Organizing the Suburbs

Published in Briarpatch Magazine

During the 2018 Ontario elections, a campaign pamphlet for Progressive Conservative (PC) candidate Raymond Cho was distributed with the words “為人民服務” – “Serve the People” – in bold. The phrase is one of the most iconic Maoist slogans – but in this case, it was used as a crude translation of Doug Ford’s slogan, “For the People.”

While the NDP won the majority of downtown Toronto ridings, they were locked out of the suburbs, where the PC Party rode to a decisive victory across the commuter belt of Mississauga, Markham, Etobicoke, and – to a lesser extent – Scarborough.

For some this was unexpected: suburban working-class and immigrant communities might have been expected to side with the Liberals or NDP, more so than the generally whiter and wealthier downtown communities. After all, left-leaning parties are supposed to be the champions of the poor and racialized. For others, election results confirmed a growing belief that Canada’s new wave of immigrants is both socially and fiscally conservative, innately.

We reject these two presumptions. Instead, we draw on the case of Chinese suburbanites in Scarborough and York Region to argue that the electoral success of the right is the result of decades of disengagement by the left and sophisticated politicking by right-wing politicians.

The detachment of intersectionality from its Black feminist roots: A critical analysis of social service provision training material based in Ontario

Wong, E. H. S. (2018). The detachment of intersectionality from its Black feminist roots: A critical analysis of social service provision training material based in Ontario. In Intersectionality in Social Work (pp. 51-65). Routledge.

This chapter takes as a starting point the use of intersectionality in a range of social services training materials. The critical analysis shows that the training material detaches the concept of intersectionality from its radical political roots. This has potential negative implications for social work practices. Most importantly, in emphasising service provision over mass movement building, there is a failure to undertake the social work task of advocating for societal change, and the spirit of Black feminist thought and liberation movements from which intersectionality emerged is lost.

“The brains of a nation”: The eugenicist roots of Canada’s mental health field and the building of a white non-disabled nation

Wong, E. H. S. (2012). Not Welcome A Critical Analysis of Ableism in Canadian Immigration Policy from 1869 to 2011. Critical Disability Discourses/Discours critiques dans le champ du handicap, 4.

This paper examines the literature published by the Canadian National Committee for Mental Hygiene (CNCMH), a precursor to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), from 1918-1921, and its connection to eugenicist social policies. Specifically, this study involves a critical discourse analysis of the Canadian Journal of Mental Hygiene (CJMH) published by the CNCMH, which illustrates how the roots of Canada’s mental health field are linked to a nation-building project deeply intertwined with eugenicist notions of race and disability. Foundation myths that reinforce the Canadian nation were also imbued in the literature, including: Canadian identity as linked to white non-disability, Canada as tabula rasa, and eugenicist fears of the ‘over-population’ of ‘undesirables’. On the basis of these foundation myths, the CNCMH considered mental hygiene discourse and practice as a means to further Canada as a white nondisabled nation. The desire to further the Canadian nation in this manner led to the promotion of eugenicist social policies. Many of these policies – especially, immigration controls – were put into place by the Canadian government and remain to this day.

Social Work as a ‘Bullshit Job’: Critiques of Social Work’s Potential for Social Justice in the Context of Professionalization and its Code of Ethics

I recently participated in a focus group examining “contemporary social work students’ responses to social justice practice principles as stated in the Social Work Code of Ethics”, and thought I’d collect some of the ideas I had shared about the topic. Some see the code of ethics and mobilization within the profession as a venue for the furthering of social justice, but a broader analysis of social work and my experience in the field has led me to find this problematic. I do believe, as Bonnycastle’s “From Social Equality to Compassion: A Critique of the 2005 CASW Code of Ethics” expressed, that the code can illuminate trends that are occurring in the field. Bonnycastle specifically suggested that the trends seem to sway towards neoliberalism. The removal of mentions of egalitarianism and humanitarianism from the code’s preamble was telling, but I believe that even the elements of the code referring to […]

