mayors residencefor example as a private castle. Guiliani has always been more popular outside of New York and 9/11 only added to lustre although now some of that shine is wearing thin under the spotlight of a national campaign.

    I travel for a living and and Fantino like rehtoric aside, Toronto is a small safe city not unlike many other cities of the same size around the world. Where Toronto needs improvement is in making the city safe everywhere; the sad reality is that deep down most people only get upset when something happpens in their community. We collectively need to get upset about crime and safety in all areas such as those identified in the United Way report (by the way calling Parkdale impovrished is a bit of a reach now).

    I should also mention that historically those that shout about crime and guns and law and order the loudest are also the least likely to want to invest in a safe society for all.

  36. I lived in Tokyo too. A couple of things: crime is under reported in Japan, and yes it feels safe. However, I am a 6′ male. There is a lot of sexual assault on females in Japan, for the usual complex variety of causes, none justifiable. One cause is that it is not taken as seriously by the police, or by the culture, as it is here, however inadequate it is taken here.

    Another issue in North American crime is our heightened sensitivity to race, since we are a heterogenous society. Jessica Hume does not state their race, but quoting their language implies it. It is a relevant issue from a socio-economic view to finding solutions, but it has obvious dangers. The fact is that the majority of any community is law obeying, though larger minorities of some communities than others are charged with crimes. If we shy away from asking whether that’s due more to policing or social pathologies we are not going to improve the status quo. Likewise, if a community in question refuses to abide a sincere discussion, they are not going to improve the status quo.

    Since we do not live in a utopia, stay away from unpopulated areas, scan well ahead, wear shoes you can run in, and be ready to hand your stuff over. Do not get yourself or your friend hurt or worse, because through pride or instinct you do not hand over. You can cancel your cards and earn cash again.

  37. Jen> Thanks for noticing the nuance I was getting at. That when you read of these accounts, or when it’s personal, it’s easy to feel this way even if you generally don’t view the world like that. Some of the other commentors have also picked up on this shift of perceptions that Jessica had as well.

  38. Shawn, it wasn’t nuance, it was a sledgehammer. Not my point.

  39. That there has been 40 posts on this story is a testament to the value of providing first person accounts of such events. It is a tangible experience free from the baggage of theory and ideology. To criticize the writer for being naive or melodramatic is unfair armchair philosophising. Jessica Hume should be applauded for honestly sharing her experience, naive assumptions, wing-shifts and all. We need more of that from journalists, objectivism be dammed.

  40. On a micro level, everyone needs to be held to account for their actions and, to that end, I agree with Jessica Hume’s sentiments. Though I think suddenly rejecting complex social analysis of the root causes of crime is probably a gut reaction from a person coping with great emotional injury.

    But regardless of the specifics of Jessica Hume’s column, it seems the reason this story was printed as a first person account was because she’s the daughter of long-time Star columnist Christopher Hume. This type of voice just doesn’t get offered to a person who lives in the neighbourhoods Toronto Star columnists wouldn’t live in.

    If this had happened in Jane-Finch to someone without a Star columnist in the family, at the most, it would have been a 300 word straight news story with a quote from one of the victims saying they no longer feel safe.

    Part of the alienation factor in Toronto’s poorer neighbourhoods is that when they experience/see crimes like the one perpetrated on Hume, no one cares enough to listen to what they have to say about it. Then they turn around one day and see that as soon as the crime happens to a person from a middle-income family suddenly the concern is so big that it merits a 750 word column from the victim published in the most read newspaper in the country.

    Being given a chance to speak about your experience is part of getting over the feeling of being a victim so, on that level, I’m glad Hume had the chance to do that. But some victims’ voices, like Hume’s, are amplified while others are never heard. And deciding which ones get heard generally has a lot to do with where the victim has come from. This unequal distribution of voice is part of the reason why some neighbourhoods are resiliant in the face of tragedy while others struggle to bounce back.

    So I hope that if the Star is going to start granting 750 words to people for first person horror stories that they recruit writers from a diversity of places within Toronto and that they also solicit a few of the good stories, too, because they really do out number the bad in this city. If it isn’t prepared to do that then Jessica Hume’s column really had no place in the Star and speaks more to how people with different social status deal with adversity differently than anything else.

