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The slug, the chicken, and the monkey

It is the rainy season in Barbados – which means an hour or so of rain until the sun comes out. And everyone watches the long-term weather forecasts to see if a hurricane might develop off the coast of Africa. We’ve had rain on and off everyday sometimes a brief shower in the afternoon and other times there is a heavy downpour during the night.  This morning there are huge snails and slugs that littler the paths around the house. The slugs are about 4 inches long and the snails are the size of tennis balls and I’m getting used to treading carefully.

Between the plantation house and the carriage house is a small courtyard, in the sunny afternoons it fills with white butterflies. There is a surreal almost magical feel to it, but the plants around it are being decimated by all the caterpillars. So I’ve been thinking of ways to get the caterpillars off the plants without killing them.

Last week I picked up a book titled “The Right way to keep Chickens.” I thought it would be a funny read. But I’m now totally getting into it. I’ve learned that there are the broiler chickens (the ones you kill to eat – which the city girl in me just can’t do) and the laying chickens (which would provide us with fresh eggs).  The free run chickens are the healthiest and happiest, but they need a safe place to sleep at night. This has me thinking about the chickens in the park in Speightstown – they sleep in the trees at night and walking along the board walk you can hear them cluck above your head. The roosters strut around acting like their protectors, but the minute there is any danger they are the first to run for the trees.

I’m thinking that if we want our eggs in tact we’ll need to build a hen house.  

I find myself doing the weirdest web searches. This morning I searched “Do chickens eat snails?” The answer is yes. And the added bonus is that they also eat slugs.

I’m thinking it’s time we buy some chickens.

I find myself doing the weirdest web searches. This morning I searched “Do chickens eat snails?” The answer is yes. And the added bonus is that they also eat slugs. 

Slugs can be predators

There are huge slugs in the garden and my web search found that some are predators and they eat other slugs, snails and worms.

I wonder what the monkeys in our yard will do about the chickens – and yet another web search begins. The first thing to pop up is an old Chinese idiom ‘Kill the chicken to scare the monkey.” Which means to make an example of someone in order to threaten others. I think of the power plays that go on in the world of politics. And the ugly type of people who would actually use this tactic. I can’t help reflecting on a man who tried to destroy my credibility last year. He reminds me of slug, he’s a slimy predator who pretends to be meek. But he goes after women wanting access to his television show. He has groomed his audience and those around him to think that he’s pure and innocent, but in fact off camera he chases after married women collecting his conquests as trophies.  He tried to destroy my credibility in order to scare other women from stepping forward. But I know that eventually the truth gets out. The world is changing and these old political strategies are beginning to fail.

The Chinese zodiac reads that I was born in the year of the monkey and that people born in this year are “lively, flexible, quick-witted and versatile. In addition, their gentleness and honesty bring them an everlasting love life.” This has me hooked and reading on: “They may achieve success and earn a lot if leaving their hometown; but they may also spend a lot.” Wow this seems to have been written for me today! It also reads that those born in the year of the monkey can be selfish and arrogant.” I must watch myself and guard against this. Okay enough web surfing.

The roosters are crowing, it’s time to start the day.

Omissions from investigation into Steve Paikin

This ordeal I have had so far with Steve Paikin is the perfect example of what happens to women who speak out on powerful media personalities. I was warned by many PR experts not to take part in an investigation that was controlled and paid for by TVO as the scope of the investigation could change and eliminate evidence that could damage Mr. Paikin.

Despite their warnings I was surprised to see that the investigator did not even mention my reason for stepping forward with my allegations. In giving my statement I explained to her that a friend of mine had learned that Mr. Paikin was involved with his wife – he felt Paikin was destroying their marriage. The wife had also appeared on the Agenda.  I realized that my inaction 8 years ago had enabled Paikin; and although I had told a lot of people about his behaviour, it had done nothing to stop him. I had an ethical duty to step forward. The husband was willing to give his testimony to the investigator, but required a confidentiality agreement. The investigator tried to get TVO and Mr. Paikin to agree to it, but they refused and limited the scope of the entire investigation.

My case also had some pretty concrete evidence the biggest being an email I received from my assistant after we had lunch with Paikin.  