Anarchist Re-Imaginations of Mental Healthcare

Today, I attended a great talk by Bonnie Burstow on anarchist re-imaginations of mental health care, entitled ‘Toward a World with Commons and without Psychiatry: an Anarchist Vision’. The talk spoke to a lot of my concerns having worked in the mental health field for the past couple years, but also spoke to some of my aspirations for the provision of mental healthcare in a collective manner. Firstly, Burstow outlined the foundations of the contemporary mental health field and its interventions into the lives of those deemed unwell – parens patriae and the responsibility of the state to protect. Parens patriae (parent of the nation) is the notion that the state – like a ‘patriarch’ – could and should intervene in the lives of people when the state deems it to be in the people’s best interest – as defined by the state. The second foundation is the idea that […]

The Mental Health Field and Our Complicity in Police Brutality and Repression of Racialized People

During Canadian Mental Health Association’s annual Black History Month panel today, I was pleasantly surprised, even shocked, to see Kabir and Letanya representing the Justice for Jermaine campaign at my office. They gave a great talk about the circumstances behind Jermaine Carby, another young man murdered by the police and someone whom was going through the mental health system, as well as the context of police brutality – as did Jordon Veira and Tennial Rock.  The talk focused on the important and urgent need for continued opposition to the police and their targeting of Black and other marginalized people. However, often missing within the mental health field is acknowledgment of our complicity in this brutality we claim to oppose. Just as the police has a long history of supporting state and capital in the subjugation of racialized people, psychiatry and the broader field of mental health has not only assisted in this process […]

Thoughts on umbrella revolution

Had a great lunch with Elene and Tings Etc to discuss the ongoings in HK, gaining a lot more insight. I know a lot of fellow leftists have been skeptical about the nature of the protests in HK and whether it’s worth supporting. A lot of the criticism is legitimate (though there is also a caveat). Firstly, it does appear that unlike the early-2000s (when I was living in HK and involved in the democracy movement) where an economic critique was very central to protests, the economic critique (never really picked up by the Western media in the first place) has become less emphasized. Secondly, a nativist discourse (apparent to anyone who has visited HK in the last decade) has become stronger and stronger. I have found it odd that unlike my past experiences, the languages has moved from ‘Democracy in China’ and supporting our Chinese compatriots, to ‘Democracy in […]

Thoughts on the Rob Ford Scandal

I’ve been following the Rob Ford scandal intently for the last couple days and as much as I hope I am wrong, I think he will survive this debacle and the fault lies entirely with his opponents. It’s all an issue of framing. The issue has been framed by the media and his opponents as a question of individual morals – a politician that smokes crack and lies about it should resign. But the context is completely left out and without the context, Rob Ford becomes a sympathetic figure … a figure that the very people the left should count as allies, the disenfranchised, the oppressed, can connect to . This context that has been erased is that the policies he pushes for are the very policies that are the most harmful to the people being drawn to Ford. Instead of the focus on the specific act depicted in the […]

Life in Jane and Finch: A Product of Apartheid, but also of Resistance

In the late hours of Monday, 11 February, the tragic news of a young child killed by gunshot hit the news with “Jane and Finch” becoming front and centre in headline after headline. As a community mourns, dozens of ‘internet warriors’ have also gathered, but instead of commemorating the life of a young man, they have come together to sling racist vitriol at a community that has suffered tremendously through oppression and marginalization. Even considering the ‘low-level’ of discourse that often characterizes the comment sections of various news outlets, the comments that have followed this tragedy have been especially notable for its violent and vulgar nature – for the sole reason that this is not Rosedale; this is not Forest Hill; this is Jane and Finch, a neighbourhood with one of the highest concentrations of racialized people in the country. All that which would be unacceptable and inappropriate when directed […]

‘Welfare Fraud’ – So What?

Reposting from one of my facebook arguments: Nathan, you have mentioned a great deal that is problematic – time is limited, so I will just focus on the point regarding welfare fraud. Outside of the fact that your neighbours’ financial status is really none of your business, this is really an issue of framing and by removing the context, its quite easy to paint a picture for the purpose of reinforcing problematic discourses. So, let’s bring back the context … rates of fraud in the welfare system is 20x less than the rate of fraud in the income tax system. The emphasis in public discourse and in your discussions on welfare fraud is but an example of poor bashing, a non-issue made into an issue.  But, really, if we take another step back, even this fact is besides the point. If there was really widespread welfare fraud … so what? […]