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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Is it cute multiculturalism or scary hooliganism?

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A few of us have been complaining about the World Cup celebrations going on around Toronto. Quietly, to ourselves, not wanting to be the inevitable naysayer or rain on somebody’s else’s parade. I even want to like it.

One of my greatest Toronto moments ever was walking north up Clinton at 4AM in 2002, coming from some party on Niagara, starting to hear cheering in the distance. By the time I got to Bloor, there were hundreds of Korean fans (and instant Korean fans like me) crowded around the entrances to café’s with TVs. In a lightest of rain, I ended up sitting in the middle of Manning watching Korea win on a big screen pointed to the street, with maybe 200 other orderly folks who only stood up in moments of excitement. When they won, there were instantly thousands of Koreans (and pretend Koreans like me) filling up Bloor. As the sun came up, we marched all the way to Bloor and back to Little Korea. It was fantastic, beautiful, unplanned and joyous. I walked back to my house in Seaton Village pretty sure I saw the moment Toronto’s Korean community said “we’re part of Toronto too.”

This World Cup though, there are maniacs out in the streets before the games even begin, screaming and baying, seemingly ready to drag ethnic corpses through the streets like Toronto was Mogadishu. Sweaty, drunken, shirtless nationalism performing for TV cameras — nothing seems organic or natural and most importantly, happy. On Dundas last week the Fire Department had to hose the blood off the streets after a brawl. In today’s Globe, John Barber wrote one of his best columns ever on this, saying:

There have already been at least three soccer celebrants stabbed in Toronto, one fatally, in an atmosphere of rising violence that soccer-seasoned police say caught them completely off guard.


Never before has such violence erupted during the early round of World Cup play, according to Insp. Kinsman, a veteran of the downtown divisions where the most flags flap every four years. “I just find the level of incivility this time around is incredibly high,” he said.

The differences in 2006 include an unusual number of assaults, an epidemic of dangerous driving and the noticeable participation of youth gang members in the so-called celebrations, according to Insp. Kinsman.

People are driving the streets with children hanging out the windows or sitting on the hoods of their cars. They are dancing on the roofs of police cruisers. They are invading rivals’ turf and picking fights. They are behaving, as befitting the tourney’s universalistic claims, like the world’s biggest idiots.

For those of us who have no team, the enemy is everybody who does. Whatever its colour, a flag flying from a car window signals aggression. Last week I saw something I have never seen before in Toronto: a driver honking angrily, shaking his fist and shouting at people getting on and off a streetcar at a stop, blocking his lane. Naturally, it seemed at the time, his car was covered in flags.

One friend asked, why do Portuguese fans crowd into their pocket rocket Honda’s, their vision obscured by flags, and sit idle in their own traffic on Dundas? Why don’t they walk? And why do we tolerate it (and why do I feel guilty for starting not to tolerate it)? Why do we tolerate riding our bikes through the city and getting whacked by flags attached to passing cars? Why is passing through some neighbourhoods after a win like running a drunken, macho, aggressive date-rape-ready gauntlet? This isn’t what Trudeau had in mind. Maybe my patience is running out and fear I might start repeating what I heard an Italian fan say to a car simply driving by with an English flag when I see this aggressive un-Torontonian stuff: Go fuck yourselves.

Image via BBC of happy Toronto Korea fans



  1. I mostly don’t mind the fans (and I live is a fairly Portugese neighbourhood). I agree with you to the extent that the city must have a limit to what it will tolerate and stabbings are definitely not something we should tolerate. I did, however, find it unfair that you would describe the crowd as “date-rape-ready”. I don’t think anyone is being accused of date rape. Even if some of these people fit a profile of date rapers (I’m not sure that they do), it seems a bit harsh to accuse them of something like that.

  2. My short hand adjective for agressive and scary machoness is “date rape”. Maybe harsh, but have had some frightening pogrom feeling bike rides the last few weeks.

  3. Drunken brawls and dangerous soccer ‘rallies’ should come to people as no surprise. Toronto is a multicultural and when so many nations are put together, often within walking distance of each other, rivalries erupt and innocent civilians get hurt. Through tolerance, you only encourage the violence to escalate further.

    The problem at the heart of this is hard-core nationalism. No one teaches against it as it would cause knee-jerk cries of racism and bigotry; hard-core nationalism is only encouraged in throughout the system, possibly for votes and for recognition.