The email relays very clearly the events that happened, as well it pointed out that I believed exposing him would hurt me. Yet the investigator chose to assert that for some reason I coerced my assistant into writing an email that could have hurt me politically.  And she refused to give it much weight in her overall calculation. We found the email after weeks of searching through all my files – from boxes in my basement to storage drives and old cds. Many of my email files were erased over the years, but I had saved some onto a number of storage drives. On one of the drives I found the email my assistant had sent to me back in 2010,  and my lawyer had it authenticated by an outside validation company to submit as part of our evidence. 

The FacebookTranscript with EA  my EA wrote earlier this year also back up his initial email and the fact that Mr. Paikin came on to me in response to my request to get on his show..  

The questions I messaged to my EA were the same questions any investigative journalist would ask when piecing together an article. I wanted to make sure that I hadn’t inaccurately added anything to my recollection.

Despite checking with the witness, I did make one mistake in the article I wrote about my #MeToo story. I had forgotten that when I ran for the liberals in 2011 my campaign manager had secured me a spot on the show as the liberal candidate.  I inaccurately wrote that I was never given access to the show after my lunch with Paikin.   At the time I wrote the article, all I remembered were the years after 2011 when I hadn’t been able to access the show. I began advocating for transit expansion in 2012 as head of the Transit Alliance.  We ran a huge campaign around dedicated transit funding. Our events saw hundreds of people attend, most of the press came out, and I was on radio programs and other television shows as the go-to transit advocate in Toronto. But when I tried to get on the Agenda, Paikin’s response was “take me up on my previous offer.” Not getting access to the show year after year to talk about transit expansion became much bigger in my mind than one brief appearance in 2011 to talk about the liberal election platform.

Going into the investigation I thought that I was luckier than many women because I actually had a witness – my assistant – who had heard everything Paikin had said to me. He had served as my aid during the formal campaign period, but also during the informal wind down stage of the campaign. His role was to attend events, meetings and canvass beside me. It was not a position for a meek individual.  He had to be strong enough to face very opinionated people, and he could hold his own quite well in policy discussions. He prided himself in being a strong feminist. This is why his decision to back-peddle on his testimony and on what he had written quite emphatically in 2010 as well as in his facebook messages to me this year was so devastating.  I was shocked. I tried to figure out why he would do this to me. At one point I felt sorry for him. I wondered what could have happened to make him give up his feminism. I thought that perhaps he was intimidated by Paikin’s inflamed blog, and that he just needed encouragement. But as more time passed I began to wonder what had made this man I knew so well, completely compromise his ethics in such a way.

I went over and over the timeline during that day in 2010. We returned to the office after the lunch with Paikin and spoke about the come-on with a woman who was working for me at the time. We spoke about the fact that I couldn’t come out publicly on Paikin because it would ruin my chances of getting elected.  But I don’t remember much more about the afternoon, I would have had to leave around 2:30 to pick my kids up from school. We had started the day hoping to get me on Paikin’s show, and I might have suggested my assistant email me if they came up with an alternative way to get me on – his email seems to be addressing that issue.

That TVO and Mr. Paikin took my complaint to the public after I specifically indicated I wanted it to be kept private, is a tactic that has proven effective for protecting powerful men, but one that most corporations would not condone. Sexual impropriety investigations must be kept private to protect witnesses and encourage others to come forward. Instead, TVO allowed Mr. Paikin to come out loud and threatening over social media.  I wasn’t protected but shamed. The shaming was so extreme that it made conditions unsafe for other witnesses to step forward. TVO, is an agency of the Ontario government and their handling of my private complaint, was disgraceful. CEO, Lisa De Wilde did not follow protocol, and employees might have perceived that stepping forward on Mr Paikin would lead to their own public shaming. Their complete disregard for protocol should be addressed by the Minister of Education, who is responsible for TVO.  

During the investigation we had a witness who was, at one time, an intern at TVO, she had heard rumours and was told by another employee that Mr. Paikin did this all the time. The employee refused to come forward, which isn’t surprising given the public shaming TVO allowed Paikin to put me through.  