  41. Jen> It was a crowbar, and I think I have entirely missed your point then — please explain.

    Adam> I see you point — but are you sure the Star hasn’t given space for long, first person accounts of crime before, or are you speculating?

  42. Adam > I completely agree that other voices must be heard as well, and would hope the Star would consider such a regular feature. And yes, I also agree that postive experiences far outweigh the negative and should be equally, if not more represented in the media.

    However, I still wonder if the criticism of this article would be as loud if Jessica was ‘not’ Christopher Hume’s daughter.

  43. Shawn, I read the Star almost religiously and I can’t recall another similar first person account (I’m not sure how I could verify this to give you a percise yes/no answer.)

    The Star has done a handful of long feature stories that give more of a voice to people in neighbourhoods with a disproportionate amount of poverty and crime (there was a good one by Gabe Gonda on Lawrence Heights in 2005) but the voices and emotions are still very much filtered through the writer.

    Todd, I’m not sure what you mean in your second paragraph. If it’s directed at the number of posts the article solicited then I don’t think you’re right because until I introduced Jessica’s connection to the Star then it either wasn’t known about and/or considered relevant by the other posters. If you’re talking about the criticism I have of the article then you’re right to some degree. My first paragraph would be relevant regardless of who wrote the article. But the rest of my post was intended to be critical of keeping access to the pages of the Star within the “Star family” and not offering their medium to people who have less of a voice because they don’t have the all important ‘in’ at a major media outlet. However, my points would be relevant were it any vetern Star writer’s family member, not just Christoper Hume’s.

  44. Adam> That’s fine. I don’t read it, or any paper, religiously enough to say with certainty either way. There’s probably a grad student or two who’s done a quantitative media study about this I bet.

  45. As a follow-up thought to Shawn’s question, the people on the Star’s Communiy Editorial Board get to write some first person material but I can’t recall an article dealing with anything as hard-hitting as a first-hand description of a violent incident. Though to the Star’s credit, the CEB is diverse by just about every measure.

  46. Todd > I had no idea who Christopher Hume even was before reading your post and googling him.

  47. Adam > I still feel that Jessica’s article was insightful, and I don’t think I’m alone. It was ranked 3rd on my Toronto Star Most Read RSS feed on Sunday. This article for whatever reason captured people’s attention. My thought is because it was honest, and yes, dramatic.

    I would like to think that Jessica was asked to write the story because she made a compelling pitch, but perhaps your argument that it is a family thing is true. I still find it hard to imagine father Hume calling the editors asking them to run his daughter’s story, but maybe that’s how it works. I hope not.

  48. Todd >

    I’m pretty sure this kind of nepotism is pretty common at the Star. I’ve seen the work of various journalist-offspring in print dozens of times, many of which were first-person accounts. At the Star, first-person accounts are generally limited to those written by staff journalists, their offspring, or celebrities (Emily Haines, for example).

    But why are you so incredulous?

    That’s how the media works. The media is not a democratic space, and has never claimed to be one. The people who get airtime and their voices in print, are those who have connections to the various media gatekeepers. That’s why you hear from some voices waaaaaay more than others; those with gatekeeper connections are a very small group compared to those who don’t. It’s these media gatekeepers who designate certain people as “experts,” and why you hear from the same voices every time a particular issue is discussed. As the resident Toronto Tree Expert, you should be familiar with this concept.

    Privileging the-daughter-of-Hume’s voice is no different than the regular privileging of certain voices that goes on in the media every minute of every day.

    But anyway, Spacing works the same way. It’s a close-knit group of people who pick and choose who will get their words, images and ideas in print. Just like the Star, it’s not, and has never claimed to be, a democratic “public” space.

    If you want to hear from a diversity of perspectives, then you gatekeepers out there need to make a pointed effort to solicit and print those perspectives. People generally don’t write to the paper with “it happened to me” stories when they get mugged, because they aren’t invited to do so. The Star is understood to be a newspaper, not a public forum. The owness is on the media elite themselves to create a less elitist media.

  49. The Toronto Star is a closed shop — union that is, the Guild — which is why you don’t see a lot of freelance/different voices. Should we bust the union?

    Otherwise yes, it’s like a giant incestuous conspiracy. Awful stuff. Hardcore reality, manufacturing consent, etc. These gatekeepers though, how much do they get paid? I’d like to get paid if I’m doing a job, especially one that sounds kind of bossy.