    I went to elementary and middle school in Scarborough as the population turned from mostly white to mostly immigrant. Some changes happened gradually and some changes happened suddenly. It was in grade 4 that I first heard of a culture lunch. By grade 6, we were having two a year. During Christmas time in my early grades, our principal and our music teacher would grab their instruments and get children into the gymnasium to sing Christmas carols to put us into the Christmas spirit. In grade 5, it was soon cut out, replaced by forced class presentations about how other cultures celebrate Christmas (no one refused to present but I cannot begin to imagine what would happen if you did).

    My infantile mind saw nothing wrong with it, but in hindsight, it was no worse than forcing a Muslim to attend the Christmas office party, and thinking of them bad if they did not.

    It is through these little things that Canadian nationalism is chipped away, little by little, and patched up with random bits of multicultural nationalism. This is definitely not what Trudeau had in mind.

  4. I also liked Barber’s column. It reminded me of the craziest World Cup- related incident I encountered. During the last World Cup, I was driving along Lawrence in Scarborough, near Warden. Stopped at a light, a guy in the next car honked, then yelled at me to do so. I refused, which produced a steady stream of expletives about having no love for their country. Driving along that stretch of Lawrence is stressful enough – I didn’t need to be further distracted.

  5. I wonder if we’d even be having this debate about public craziness if say it was…oh…game 7 of the Stanley Cup Maple Leafs versus big bad other team or if it was the Olympic Ice Hockey. I don’t think we would, at least not us good ol’ Canadian Canadians. What worries me about all this hoopla around the World Cup celebrations (beyond real concern about stabbings) is the subtle racist undertones of the entire thing. You comment that its those lousy Portuguese, or those crazy Koreans while all us non Korean or non Portugese have to put up with there craziness.

    I find it offensive on John Barber’s (or Christie Batchford’s garbble last week) to imply there is anything un Canadian about cheering for your home country in soccer for 4 weeks when soccer is actually played on TV in Canada. When it’s us in the Olympics and we’re on ice not grass it’s suddenly good Canada rah-rah. We should accept the fact that in Scarborough and North York they’re close old ice arena and replacing them with soccer feilds and cricket pitches, or that on most weekends people are playing soccer over the baseball diamonds in Christie Pits. I think maybe the best solution would be to feild a Canadian team capable to get to the World Cup again (little known fact being we were in the 1986 World Cup).

    I remember one summer ago working at a City of Toronto camp where it was mainly children from central Scarborough and the Jane/Finch area and we played a game where they had to say three things, 2 truths and one lie and then the group had to guess which was the lie. When one girl said “I like soccer, I like basketball and I like hockey” all her friends immediately chirped up “it’s hockey! only white folk like hockey!”

  6. I’m glad you posted about this. I’m actually finding it more tolerable this year that I have in past years. I’m not sure why. I live in Little Portugal a couple of blocks from the brawl a couple of weeks ago. I’m learning to cope with the honking and screaming by telling myself that a little joyous celebration is good for us in the city. I don’t like the traffic but as a cyclist/pedestrian it doesn’t bother me like it would bother a motorist. But I don’t like that there are tonnes of cars just driving around or sitting around in summer when we already have so much smog.

    Despite my coordinates I haven’t been feeling threatened by the soccer thugs this year, but I understand what you’re saying with the date-rape-ready remark, I think. I mean I know what it’s like to feel vaguely threatened in a crowd of testosterone-fuelled men.

  7. You are starting to really like your position on that soap box aren’t you? I have heard these types of complaints a lot more lately and while I do not agree I can appreciate that this may be a nuisance to those who quite frankly could care less about the World Cup. What I find unfortunate though is that we are starting to really focus on the negatives of everything and not enjoying the positives. I still believe that for the most part, these celebrations that are precipitated by Football victories is what Trudeau imagined and I for one am enjoying the festivities. Cheer up Shawn.

  8. My problem with the World Cup “celebrations” is that rarely do people get this exctied about OUR homegrown teams.

    Where are the honking cars, and fluttering flags when a Canadian team does well? When Edmonton was winning all of those playoff games, where was the support?

    When Canadian Olympic teams (save for the 2002 Men’s hockey team) kick ass, where are the instant marches down Yonge or Bloor, or hell, Dundas or College?

    When I see the very rare car or truck with a Canadian flag attached to it’s backseat window, I feel like shouting “wahoo! yaaay Canada!”, and Im left wondering (again!) what has happened to our national pride?

  9. Dave> In the 2nd issue of Spacing I wrote about watching drunken hockey fans doing similar things down yonge street….boyfriends wearing maple leafs, pushing their girlfriends into the dundas square fountains, etc. after team canada won. that wasn’t what Pearson had in mind.