Another witness who worked at TVO for 3 years wrote an email to me:
“Good on you girl for exposing Paikin. He has previous for that type of behaviour and it’s been well known at TVO for years.
I wrote: “ Thanks – the hate is pretty rough. Did you work at TVO?
Yes I did, for three years. Can’t really go into it in depth. It’s not worth my life being disrupted.”

None of the evidence above was entered into the investigators report – it’s almost as if she didn’t want the public knowing about the witnesses who were afraid of being publicly shamed.   There are hundreds of articles written about how sexual predators  bully people into silence.  They are often charismatic, they surround themselves with supporters. And they often groom their families, friends and co-workers into believing in their image.   “Even people who know them well cannot conceive that they are capable of exploiting others sexually. Such predators are masters of deceit,” states Psychology Today.

Today as I reflect back over the past several months, I know that  eventually the truth will come out, more women will step forward with their own experiences. The #MeToo movement has proven that there is strength in numbers. 

I remember how vicious the press were over my claims that Mayor Ford was on cocaine, and the ridicule I received from the likes of Christie Blatchford for even suggesting the Mayor had substance abuse problems. I remember how Newstalk 1010 gave entire shows over to discrediting me. I remember how they all went silent when the truth came out. He needed help, and their lack of impartiality may have enabled him, and possibly delayed that help.

Once again the clickbait media have circled around Mr. Paikin declaring him the saintliest man there ever was on television. Once again they ignore the signs, they avoid the hard investigative work, and they attack the messenger. When the truth comes out,  I know they’ll slink away again hoping nobody remembers how they victim shamed and blamed me for stepping forward. I will remember. I hope you do too.

Mr Paiken: You allege that I defamed you. I did nothing of the sort. I specifically told you I wanted this out of the public eye, and instead you blew it up into a spectacle. You know Steve, you could have just chosen to admit you made a mistake and listened.  You could have decided to do better going forward for the sake of every woman you know. That response would be far classier than making yourself into a mid life power trip cliché.

Media personality uses his position to gain sex

The #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns are empowering women to step forward to try to stop sexual misconduct, and to shape a better world for our children. To do this it requires that guilty men fall.  The question that many are asking is do these men need to fall so harshly? The court of public opinion can ruin careers, it is unforgiving and the media stokes the flames with every dirty little secret uncovered. Is this public shaming a necessary part of the change our society is going through?

I hope we will get to a day when it isn’t needed, but think, as the beginning of social change sets in, the public shaming is a necessary part of the social change. And I say this as someone who has experienced public shaming. 

By taking on the Mayor of Toronto in 2013, and being the first to talk about his drug use and sexual misconduct, I became a target for Ford nation. And I admit that I wasn’t prepared to go up against a very savvy and strategic campaign (led by Rob’s brother Doug Ford) to bury the truth. From the moment the news hit social media, Doug Ford was on the phone with all the media personalities in Toronto, calling in favours and working to gain their support for his brother. His goal was to get them to discredit me, to turn the public against me and make the Mayor out to be the victim.  A friend of mine was, at the time, hosting a talk show on Newstalk 1010 and he warned me that Doug Ford was calling all the key commentators and trying to get them to discredit me. Doug was able to manipulate many of them. Even those who knew me to be a legitimate community advocate turned against me.  They spent a week questioning my background, my authenticity, and making Mayor Ford out to be the victim. Doug Ford succeeded at manipulating the media to work on his agenda, and for a time they were so busy attacking me, they ignored the legitimate stories swirling around the Mayor. Ford’s strategy to deceive the public through the media worked – until it didn’t.

But the public shaming was a terrible experience and I understand now why so few came to defend me. I am thankful to the men who did – Mayor John Tory and Greg Sorbara – were two men who stood up in a sea of accusations to suggest that I wasn’t one to exaggerate. But for a week or two I couldn’t get on the subway or walk through a grocery store without a Ford fanatic following behind me screaming that I was a lying bitch.  So I know very well what the court of public opinion can do to someone. And I also know that eventually the truth comes out – as it did on Mayor Ford.

