Doug Ford ducked a question on whether he would march in future Pride parades during his first mayoral debate, on Sept 23.
In front of a packed auditorium at York Memorial Collegiate in the city’s west end, the mayoral candidates were all asked if they would attend the yearly march. Olivia Chow and John Tory were emphatic yeses, both explaining that they have already attended the parade multiple times.
However, when Ford was asked, he refused to answer the question directly, instead explaining that he supports equality, has been to one Pride event and has made a $3,500 donation to the event in the past. His opponents took the opportunity to hammer him on the question, with Tory using part of his allotted speaking time to demand that Ford directly answer the question. Ford still refused to answer and attempted to pivot to his position on transit instead.
An Xtra investigation in 2011 found that members of Family Pride, a group within Pride Toronto, contacted Deco Labels, the Ford family’s label-making company, and requested a sticker donation, which was provided, though the financial worth of the contribution was never clear. Separately, the Ford family printed stickers advertising Rob Ford for mayor that Doug says they handed out at Pride.
After the debate, Ford dodged a majority of the mass of reporters assembled, sneaking out through the auditorium’s back door and into the parking lot. He refused to answer Xtra’s questions about why he wouldn’t answer whether he would attend the Pride parade if elected mayor.
Most members of the audience were Ford supporters and many openly heckled Tory and Chow, at one point drowning out the latter’s pre-debate media scrum with cheers. The circus-like atmosphere of the debate harkened back to this summer’s Ford Fest, where several LGBT protesters were faced with a loud and taunting crowd.
Iola Fortino, an outspoken Ford supporter, was escorted out the debate by police after she repeatedly interrupted the candidates. Fortino told Xtra after that she had wanted to ask a question — questions could be submitted only on paper — but no one came around to give her paper so she started saying her question out loud.
National Post reporter Christie Blatchford identified another man who yelled that Olivia Chow should “go back to China.”
Though Rob Ford officially dropped out of the race on Sept 12, after he announced he is ill, his presence still loomed large at the debate, with many supporters cheering his name. Several Ford supporters told Xtra after that it made no difference to them that Doug is running in Rob’s place.
“It’s the same platform,” said Mohamed Belkadi, a Ford supporter who attended the debate. “Given it’s Doug and knowing that he’s run a company as a CEO gives me further assurance that we’ve got the right guy on the spot.”
He said he believes that it’s Doug’s prerogative to march in the Pride parade or not, a sentiment echoed by other members of Ford Nation.
“He’s probably like the way I am,” said Ines Anra, who said that she’s not prejudiced but because of her Italian upbringing would be embarrassed to attend the parade. “It’s just the way we are. We can agree with things, but we don’t want to participate. I understand why he doesn’t want to participate, 100 percent I understand.”
The same day of the debate, Kristyn Wong-Tam, Toronto’s only openly gay city councillor, tweeted that she had received a hate mail letter from someone identifying themself as a member of Ford Nation. Wong-Tam has received similar letters in the past and has spoken openly about her belief that the Fords encourage this kind of openly homophobic behaviour.
“The attitude and behaviour of the mayor seems to enable this to sort of surface to the forefront,” she told Xtra earlier this year. “And I am not so naive to think discrimination and bigoted behaviour is not felt.”