    Nick> I think, in general, i like our canadian version of little nationalisms wrapped up in canadian identity. it’s how i grew feeling, feeling both “canadian” and “something else” at the same time. it’s this particular world cup that seems over the top and violent.
    I’m glad some people are having different experiences though, like the happy Little Korea stuff I’ve seen. Or up in Jane and Finch last week when Ghana won. That was nice.

  10. Dave – “least not us good ol’ Canadian Canadians.” are you being sarcastic? (please say yes)

    is that an ironic parody of what a (white) canadian would say about themselves, in order to set themselves apart as ‘true, genuine’ Canadians (i.e. the ones who get the final say, and whose needs, opinions, and position matter most in these kinds of debates?)

    i hope so.

    Shawn, i can’t get the feeling that you’re writing this from a supremely self-satisfied place of misplaced hipster disdain, rather than genuinely critical reflection. take a closer look – is your soapbox full of shit?

  11. It is difficult to comment on a subject that is based on nationality and culture.

    I think some people have over-reacted just becuz Shawn is willing to write about this and call out people, no matter their background, on doing stupid things. I don’t think Shawn said he didn’t like anyone celebrating, it is how it is done. Especially when people are doing silly things that endanger others besides themseleves. It’s great to see people get out and celebrate, but when it is done in idling cars while leaning on the horn for hours at a time instead of getting out of their cars, it can be a real downer. Stop traffic instead of make traffic.

    I was nearly clotheslined three times the other day after Portugal won as I rode my bike along Queen.

    I think the same goes for Leaf playoff victories. It gets stupid pretty quickly. And I love the Leafs. I just wish it wasn’t the moronic part of our species that  dominated these celebrations.

  12. Why would you ride your bike through a crowd? Wouldn’t it make sense to get off and walk through or take side streets?

  13. It wasn’t a crowd. Random cars were driving around and kept lunging their flags out the window without looking to see if anyone was around. I can only keep an eye out for those things, I can’t stop someone from being reckless.

    Plus, there are very few sidestreets to take east-west if you live just off Queen like I do. I would walk or slow right down if it was a crowd, but as Shawn pointed out, a lot of the celebrations for Portugal have taken place in cars, not on streets (or localized) like you find with Ghana, Korea and Brazil.

  14. Sounds like Shawn got it exactly right.

    At the beginning fo the World Cup play I was talking with come colleagues at work (all of whom but myself are in a highly competitive World Cup pool)that if I was going to cheer for any team, it would be a team that has no large nationalistic representation in Toronto.

    No “Little—–” or “—–town’s,” no areas of the city to avoid because of the threat of unprovoked civil violence, no unnecessary negative nationalist stereotypes finding new strength.

    Just people – just communities – just soccar fans. Is it possible?

  15. I was supposed to attend a wedding on Sunday when Portugal won. The location is a club in Little Portugal. I was called by my wife (who manages the club) and told to NOT come down: there were riot police on horseback struggling to get some control, and what I saw when I did go down was that they were needed; and that was when things had calmed down somewhat. If I weren’t a big, fit, middle aged guy, it would have been really scary.

    Don’t get me wrong. I spend a lot of time in the Portuguese community. I can speak a reasonable Portuguese (I’m a mungiecake). The Portuguese & Brazilian community is misunderstood and unfairly characterized by a lot of people in Toronto, in particular by the downtown hipsters (in my experience). But this was a dangerous situation, and by not saying that these events are crossing limits, there’s an implicit lowering of expectations that most people in those communities (I’m not just thinking of the Portuguese here) would not want: plenty of Portuguese people I know found it threatening, including Brazilian and Portuguese people in the club.

    There were kids at the wedding, and all the parents were far too worried to risk letting their kids near the door or windows of the place, where bottles were being broken regularly, and flags being swung around by people whose judgement, if they have any, had abandoned them.

    That said, you have to make a distinction. The Brazilian parties near Cevejaria have been fun, upbeat and welcoming when I’ve been, and that applies to the last WC as well. This is about bad behaviour, not the idea of celebrating in the street. It doesn’t have to be nationalistic in a negative sense, but pride in your home country’s win is part of the fun. A lot of people bring a street culture that is more vital than North American street culture has become; part of multiculturalism is the incumbent population making adaptation to the newcomers, not only the other direction.

  16. People sit in front of TV’s and watch a game then race from the bar to drive around in their car honking their horn. Now thats sports at it’s best.

    The World Cup is best when everybody (usually the Brazillians) starts dancing and leaves their cars parked.

