Toronto Sun issues lame apology over racist & sexist political cartoon

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Last week, I posted about a seriously ill-advised political cartoon published by the Toronto Sun just a day prior to Toronto’s mayoral election. The cartoon (pictured above) was created by long-time caricature artist Andy Donato, and features NDP candidate Olivia Chow  — who has a lengthy career in Canadian politics — inexplicably garbed in a Communist Chinese uniform (Chow is Chinese Canadian, born in Hong Kong while the city was under British colonial rule) and literally ruding the coattails of her late husband, former NDP leader Jack Layton.

Several Canadian groups and politicians have spoken out against the cartoon. The Toronto Chapter of the Chinese Canadian National Council (CCNC) wrote an open letter to the Sun‘s editorial board chastising the paper for failing in its responsibility to “tell stories that will not continue the marginalization of racialized people.” Last Thursday, current NDP leader Tom Mulcair lambasted the cartoon, calling it “an amalgam of everything offensive that you could possibly think of”, and then elaborating that it is a “racist caricature of a Chinese person.” Chow, herself, called the cartoon “disgusting”, and “both racist and sexist” just a day after its publication.

The Sun has now issued a bizarre, half-hearted apology in which they simultaneously defend Donato’s work while acknowledging the offensiveness of the caricature.

In a statement published following the CCNC’s letter to the Sun, the paper wrote:

The drawing in question was in no way intended to promote racial or sexual stereotypes. The illustrator, Andy Donato, is an editorial cartoonist who has a long tradition of depicting NDP politicians in Mao suits. This depiction is and always has been intended as political comment, and is in no way intended to carry any racial or ethnic connotations. The reference to Jack Layton in the cartoon points out the political reality that part of Olivia Chow’s appeal as a candidate was that she was the widow of the late NDP leader.

Like most editorial cartoonists, Mr. Donato highlights and exaggerates the physical characteristics of his subjects, regardless of their race or ethnicity. Again, there was no intention on his part or that of the Sun to draw attention to Ms. Chow’s race or ethnicity. The Toronto Sun very much regrets that CCNC Toronto Chapter has taken a different view of the drawing, but must reject the suggestion that the drawing embodies “underlying racism and xenophobia”. However, to the extent that it may be possible to interpret the drawing as highlighting racial or ethnic characteristics, the Sun regrets that implication and apologizes to Olivia Chow and anyone else offended by the cartoon.?

There are, of course, several problems with the Sun‘s doubling-down on Donato’s work. While Donato may or may not have a “long tradition” of depicting NDP leaders in Mao suits (a “tradition” that was not picked up in a thirty second Google search of his work, by the way), any such history would not invalidate the racial and ethnic connotations of pairing a Chinese Canadian with a symbol of the Chinese Communist Party. I have mentioned before that the mark of a good satirist is one who understand the importance of context in understanding his or her work; in this case, Donato and the Sun demonstrate a clear failure in understanding how satire works.

The Sun further simply restates the thrust of the cartoon — that Chow’s appeal as a candidate is dependent entirely upon her status as Jack Layton’s widow. That theme was abundantly clear at the time of the cartoon’s first printing; that does not innoculate the cartoon from the obviously sexist implications of such a notion. Chow has spent over 20 years as a Canadian public servant, and in last week’s mayoral race, she offered Toronto voters a progressive alternative to John Tory, and a non-asshole alternative to Ford brother, Doug. The implication that a powerful female candidate cannot be running on her own credentials and resume, and must instead be riding the coattails of her (male) spouse, is sexist in its erasure of Chow’s own achievements.

Meanwhile, Donato didn’t even fathom drawing a similar cartoon charging  (male) Doug Ford for riding the infamous coattails of his drug-abusing brother, the out-going Toronto mayor who dropped out of the race just week’s before the election to substitute his bombastic brother who shares his name. Unlike Chow, Doug Ford’s credentials for the Toronto mayorship extend only to his term as a city councillor, where he won the seat vacated in 2010 by his brother; otherwise, Doug Ford’s entire claim to fame is his ownership of a label-making business. Without question, Doug Ford’s entire political career has involved him attempting to ride the coattails of his brother into elected office, in order to keep Toronto seats in the Ford family; yet, last Tuesday, it was Chow, not Ford, whom Donato chose to denigrate.

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Donato’s targeting of female politician is nothing new. Earlier this year, Donato created a political cartoon targeting Ontario Liberal Leader Kathleen Wynne. Suggesting that Wynne had lost a recent political debate, the Sun ran Donato’s cartoon — showing Wynne’s signature glasses broken on the floor next to broken teeth and blood — on their front page. Canadians were outraged by the cartoon’s joking depiction of physical violence against women.

Meanwhile, the Sun also has a poor track record when it comes to its treatment of women. I mentioned how the Sun is about as classy towards women as the New York Post. In addition, last month, Sun Media was forced to apologize for an on-air rant by Right-wing commentator Ezra Levant — who also writes a column for the Sun — for maligning Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and his parents, calling Trudeau’s father a “slut” and strongly implying his mother was the same. Sun Media issued a pre-recorded apology at the start of Levant’s TV show for Levant’s use of the anti-woman slur in his September 15th show; however, Levant’s Toronto Sun column which repeats much of the same charges against Trudeau and his parents remains on his website.

This is not the Canada of my childhood. I don’t remember a Canada so mimicking of Fox News and the American Right that it has adopted its problematic stances against women. Canada has always been viewed as America’s little brother; but in this case, Canada would do better to mimic someone else. This flagrant racism and sexism against  is unbecoming, and best left to our friends to the South.

As the CCNC urges, the Sun should issue a full and complete apology for Donato’s cartoon regarding Chow. The Sun‘s editorial board needs a refresher course on racism and tolerance. And frankly, Donato’s markers-and-paper art (and the message of his cartoons) seems dated and out-of-touch with the Canadian mainstream. Isn’t it about time to find a new cartoonist — and maybe one who doesn’t have such a clear problem with women, and women of colour?

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