10 Notable Toronto Moments of 2015

This year has seen Torontonians bond over its baseball team, and become divided over Uber and taxis. Whether you were for Kanye performing at the Pan Am games, or secretly felt bad for Meek Mill, at least one item on this list caught your attention in 2015. In no particular order, here are some of the moments that had Toronto’s tongues wagging.

 Liberals Paint the Town Red

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In October, the Liberals formed government in the country’s 42nd election. Canadians weren’t expecting the red wave that swept across the nation, but what was even more surprising was the Liberals’ dominance in Toronto, a key battleground for votes in the country. The Liberals managed to win all 25 ridings in Toronto. They not only grabbed seats in areas that typically vote NDP, they even managed to oust formidable opponents like former Eglinton-Lawrence MP, Finance Minister Joe Oliver. The MP for Eglinton-Lawrence is now Marco Mendicino.

Kanye West Performs at the Pan Am Closing Ceremony

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Pan Am organizers announced that Kanye West would be performing at the closing ceremony. Naturally, many Torontonians were excited about the rapper’s planned appearance, but there were also people who expressed displeasure about the choice. Their criticism stemmed from West’s controversial actions and the belief that the organizers should choose a Canadian performer. Torontonians were also concerned that taxpayers would foot the bill for the star, but organizers were quick to assure everyone that Live Nation covered the cost of performers, and dealt directly with them. At the end, West threw what seemed to be a faulty microphone and walked off the stage. We still don’t know for sure if that was genuine or planned.

The Installation of the Toronto Sign

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Torontonians weren’t completely sure how they felt about the Pan Am games. Public opinion shifted back and forth between anticipation for Toronto’s hosting gig and condemnation of the spending, not to mention frustration about the HOV lanes. One thing city dwellers across the board loved was the installation of the Toronto sign in Nathan Phillips Square. We may have built new stadiums and swimming pools, but those colourful seven letters were the most delightful addition. The sign will remain up and serves as a nice photo background for Toronto natives and tourists alike.

The Taxi-Uber showdown

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The taxi industry has been up in arms over Uber’s creep into the city. Uber’s lack of regulation allows it the luxury of cheaper prices while cab drivers have to follow city rules which prevent them from being as competitive as the new ride-sharing service. Uber’s refusal to cease operations until City Council can draft new regulations, and the city’s unwillingness to enforce existing bylaws in the meantime, has resulted in mounting frustration from the taxi industry leading to protests. Proponents of Uber rave about its lower costs, focus on customer satisfaction, and the ability to track your ride. Critics point to its illegal operations and the risk to passengers who would only be able to deal with a driver’s private insurance in the case of an accident.

Trudeau’s Welcoming of Refugees at Pearson Airport

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Earlier this month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau personally welcomed Syrian refugees arriving at Pearson. He was joined by Ontario premier, Kathleen Wynne. The move drew international praise and media attention, and served as a refreshing contrast to the hateful and divisive rhetoric south of the border. Trudeau and the Liberals campaigned on the promise of bringing 25,000 refugees to Canada by the end of the year, but they have backtracked on that number saying they will only be able to bring in 10,000 by the end of December.

The City Finds a Father Figure in a Councillor

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Councillor Norm Kelly waded into this summer’s feud between Drake and Meek Mill. Meek Mill accused the Toronto rapper of using a ghostwriter. Kelly came to Drizzy’s defence, famously tweeting that Meek Mill was no longer welcome in Toronto and consistently trolling the Philadelphia rapper over the next few weeks with everything from pithy jabs to Simpsons memes. His foray into hip-hop culture has earned him a younger audience that has taken to referring to the 74-year-old politician as “daddy”. Kelly regularly tweets helpful information about city services, important questions like “is white chocolate really chocolate?” and “what kind of monster buys half a pie?” Kelly even won the title of Canada’s Most Valuable Tweeter beating the likes of Justin Bieber and P.K. Subban.