    I agree with Shawn that this year the celebrating has taken on a meaner crazier spirit that seems to be more about taunting and humiliation than having a good time. It seems to me that it used to be that one could join ant party by any group. This year I feel a sense of exclusion based on race. Too bad. It used to be so much fun.

  17. dawn, yes I was being sarcastic, sorry for any confusion. It’s nice to see a lot of discussion.

  18. Another Little Portugal resident here… and I’ve lived here since the last world cup also. This time around is definitely crazier. No matter if I’m on my bike or in my car, I feel like someone is going to kill me. The worst was actually after Portugal’s first win when I was riding along College between Ossington and Dovercourt. There were people EVERYWHERE.. I was being hit by flags.. beer bottles were thrown (not AT me, thankfully).. and there was a car doing burnouts right in the middle. I think there was about a half dozen police officers around, but there wasn’t much they could do.

    I think the second worst thing was riding along College at about 9pm last Thursday (I think) when I had to dodge huge piles of horse crap every 15′ all the way through Little Portugal/Italy. oy!

  19. I’ve been really irratated by the celebrations too, probably more so because of having to drive that airstream through the city this time of year. But here’s the thing: I generally don’t mind cheering, but I _HATE_ honking. I hate honking because when driving the gigantic beast I think that people are honking at me, but more than that I hate honking because it seems like such a lazy way of cheering. Seriously, go ahead an use your lungs and cheer and hoot, but leaning on a horn is just noisy and abrasive.

    I think that it’s the honking that makes the traffic worse, even when it’s I-love-my-soccer honking, there’s something about the noise that gets people’s guards up and makes them aggresive _and_ defensive and thus makes traffic work. And then there’s more honking.

  20. I thought this was one of John Barber’s worst columns. John Barber’s column was weary, moralistic, white, English-Canadian bred complaining. And quite a few of the comments here matched his moralistic approach of asking why can’t these people support Canadian teams? Or: why can’t they give up their former nationalisms? Like this is something that we could change without a police state. Shall we indoctrinate all newcomers?

    Let’s just focus on the things we could change. Let’s discourage car use in general, then we’d see a lot more people cheering and waving flags madly on bike or on foot. These fans like their cars – like that’s a big surprise in Toronto for people of any nationality.

    Let’s find ways to make the celebrations less violent through more police presence or more education or by giving them alternative space to celebrate. I don’t have easy answers.

  21. wow, world cup season is my favourite. i see more spontaneous conversations erupting between strangers (the best was between a young black trini man working for a brazilian restaurant and a tiny old german white lady who waxed rhapsodic about the time she met “the great pele” and then they wished each other’s teams a very civil good luck), more impromtu celebrations on transit, strangers playing pick-up soccer in parking lots, outside churches, in the hydro fields, more generally positive social interaction than at any other time. people in my neighbourhood are flying brazilian AND ukrainian flags, or angolan and french or whatever. if you didn’t have a team, you cheered the soca warriors while you could. the media are paying positive attention to neglected suburban neighbourhoods and etnic communities that usually only make the papers when someone gets killed. barber and blatchford mostly strike me as being bitter that they weren’t invited to the party.

  22. I was compelled to visit this website after I read the excerpt of the article in the National Post. In fact, I only picked up the National Post, because as I was walking home from work this evening, I caught a glimpse of the headline “Urban Scrawl- Is it multicultural celebration or just hooliganism? World Cup fans are getting aggressive” with the picture of the young man smiling holding a Portuguese flag and immediately got my back up. I was hoping against hope that the article inside would not portray a negative stereotypical impression of my ethnic community, but sadly I was wrong. “Why do Portuguese fans crowd into their pocket rocket Hondas, their vision obscured by flags, and sit idle in their own traffic on Dundas?… Why is passing through some neighbourhoods after a win like running a drunken gauntlet”. Thank goodness they did not publish the date rape part, I would have lost it (probably in my sterotypical hot latin way – I may have even shed some blood on the street that a hard-working presumably “Canadian” firefighter would have to wash up). Are you kidding me! How can this venom pass as journalism? Shame on you Mr. Micallef for putting a voice to such ignorance and intolerance.

  23. Grace> I’m 100% intolerant of violence running wild in the streets of Toronto, making me fear for my own safety. I’m also intolerant of defenses of this violence that interpret any reaction against it as somehow being ethnically insensitive or intolerant. Passing through Little Portugal after a game IS like running a drunken gauntlet.