Today women are finally uniting and using their voices to shine a spotlight on the sexual abuse and misconduct of some very powerful public figures. The guilty need to fall. And I for one believe that the truth will protect those who are wrongfully accused, as it did me. I went through hell, but I am stronger for it. The time has come for men who abuse their power to pay for their actions.  

There is still one man whose actions haunt me. In 2010 when I was running for Mayor of Toronto, I was on a political talk show with the other top four candidates.  The show was widely watched and it helped my numbers in the polls, so the next time I saw the host I asked if I might get on his show again. Always kind and friendly, he suggested we meet over lunch to discuss.  My assistant and I met him at Grano’s on Yonge Street, and the three of us ordered our lunch. Not five minutes into the lunch the host asked me if I would sleep with him. My assistant almost spit his drink all over the table. I politely told the host that I loved my husband and would never do that. I then excused myself, went to the washroom and called my campaign manager. My manager was at first angry that I was alone with a talk show host, but when I explained that my assistant was actually sitting there with us and had heard the entire thing, his anger turned to shock. He was great at calming me down and  joked that if I didn’t want to “take one for the team” then I should excuse myself and leave.  I followed his instruction, and later asked my EA what he and the host had talked about while I was in the washroom. He told me he questioned the talk show host to see if asking directly for sex actually worked for him. The host said that it worked 50 percent of the time. I hope he was just bragging, but I’ve always wondered if the women who are frequent guests on his show have slept with him.

Back in 2010 this meant that some of the male candidates had extra exposure on his show that I couldn’t get. They didn’t have to sleep with him to get on his show.  It was frustrating but in a busy campaign we didn’t have time to address it.  When I talk with younger women, they are shocked at the way the world was back then.  I realize that women of my generation were programmed to accept how it was. We had to joke about it because getting mad every other day wasn’t healthy. I remember a woman saying to me once when I complained about an editor who slept with interns that “boys will be boys.”  It wasn’t until I met my husband that I learned that some boys turn into caring and compassionate men concerned about building a fair and just society. 

In 2010 the host  made it harder for me to compete with the men I was up against, because they were invited to appear on his show while I wasn’t. He didn’t give a damn about how he impacted my future.   In the years since he’s approached me several times, usually at political functions, to suggest we “sleep together” and he always laughs about it.  I wonder if he does this so that if he is ever held to account he can claim that he was only joking? I also wonder how he would explain why he has never had me on his show, in a climate where talk show hosts complain that they can’t get women to appear on their shows?  And I wonder how many other women have had the same experience I did with him? How many women have not been invited back to his show simply because they won’t sleep with him?

I wonder too what our next steps should be? My assistant who sat with me at the table when I was propositioned by this host, remembers the conversation well. But my gut tells me we will need to gather a few other women who have shared a similar experience in order for his CEO to take this seriously. With two elections coming up this year the host will have many opportunities to prey on women candidates. I hope my words will stop him from abusing his power. So I shout them and warn women to be careful – avoid lunching with the host of a talk show!  If you have experienced the same situation, and know whom I am writing about, please contact me – sarah@sarahthomson.ca. We will protect your identity. 

And I warn him: we are coming. We aren’t rushing, but we are slowly gathering our facts and we won’t let up.  Do the right thing, and step down from your job.

Guilty men fear the truth

Finally women are coming out on sexual assault, and shining a spotlight on men who use their positions of power to exploit women. But, as with all change, there are people who don’t like this new world. They scream that it isn’t fair, that men in positions of power should continue to be protected, and the women who accuse them should be scrutinized. They ignore the flaws in the democratic system that allow the media to shame women into silence.  Studies show that 80 percent of sexual assaults are not reported, in most cases it is because women don’t want to face the shame and humiliation society hurls at them. Protecting these women is the first step toward moving our society forward.

Last week. when two women came forward to charge Patrick Brown with sexual misconduct, reporter Christie Blatchford, master of spin, came out ranting that the two women should have faced the media “because fundamental to a democracy is… the right to face your accuser and make full answer in defence.”  She didn’t explain why she believes that facing the accuser and defending yourself has to be done on a public stage for the media. Nor did she admit that it is the media that so often distorts the truth.  Finally our society is starting to realize that this shaming makes innocent victims suffer in silence rather than come forward. Exposing the accuser to ridicule and shame, to the spin that media personalities want to weave around them isn’t democratic – it’s archaic.