  50. Shawn, your ignorance and lack of self-awareness never ceases to amaze me. Really. I’m awestruck.

  51. Sure. But you’re making massive claims about this place and that place — mile-wide textbook rhetoric — that I’m not sure what it is you’re actually talking about. You’ve got an strident ideological view of the world — which you express here freely and often — but I do wish you would attach it to more real examples to the things. The ideology is worth making fun of when you say a guy who talks about trees is the gatekeeper of tree-information.

    This blog is about as open a democratic forum as you can get — we rarely delete a comment — with a gaping hole at the end of each post waiting for and inviting people people to fill it in with their opinion and ideas. But at most (and being generous), the ratio between people who read this blog, and those who comment is 200 to 1.

    One anecdotal counter to your polemic, but there must be an ideological explanation for it.

  52. Alright, so without examples, you feel that my statements are ideology.

    Let me illustrate this Gatekeeper concept for you. Hey, Matt Blackett: I’ve written an article about cheese that I think would be really great for Spacing [Magazine]. Now Shawn, what do you think happens next? Does my cheese article magically end up in print? No, it doesn’t. First Matt will say, “well, let me have a look at that article,” thereby letting my cheese article through the gate. When Matt realizes that my article is not even remotely connected to urban/space issues, he will politely tell me so, and send me and my article packing, thereby shutting the gate. If I write a really great piece on advertising in the city’s public spaces, I would be faced with the same process. If Matt likes my article and chooses to publish it, he has opened the gate. In this example, Matt is a Gatekeeper, meaning that he is in a position of power when it comes to putting ideas/images/stories in print, because he is the one with the power to open and close that gate. Period. There is nothing ideological about the concept of gatekeeping as it relates to the media, it’s just the way it works. Which is why blogging made such a splash, because it made online broadcast (meaning cast broadly) available to the masses with limited resources, no gatekeeper required. It’s not a perfect situation, since computer literacy, literacy in general, computer access, etc. are not available to everyone, but it’s a start. Now, the SpacingWire is a different kind of forum. There are still gatekeepers. In conventional-media-style, Gatekeepers choose which “newstories” to publish and which stories not to publish. The comment section is a bit different, because the public is allowed to comment, and the Gatekeepers have adopted a policy of keeping the gate open and publishing all comments. It doesn’t mean that the Gatekeepers don’t exist. It means that those in positions of power have CHOSEN to allow equal access by the public to this particular portion of the website. Which is great, but my voice is still relegated to the comments section, while yours is up there on the main page.

    So hopefully, you now recognize that I didn’t mean that Todd was the Gatekeeper of Tree Information. I meant that the media has declared Todd an expert of tree information, and so the Gatekeepers regularly let his voice past the gates. When I read the paper/listen to the radio, the voice talking about tree issues is more often than not his. Now maybe Todd IS the person in the city who is the most well-versed on tree issues, but that’s not always the case with the media’s appointed “experts.” I am always incredibly annoyed when I end up listening to Michael Hinka, CBC Metro Morning’s “Business Commentator” go on and on about government social spending, Millers “revenue tools”, etc. because he readily acknowledges that he knows NOTHING about the public sector. He’s a private sector “expert” that has been given access to the airwaves to provide his two thousand cents on subject matter way beyond his realm of expertise.

    Anyway, I could go on about this, but I have to get going. If I’m not making my points clear in this forum, it’s because I’M NOT A WRITER. It takes me forever to type these bloody things, and I’m often less than articulate when I do so. IT DOESN’T MEAN THAT MY VOICE IS LESS LEGITIMATE THAN YOURS, OR THAT I DON’T HAVE SOMETHING WORTHWHILE TO CONTRIBUTE. It means that this form of communication privileges those who NOT ONLY have easier access through those media gates, but those who have an aptitude for journalistic-style writing. Not all of us do, yunno, which is I why I particularly resent it when you, one of the already privileged few, slam me when I voice my 2 cents or undermine what I write. Feedback is great, discussions are fine, but you ATTACK, and I get so angry that I ATTACK BACK.

    ANYWAY, if you really want to have a discussion, invite me out for a beer, because this is BY FAR not the easiest forum for me to express myself. It’s just the only one I have.

