A mostly civil Ward 27 debate turned sour on Oct 8 when one audience member stole a microphone and decried Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam’s alleged involvement with Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA).
After the debate, while Wong-Tam was speaking with Xtra, a young man walked up to the podium and announced that he had something to say to the quickly thinning audience about the councillor.
His allegations stem from a 2010 Toronto Sun story that revealed that Wong-Tam had loaned QuAIA group members her credit card to pay their website hosting fees. She was listed as the owner of the website until Aug 31, 2010. However, there is no other evidence demonstrating that she has been involved with QuAIA in any other capacity.
A question about QuAIA’s involvement with Pride was one of the few to raise the ire of both the audience and the six candidates in attendance at the debate organized by the ABC Residents Association. Wong-Tam and Rob Wolvin were the only two candidates to say clearly they would not consider defunding Pride if QuAIA marched in the Pride parade. Wong-Tam also said that she believes it is important that Pride maintain its roots as a political demonstration.
As organizers of the debate attempted to take the microphone away from the man, he ran away and eventually looped over to where the councillor was standing and yelled at her directly. Below is a transcription of what occurred:
. . .
Man: Ladies and gentleman, sorry. I’m here today to tell you about something very important and that is this one thing: Kristyn Tam-Wong [sic] is a liar for this reason and this reason alone. Because she said she was not advocating for the fact that she was not involved with Queers Against Israeli Apartheid.
[Organizers take the microphone away from the man at this point. He continues yelling.]
Man: And let me tell you this, Kristyn Tam-Wong [sic], you are involved because it said so online all over the place that you are involved with Queers Against Israeli Apartheid—
Kristyn Wong-Tam [to Xtra]: So this is where you take—
Man: And let me tell you this, let me tell you this [he is now standing about two metres from Wong-Tam] — right now there are 20 percent of Israel’s population is [unclear]; 0.7 percent of Canada’s population is [unclear], so you tell me what apartheid is. And why don’t you go, you know, you know what you need to know, that Israel singlehandedly has the most rightwing [incomprehensible shouting].
Female bystander [to Wong-Tam]: Unfortunately, we don’t have security in here.
Kristyn Wong-Tam: I know.
Female bystander: What is this? This is terrible.
. . .
Audio of the altercation is here.
As the man yelled, several people stood in front of Wong-Tam, forming a barrier. As a few people joined the first man in his protest, another audience member, wearing a shirt that identified him as a supporter of Ward 27 candidate Megan McIver, approached Wong-Tam and also started berating her, for reasons unrelated to QuAIA.
Wong-Tam did not respond directly to the man who yelled about QuAIA but later said she was disappointed that decorum failed at the end of the debate. Several other audience members, some from other campaign teams, came up to her to tell her she had handled the situation well. The man eventually left of his own accord.
“When you stand for public office, you stand and have to take a position, and there are times when your position is not going to please everyone,” she told one woman afterward. “I think it’s important that we keep a level head through all our discussions.”
Wong-Tam has been vocal in decrying the homophobia, racism and sexism she and other candidates have faced during this election cycle. On Sept 16, her office received a hate-mail letter that threatened the councillor, and she tells Xtra that on Sept 15, one of her volunteers was threatened as she canvassed door-to-door.
“What we have is some heated tempers,” she says. “We all have to take a deep breath and cool off. We have some big, big challenges before us as a city. We want to be able to work together and reach across the political spectrum.”
Benjamin Dichter, who pointed out during the debate that men’s rights group Canadian Association for Equality was banned from walking in this year’s parade while QuAIA was able to march, said afterward that people are very passionate. “There’s a double standard for those people and they think [Wong-Tam] is being disingenuous, I guess,” he says.
Candidates at the wide-ranging debate affirmed their support for the LGBT community as a whole but were divided on a number of other issues, including whether the island airport should expand and what the city’s transit priorities are.
Several candidates raised the point that Wong-Tam does not live in the ward, a fact that was also brought up during a debate on Rogers TV Sept 23. Wong-Tam does not feel that this is a disadvantage — she believes it can be advantageous in that she has no conflicts of interest to declare. “I have actually divested myself of many of the financial interests within the ward,” she says, noting that her connection to the community is still strong.