Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

So much to hate about the Sarah Thomson and Rob Ford story

By: Metro Canada Published on Mon Mar 11 2013

I started to write about Toronto mostly because of Rob Ford. But I don't much like writing about our mayor these days.

Instead I like to write about more substantive things. I like to write about budgets, council voting strategy, transit funding, city planning, urban growth, active transportation and whether this city might one day have an electoral system that doesn't suck.

On the other side, I'm a bit burned out on writing (or reading) about 911 calls, reports of reading-while-driving, ugly encounters with reporters near the mayor's house, weight-loss challenges, accidental nazi photos, football coaching or the seemingly endless cavalcade of Ford-involved legal cases. Those kinds of things, while sometimes a bit of good fun, have turned routinely boring. And they're discouraging for their ability to distract from the issues and take the city's collective focus off its future.

Which brings me to Ford and former mayoral candidate Sarah Thomson, and the evolving he-said, she-said story of alleged sexual assault. It's the latest Ford-related scandal to blow up. And it will likely continue to blow up in the days ahead.

I hate almost everything about it.

I hate that it keeps evolving slowly, with details emerging in a slow, tortuous trickle. I hate that somehow two councillors from Richmond Hill are involved, along with Thomson's assistant and a yet-to-be-identified paid-duty police officer. I hate that there's this undercurrent of other allegations about the mayor and about Thomson, all hinging on whether they're the kinds of people who tell the truth. And I hate that so much of the story is, for some, tied up in political ideology and cynicism.

I also really hate that there's a non-zero chance that this all might lead to a lie detector test, Maury Povich-style.

Regardless, there's not much anyone can say categorically about the Thomson and Ford story. We don't know enough to start calling anyone liars or philanderers. I doubt we ever will.

For the record: I hate that too.

But I do think there's some value in looking at the larger context of this story, away from the politics and the public figures involved. Because something really troubling happened in the immediate aftermath of these allegations.

On talk radio, on social media and across other media channels Friday, we saw an alleged victim roundly criticized for how she chose to respond. We heard a bunch of mostly male commenters and pundits play Monday morning quarterback to sexual assault allegations, asking why she would do one thing instead of another thing — why she would go to Facebook instead of the police, why she would think of returning for a “set up” with her assistant — as if there's some approved script that real victims of assault are compelled to follow, and that any deviance from that script is a credibility-killer.

That's a ridiculous and dangerous notion, especially coming — as it mostly does — from men who, like me, will never really understand what it's like to deal with sexual assault and a culture that ignores and even normalizes it. Regardless of whether there are political players or ideological angles, we owe all alleged victims respect and credibility unless they clearly demonstrate otherwise. And we owe them the right to respond in their own way. There is nothing gained from snap judgments.

Let's keep that in mind as this next chapter in the ever-frustrating Rob Ford saga unfolds.

This post was originally published at on 2013-03-11T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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