  53. There’s something to be said about the notion of “gatekeeper” — and that’s what this discussion was about I thought. But you’re also demonstrating the need for gatekeepers, melissa, because I don’t want to read an article about cheese here, and I don’t want to read articles by people who can’t write,  just like I don’t want my pipes fixed by somebody that isn’t a plumber or my body examined by somebody who isn’t a doctor. You jumped into this discussion with the language of attack, even if you thought you weren’t attacking. All your words are loaded, which I believe is what they mean by “ideological.” And it is difficult to see beyond that. Editors make a product for people to read. I have seen magazines and websites where anything goes, and they’re unreadable, about nothing, and reach nobody.
    No cheese, please (or rants).


  54. Melissa > A writer was mugged so the writer wrote about it. If a teacher was mugged the teacher would teach about it, if a rapper was mugged the rapper would rap about it, and so on. I guess my point is that I find it strange to fault a writer for writing about their experience. As I have said in an earlier post, it is vital that other voices are heard and written about as well, but in this instance it seemed completely reasonable that the Star would run such an article. It was compelling.

    In no way does publishing this one article in any way exclude others, in fact, it might create a demand for such articles and send the Star out looking for more. As you point out though, the Star may also be lazy and take more and more first person stories from the likes of Sheila Heti, Shawn Micallef, Todd Irvine, etc. Again, I would they would look further a field (um, well, um), but I do not have the good fortune of being a Star editor.

    I think the spacing editors do the best they can to provide a forum for different ideas and viewpoints (a better job than many of the larger media outlets in the city). There of course is always room to grow and new areas of the city to reach, but on a tiny shoestring budget and with no wages for themselves, going to Lawrence Heights in Scarborough to search out the ideal first person narrative is not an easy task. This is not to say they should not try and find a way to do so (which they are), but only to make the point that there are fair and legitimate (and non-malicious) reasons why they do not.

    I have no doubt that Spacing will only continue to expand and include more voices once they have the money to pay staff to go find such stories. Also in their defence, each issue has well over 40 contributors from many different fields, backgrounds and viewpoints, many of who are not writers by trade, but rather do it out of a passion to learn more. The number of budding journalist careers that Spacing has helped to launch is now likely in the mid 30’s. It is a valuable asset to this city, deficiencies and all. Your criticisms are valid, and I know from talking to the editors (at our bi-monthly gatekeeper parties) are considered and reflected upon. However, your combative, righteous tone is a big-time wall builder. Please, more thoughtful reflections (which I feel you often provide), but please, less finger wagging and name calling, it is so divisive.

  55. This discussion got way off topic.

    If I may add to the distraction, I think Melissa thinks no one else understands how media works and decided to write her term paper on it here on the Wire.

    The Gatekeeper idea is an old notion that has always been a philosophical debate. BUt the world is now a gatekeeper. The Gatekeeper is dead.

    There is nothing stopping Melissa or anyone else from starting a blog. Then you become the Gatekeeper (but since everyone who owns a computer, 75% of Canadians) than no one is the gatekeeper.

    Please remember that what Spacing has done is made it a popular discussion, not with money or marketing campaigns but with ideas. The people that come to visit choose to, and the disucssion has grown organically over the years. That’s why I like this blog (but sometimes loath the lewngthy comment sections, except for the transit comments).

    I’m glad people like Melissa are aware of the intracacies of the media, but save it for your university class. The rerst of us are aware of this and your tone is so belittling – not just to Spacing, but to every other reader.

  56. Todd, I don’t dispute that Jessica’s article was popular. But that wasn’t at all my point. My point was that Jessica Hume’s voice is a very similar voice to those that get heard enmasse in the mainstream media.

    So by making my point I was hoping that people would stop for a second to consider all of the other people who experience violence without being given a voice because they aren’t as privileged and well-connected as Jessica Hume.

    Shawn, I’m not suggesting union busting. The Star clearly has provisions in its collective agreement to allow for a diversity of opinions and perspectives to be published along side the work of bargaining unit scribes. After all, they gave Jessica Hume 750 words as a freelance writer.

  57. This story of a mugging was published in the Sunday Star and Car Advertiser on the same page as a story about how it’s “break and enter season.” Don’t let anyone tell you that there wasn’t an editorial decision to ramp up fear among Torontonians about crime in our city, for whatever reason.

    Obviously, from the comments, the decision has worked.