Make no mistake, Patrick Brown will face his accusers and he’ll get a chance to defend himself if he wants that. Every accuser puts herself at risk of being sued. Blatchford ignores this and laments that Brown has already been tried in a court of public opinion – she forgets it is the same court that has tried and hung so many women who sought justice. Take for instance, Monica Lewinsky – when it finally came out that she was telling the truth, the media refused to admit their own responsibility over the damage they had caused to her reputation.  Nobody paid a penalty but her, and the friends and staff who protected President Clinton walked away unscathed.  The media personalities who were directly to blame for damaging her reputation never had to be accountable.  They didn’t care what they had done, and they didn’t apologize.

Democracy isn’t perfect. It’s a constantly changing idea, a moving target that social change tries to improve. It is flawed. It allows people to hold positions of power over others, and if this power is held by someone who abuses it, people get hurt. It isn’t just men in power who cause harm, there are women like Blatchford who have a pulpit but no sense of responsibility, and they use their words to damage others. What she does too often isn’t reporting, or journalism… it’s public shaming.

Today our society is trying to make up for the decades of shame and public humiliation forced on women who reported sexual assault. Blatchford claims she is worried that all men in positions of power will become easy targets. And I worry too. I worry that the gutter style media is the very noose that will hang innocent men. 

Democracy is founded on the desire for fairness –  and it is this desire for fairness that is guiding the social changes we are seeing today. The far right accuses women of claiming victimhood, but today women have gone far beyond being victims. Women are angry, they don’t forget – they want to even the playing field.  If men in leadership are to be safe from false accusations, it will be up to the media to become more accountable for our role in shaping public opinion.

The two women who reported Patrick Brown have inspired other women. But what I find inspiring about them is the very thing Blatchford can’t stand — they have shown  women a path to reporting sexual misconduct that doesn’t involve being publicly identified, humiliated and shamed. I believe these two women have opened the floodgates, and the sad fact is that there are few women over 40 who don’t have a story, or two, to tell of men who abused their position of power.

I remember a time in 2010 when I was running for Mayor of Toronto and was on a show with the other top four candidates.  The show helped my numbers in the polls, so the next time I saw the host I asked if I might get on his show again. Always kind and friendly, he suggested we meet over lunch to discuss.  My assistant and I met him at Grano’s on Yonge Street, and the three of us ordered our lunch. Not five minutes in he asked me if I would have sex with him. My assistant almost spit his drink all over the table. I politely told the host that I loved my husband and would never do that. I then excused myself, went to the washroom and called my campaign manager. My manager was at first angry that I was alone with a talk show host, but when I explained that my assistant was actually sitting there with us and had heard the entire thing, his anger turned to shock. He advised me that if I didn’t want to “take one for the team,” then I should excuse myself and leave.  I followed his instruction, and later asked my EA what he and the host had talked about while I was in the washroom. He told me he questioned the talk show host to see if asking directly for sex actually worked for him. The host said that it worked 50 percent of the time.  Needless to say, I never got on his show again. His refusal to have me on his show simply because I wouldn’t have sex with him, made it harder to compete with the men I was running against who appeared on his show several times. 

And now, eight years later, I question if I should have spoken up. By keeping silent, have I allowed him to sexually prey on other women? If you are a woman and have experienced a talk show host who used a similar line on you, please reach out to me (sarah@sarahthomson.ca). Let’s talk. Your identity will be protected.  

As the publisher of Women’s Post, I believe there should be a way for women to report sexual misconduct without having to face shame and humiliation, and without having to drag men through the court of public opinion.  The world is changing,  you can fight the change or you can embrace it and try to make the world just a little more balanced for all.

But be careful of the likes of Christie Blatchford — she is the kind of person who will invite you to a party at her house and act like your friend. But, years later, when everyone is accusing you of lying and kicking you, she’ll sneak in a few kicks just to fit in with the guys – and then later, when  the truth comes out, she’ll hope that you didn’t notice how many times she kicked you. I noticed.