The Blue Jays’ Wild Ride

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The Blue Jays whipped the city into a frenzy with their successful season, securing their first playoff berth in 22 years. After months of crazy ticket prices and an increase in commuters sporting Jays merch, the boys in blue ended their season with a 4-3 loss to the Kansas City Royals in the ALCS. Nevertheless, it was still a terrific season and images like Jose Bautista’s triumphant bat flip will remain imprinted on the city’s heart for quite some time.

Opening of the Union Pearson Express Line

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In June, the Union Pearson Express train officially opened for business. The line that runs from Union Station to Pearson gets travelers from the downtown core to the airport in 25 minutes. Though decidedly more comfortable than lugging your bags on the subway, many balked at the price: $27.50 or $19 for Presto cardholders. The train also boasts amenities like food services and free WiFi.

First Leaders’ Debate

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The Maclean’s National Leaders’ Debate took place in Toronto at City’s downtown studio. It was notable not only for being the first debate of the campaign period, but also for the performance of the leaders. Harper was his usual collected self, working through his talking points. Trudeau, though also quite reliant on repetitive talking points, performed better than expected. The most talked about candidate was Mulcair due to his demeanour that came across at best amusing and at worst, uncomfortable. Whoever suggested he tone down the aggressive tactics he employed in Parliament and adopt a kindly uncle approach clearly miscalculated, leaving viewers a little weirded out by his wide eyes and constant smiling. Elizabeth May was the most knowledgeable and eloquent of the four presenting smart, interesting ideas, but she was shamefully excluded from future debates including the Globe and Mail debate on the economy.

Peegate

In what was arguably the most cringe-worthy story of 2015, former Conservative candidate Jerry Bance left the Tory party in disgrace after a video of him urinating in a homeowner’s mug surfaced online causing confused Twitter users to click on the trending topic #peegate to figure out what the hell was going on. Bance, a service technician by trade, was caught on hidden camera in a 2012 episode of CBC’s Marketplace casually peeing into a cup and then rinsing it out sans soap. He was responding to a call to replace a leaky sink. As if the situation wasn’t comedic enough already. Bance, who was running in the riding of Scarborough-Rouge Park, released a statement saying the video “does not reflect who I am as a professional or a person.” One Twitter user responded by tweeting, “Sorry Jerry – if you pee in someone else’s mug, that is who you are.”

Paris attacks: one week later

Last Friday’s horrific events in Paris left the world shocked and angry. But beyond those feelings of horror, there was a sense of overwhelming helplessness not only in terms of how to act, but how to think. ISIL’s attacks stepped up debates new and old on the issues of refugees, religious extremism, Western hegemony, and more.

In the week since, news outlets have been in a frenzy to explain the events to its viewers with continuous coverage and a seemingly endless stream of expert panellists who range from vaguely informative to shamefully alarmist. Below is a breakdown of the main facts, as well as summaries of articles that provides thoughtful commentary on a few of the key, ongoing debates.

WHAT, WHEN, AND WHERE

On November 13, individuals acting on behalf of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) attacked a number of spots on a busy Friday night in Paris, France. They used explosives and assault rifles, killing 129 people and wounding hundreds.

The previous day, on November 12, 43 people were killed and hundreds wounded in Lebanon after suicide bombers detonated their devices in a Beirut suburb. ISIL claimed responsibility for the attack. 

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France 24 coverage of the suicide bombings in Beirut, Lebanon. Source: YouTube

WHO

A day after the attacks, ISIL released a statement claiming responsibility and promising France and its supporters that “they will continue to be at the top of the target list for the Islamic State and that the scent of death will not leave their nostrils as long as they partake in the crusader campaign.”

What’s in a name? IS vs ISIS vs ISIL.

An overview of the history of the Islamic State, its organization and methods, as well as an account of its rise over the past couple of years. In a testament to its brutality, ISIL was renounced by al-Qaeda in 2014.

So far, there is some information about the names and nationalities of some of the suspected terrorists and co-conspirators. The suspected leader of the attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, was killed in a police raid on November 18.