    The fact is, no one who has written comments here has looked at the specifics of the situation: the writer is talking about Phin park, she’s talking about a footpath that runs between Eastern Commerce High school and its soccer field, she’s talking about an “unlit alleyway” that her shortcut to safety in the west side of Riverdale crosses.

    People should go have a look at the scene. It’s at the eastern edge of Riverdale, east of Jones Ave and south of the Danforth. The path leads north straight to the Only Cafe, and south into the “Pocket,” so named because all the roads in and out come from Jones Ave. But before it reaches the Only Cafe, it passes a suburban-style parking lot outside a 24-hour 7-11, a place that attracts litter and offers an opportunity to watch for victims heading for the path.

    Then the problem with the path itself is the lack of front doors opening onto it–it’s a back alley, it’s the back yards against the park, it’s the rear of the school.

    Go look at Phin Park. The back yards abutting it on the north are 200 feet long. Why couldn’t they have granny flats opening onto the park, with a little carfree path leading between the front doors and the playground–light spilling from living room windows is a lot more effective than a streetlight at chasing away demons. Look at the “unlit laneway.” Why couldn’t all those garages have apartments built up top, providing eyes on the Eastern Commerce running track night and day?

    I write as someone who’s lived in Boston, New York, Tokyo and Portland Oregon, not to mention St John’s. But you know what? You don’t need to leave Toronto to find examples of great urbanism. The little park at the end of Wellesley street in Cabbagetown is an example of what all our parks could be: with front doors opening right onto the green. The carfree utopia of Toronto Island, with its “capped” 500-name waiting list, tells us all we need to know about what we could be building everywhere.

    This story doesn’t holler to me about the need for a fraudulent “crime sweep” a la Rudy Giulianni–a situation where everyone poor is a suspect. Nor does it holler about the need to import solutions from “away,” using “experts” from New York, Boston, Tokyo or Portland Oregon. Hey–it’s thanks to those outside experts that we have urban sprawl (imported from Levittown N.J.) “highrises in the park” (imported from NYC “projects” by Le Corbusier wanna-bes) and motorways that “lift and separate” (the Detroit model).

    What this story hollers about is the need for increased low-scale density and more eyes on the street (and the park), built on the existing models that we know work in Toronto already.

  58. Shawn> My point was how you invoking Bernie Goetz because of one mugging and then hyprocritically chastising people for thinking the sky was falling because of one mugging.

    In general, though, the whole thing just seemed like such a very painful public exhibition of an out-of-touch, i-feel-your-pain urban hipster’s romantic notion of living amongst the people come crashing to the ground. (The article was a fine first-person account of a really unfortunate slice of life, until this phrase – “people who don’t feel represented by their politicians”.)

  59. Mitchell Miles,

    75 percent of Canadians own computers, but which 75 percent? Not the poorest. I wonder what the figure is globally. I wonder about the demographics of those without computers and internet, worldwide.

    Even with a computer, an internet connection, and a blog, getting readership takes a considerable investment of time, money, skill, and knowledge. These are things most of us have not been able to acquire in such abundance.

    Virgina Woolf once pointed out that the vast majority of published writers were of middle or upper class origins, with access to considerable resources, and I don’t think that situation has changed much despite new technologies. So I think the critique of this article based on its source is valid – one crime inflicted on someone with profile and suddenly Toronto’s a haven of stranger-danger?

    As bb pointed out, it’s just fear mongering. There are dangers everywhere, but one privileged woman’s encounter with them offers about as much insight into the issue of public space as Britney’s hair fiasco.

  60. Adam> The Star does publish “good” stories. It’s a section called “Acts of Kindness” and focuses on readers’ contributions. There have been stories from both residents and visitors.

  61. heyy ppl u all wastin ur tym arguing nd dicussing. don’t jus talk. take action!

  62. Whether journalism is democratic or not is besides the point. Those who are published have earned that right. Regardless of whether there is a connection within the family or the broader journalistic/urban issues community, talent and hard-earned skill are a fundamental prerequisite for publication. Those of you who fail to recognize this come off sounding ignorant, and, to return the insult ‘naive’. When you have worked for your own representation within the journalistic industry (and I’m not referring to your blog)then feel free to criticize other writers. Just make sure you have some facts or personal accounts to substantiate your feedback. Until then, you discredit whatever point you are trying to make. Grow up.

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