Mayoral forum on affordable housing derailed by gate-crashing candidates, shouting

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What was meant to be a mayoral forum on affordable housing briefly descended into chaos Monday night as crowd members stood and chanted and uninvited mayoral candidates either dominated or refused to leave the stage.

The forum, in the auditorium at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, was planned as a night for candidates to present their platforms on affordable housing.

Police clear disruptive audience members at a mayoral forum on affordable housing at the University of Toronto on Monday.
Police clear disruptive audience members at a mayoral forum on affordable housing at the University of Toronto on Monday.  (Emily Mathieu/Toronto Star)

Moderator Angela Robertson, executive director of the Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre, started the event in a thoughtful tone and throughout and after the chaos somehow managed to keep the night moving.

“We need a mayor and candidates who will say yes to housing in my backyard. They must believe that cities must be a home” that belongs to all of us, said Robertson, at the start of the night.

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The disruption began a few minutes after the candidates took the stage when some in the audience shouted in support of allowing white nationalist candidate Faith Goldy to debate.

The chaos escalated when mayoral candidate Kevin Clarke — who had joined the speakers on stage — began loudly shouting he would debate Goldy, given the chance.

The invited candidates then left the stage as police escorted some of most disruptive members of the audience out, including Clarke.

Uninvited candidate D!ONNE Renée — who planted herself on stage at the start of the night — remained on stage throughout the disruption.

After the disruption, Robertson resumed control of the stage and invited Gebresellassi back, where she slammed Tory for not attending and Keesmaat for not returning to the stage.

That decision to leave “should tell each and every one of us that this is no progressive champion for us.”

Campaign spokesperson Beth Clarkson sent a short emailed statement in response to a question from the Star about why Keesmaat left.

“Jennifer left the stage when it seemed there was no longer an opportunity for open discussion. It’s unfortunate tonight’s event was so chaotically disrupted and she hopes no one was injured,” said Clarkson.

Climenhaga next called for raising property taxes or finding additional funding streams for more housing. “The only way we will have housing is if we fund it.”

Renée lambasting the media for not covering her campaign, which she called the most progressive of all the candidates. “If we say we are about centring issues of housing and homelessness that is what we need to do.”

Outside of the occasional bout of shouting — from one straggler screaming in support of Goldy and some animated audience members — the rest of the evening remained mostly on track, thanks largely to calm direction from moderator Robertson.

Once the invited candidates were called up to share more information about their platforms, Robertson encouraged any other candidates in the audience to speak and then opened up the talk for audience questions. She closed out by thanked everybody who stayed and organizers for pivoting.

“When we are working for social change we need to be prepared for messes,” she said.

The night was organized by about 60 agencies who created an affordable housing pledge, that was sent to all candidates for mayor and city council in late September.

Included in the proposed steps: “No more homeless deaths, financial stability for Toronto Community Housing, make ‘affordable housing’ truly affordable, ensure new residential development includes everyone (and) mobilize Toronto’s resources to build more affordable housing.”

Keesmaat, Gebresellassi and Climenhaga have signed. Tory has not, but sent the group a letter on Monday detailing his actions on and commitments to the issues.

Tory and leading contender Keesmaat have both pledged to boost affordable rental housing stock across the city, promising to create 40,000 new units in 12 years and 100,000 over 10, respectively. Both have also pledged to repair and protect ailing social housing stock, which includes Toronto Community Housing.

Emily Mathieu is a Toronto-based reporter covering affordable and precarious housing. Follow her on Twitter: @emathieustar

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