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French authorities conducted raids in search of suspected attackers and co-conspirators. Source: YouTube

WHY

ISIL has cited French intervention in Syria and Iraq as their reason for attacking the country. In the wake of Friday’s events, many commentators, writers, and academics have reiterated the complex historical and political factors that have contributed to the rise of ISIL. Others, while acknowledging this history, are underwhelmed by arguments that say the West is dealing with a problem of its own making.

A look at the role U.S. involvement in the Middle East has played, as well as its present-day implications. This article draws poignant examples of this relationship, particularly by pointing out how Islamic extremism and jihadism were encouraged by the United States as a strategy towards mobilizing the Muslim world against the “godless” USSR’s socialist influence in the Middle East.

Explanations of jihadism that stop at condemnations of Western involvement are lazy, according to The Guardian political columnist Rafael Behr. This discussion is in connection to recent comments by Labour party MP Jeremy Corbyn, but it is relevant to how leaders should act. Behr writes, “The hardest part of leadership is judging how far to stray from what is ideal for the sake of what is necessary.” 

HOW

First, is how ISIL managed to carry out these attacks and evade intelligence agencies. Those details will be made more available to us in the coming weeks and months.

Second, is how governments and individuals should respond to these attacks. There will certainly be increased military action. French President François Hollande has declared the attacks an “act of war”. Debates range from whether states should respond militarily, how events in some parts of the world are prioritized over others, and whether or not borders should be kept open for refugees seeking protection.

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CNN reports on the international effort to apprehend a suspect who crossed into Brussels following the attack. Source: YouTube

In a lecture in March 2015 at Simon Fraser University, Gwynne Dyer, military historian and journalist, explained that military response to the, relatively speaking, minor issue of terrorism is exactly the kind of overreaction ISIL wants.

Anti-immigration sentiment has been strong in recent years. It comes as no surprise since groups are especially resistant to outsiders when the economy is struggling, and there is a perceived threat. The images of drowned Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi galvanized global support for refugee protection. The terror in Paris has returned ammunition to politicians opposed to welcoming migrants, and provided an out for EU members meant to share the load of settling refugees.

The links about refugees are primarily in regards to the United States. Our Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has remained committed to admitting 25,000 refugees into Canada, despite growing criticism.

Historically, the national security threat to the U.S. posed by refugees has been non-existent with experts maintaing that the risk is minimal. Admittedly, there are features of the Syrian refugee crisis, such as the large number of migrants, that prove more complicated than past influxes. This has led to concern over whether a U.S. Syrian refugee program could be infiltrated by terrorists who are not properly screened.

A Jewish writer’s perspective on negative public opinion about admitting refugees. He cites telling polls from the 1930s on public sentiment towards Jewish refugees. 

In addition, the issue of white lives versus brown lives was a prevalent topic. The coverage of the Beirut bombings by the same group just the day before did not garner the same amount of attention and public displays of support. This post is arguably complicit in that tendency.

Pray for the World
Poem that made the rounds on social media after the attacks in Paris and Beirut. Photo via Facebook.

In the hours after the panic and terror in Paris, Facebook enabled its Safety Check feature to allow those in the danger zone to check in, effectively alerting their friends and family to their status. Up until that point, it was only activated for natural disasters. This was not done for the bombing in Lebanon. Facebook’s Vice President of Growth, Alex Schultz, explained the reasons for this in a post on the social media site.

Facebook users were also given the option of applying an overlay of the French Tricolour. There was no option for the Lebanese flag. Emma Teitel wrote a pointed piece calling out critics of the Facebook filter and the news coverage, remarking that many of them did not discuss the Beirut bombings until after the French attacks occurred.

It’s common knowledge that Facebook uses algorithms to display content based on what we typically read, share, and like. Moreover, prominent newspapers do publish stories about what’s happening in the rest of the world – they certainly did after the suicide bombing in Beirut. The responsibility may ultimately be up to us to seek out information about the rest of the world, especially with a tool like the Internet at our disposal. 

 

#PrayforBeirut

#PrayforParis