TORONTO - Councillor Janet Davis told Councillor Doug Ford to shut his “f---ing mouth” Wednesday.
Davis walked over and whispered the comment directly to Mayor Rob Ford’s brother during a budget committee meeting.
She dropped the f-bomb shortly after the committee rejected a motion to spend $409,000 for an eight-site expansion of the After-school Recreation and Care (ARC) Program. Ford had argued against the spending and accused councillors of wanting to “waste taxpayers’ money.”
The private R-rated remark prompted Ford to jump to his feet and announce Davis had told him to “keep my f---ing mouth shut” and called the comment “disgusting.”
“I don’t need that talk up here. Why don’t you just leave? You call yourself a lady, give me a break,” Ford shouted at Davis.
Some years ago, when I volunteered at the Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre and then, at the Ottawa Sexual Assault Support Centre, I fielded requests to staff an information table or represent the organization at an educational event.
This occasion sticks in my memory. It was held at a public high school. One of the teachers had determined it was a good idea for the students to learn more about acquaintance and date rape.
The impetus for this activity was the experience of one young woman who was "allegedly" assaulted by young men that she knew. The circumstances were very similar to what was inflicted upon Rehtaeh Parsons. When she reported the incident to the local police and tried to have charges filed, she and her mother were treated with derision and contempt.
After the noon-time information fair, where CHEO, the Ottawa police, Planned Parenthood, SASC and other community groups were present, students in grades 11, 12 and 13 filed into the assembly hall.
There was a panel of speakers, assembled to speak on the topic. Two participants stand out in my mind: the young woman whose experience was germane to the event, and a cop from the division where she tried to report her assault.
Yes. Both these individuals were on the panel, separated by other folks whose "expertise" on the matter I forget. There was nobody from ORCC or SASC sitting there.
Clearly someone, probably a vice-principal, thought it was a good idea to give the police an opportunity to respond to the young woman's damning story.
Which she recounted haltingly, with no tears but with a quiet assurance.
Unfortunately, the next person on the panel to speak was .... yes, you guessed it ... the cop.
Rather than explaining in neutral terms the legal procedure for reporting crimes of sexual assault and providing legal definitions, he started justifying why the cops at his station determined that the complainant's report was "unfounded" — by recounting his version of the story, intently and intentionally attacking her credibility.
The sight and sound of a fifty-something cop re-assaulting this young woman without any challenges from the teachers or other people on the panel infuriated me.
You know how these days, people post TW - trigger warning - in front of links to articles or testimonies about traumatic events, usually child abuse, intimate violence, sexual assault, and so on?
Well. That cop's malicious and unimpeded verbal aggression upon this young woman triggered something in me.
I was standing at the back of the hall; I had followed the students in and there were no seats left.
I felt it before it actually exploded out of me. A rumble, starting at the bottom of my torso moved upwards and was propelled out of my mouth.
SHUT UP! JUST SHUT UP!
It was very, very loud.
The audience members, whose sympathies clearly lay with their peer, and who had been rustling uncomfortably during the cop's screed, broke into applause. Some teachers craned their necks, trying to establish where the explosion had originated.
The cop's mouth was open. He closed it, he looked at the person who had made a mess of moderating this so-called panel. She looked away. He sat down.
Someone else hastily rose to address the assembly, a guidance teacher I think. I was stunned, actually, by the force of what had just happened. It had occurred reflexively, like an arm raised to ward off a blow.
Here's the thing. Bullies like Doug Ford and the cop at this event are not used to being told to shut up. Doug, a crafty political strategist, nimbly reacted to his colleague's quiet remonstrance by cranking up the volume and histrionically exploiting the incident to his advantage, playing to his Ford Nation following. He claimed victimhood.
That happens a lot. In the House of Commons' Question Period and elsewhere. Many have documented how bellowing men effectively silence their female critics with ad hominem tactics
Research about the verbal space occupied by women and men is also revealing.
Paul Simon sang, years ago:
These are the days of miracle and wonder This is the long distance call The way the camera follows us in slo-mo The way we look to us all...
It behooves us to find a way to disarm this "live grenade" tactic, to move on to more compassionate and (dare I use this word, especially as I suggested to impolitical that Rob Ford has made it radioactive, in Ontario at least) authentic forms of communication.