    Maybe my mistake was mentioning Portuguese fans specifically, but I was reporting on my experiences in that neighbourhood this World Cup. In this thread Dan said ” The Portuguese & Brazilian community is misunderstood and unfairly characterized by a lot of people in Toronto” — I was unaware of that (that is, unaware that people characterize them anymore “wrongly” than most communities get stereotyped) and maybe that’s why your back got up so fast — the Portuguese remind me a lot of the Maltese community, which I’m “one of” — so it’s all pretty familiar and comfortable to me when it isn’t violent. If I was whacked with a Maltese flag, I’d be upset at those fans too, but they have never made the cup. Too small. Instead, the Maltese get violent (in Malta not here, too spread out in the GTA) when either Italy or England win….routine stuff over there, to see riot cops out after a game, not so much here in Toronto during the world cup, until this year (as I reported). As also mentioned in this thread, and I’ve written about it in Spacing previously, is crazed “all-canadian” hockey fans running wild on Yonge — this is about violent sports fans, not intolerance of ethnicities. Nobody said “a WASP-Canadian firefighter” was going to wash the blood off the street, that’s your interpretation. I could have been picturing that gay firefighter in the Pride parade cleaning up the blood. But it’s bothersome that any comment on this is suddenly seen as anti-ethnic (AND it’s equally disturbing that any comment brings out people who say “why can’t people root for good Canadian stuff” but I can’t defend Christie Blatchford, she’s got to do that).

    The violent folks are literally wrapping themselves in various flags — Portuguese or Roots Canada — while committing their crimes — ignoring that while reporting on the violence would be impossible and irresponsible. It’s disturbing to me that somebody would get upset about mentioning which flag were throwing broken bottles, and not about the violence in the streets that harms innocent people.

  24. Shawn,
    The firefighter comment was meant to be ridiculous. Did you think it was an exaggeration? We are now on the same page.
    My apologies, I haven’t heard the Maltese construction, cleaning lady or janitor jokes, that I’m sure are just as prevalent in this City. I was also not aware that Maltese Canadian were randomly being asked to show immigration officers “their papers” in the rash of deportations that have been recently occuring. Finally, I was completely unaware that the World Cup prompted the Star to circulate the old stats that say Maltese Canadians have the worst drop out rates in the City (what do you expect of “hooligans”?). By trying to make a valid statement about safety (I believe you when you say that was your purpose), you actually, in my opinion, prompted hatred against my ethnic community. On that note, my concerns for safety are just as valid as yours and I do not like anyone inciting hatred or violence in any form for any purpose. I would suspect that unlike you, I actually know what it means to concern myself with “date rape”. When was the last time you walked down a dark street with your car keys between your fingers? Two wrongs don’t make a right.

  25. Wow! To say that I am shocked and appaled at reading not only the article by John Barber but subsequent posts by people supporting this garbage is an understatement. Pardon my grammar and spelling but at the moment all I see is red! I am Portuguese and have been amongst the horde of “drunken, macho, aggressive date-rape-ready gauntlet” as Shawn put it. From my perspective it has all been about the celebration for our country’s success , a success that we have never achieved in that level of competition to date. Perhaps a few facts would shed some light on the sheer number of people that have gathered at these celebrations. The very first game just happened to fall on the annual Portugal Day celebrations at Belwoods park. Where portuguese people from all over the GTA and surrounding areas gather to celebrate our heritage. Now yes there was a huge brawl on Dundas which has been labeled as soccer related. I know for a fact no matter what your hearing from the media that it had absolutely nothing at all to do with socc

  26. I really hated this post when I first read it and to think now that this point of view has gathered so much attention outside of the “spacing” universe is infuriating. As an immigrant, I was rooting for my home country to do well in the tournament but I would (and do) celebrate Canada’s accomplishments just as much. One can do both, you know.

    I don’t think Trudeau would have minded a little street noise.

  27. Ana >

    You obviously didn’t read this post with any kind of attention to detail. It doesn’t say you shouldn’t cheer for your home country. It was about how people celebrate. Street parties are great (Shawn says that right off the bat with the Little Korea example), but driving around in your car and sitting in traffic idling is not a good way to party. Nor is careless use of a flag while hanging out a car window — flags have hit over 40 cyclists so far (i read that in a news report in the Sun on Friday, I think). Nor is the violence that the police have to deal with it after each match. To claim that Shawn’s post is about choosing between cheering for Canada or your home country is just plain wrong. I encourage you to re-read it and find out where it says you have to choose. Where does it say that street parties are bad?

    If you’re going to make a comment about this subject you should really make sure you know what you are talking about.