Category Archives: Rita Smith’s Blogs

Tory’s Mental Health Hypocrisy

When more than 1000 cab drivers don yellow t-shirts and visit City Hall to tell politicians that it’s a bad idea to devastate an entire industry and the 15,000 men who make their living in it, you’d think the Mayor might notice….but instead, he’s listening to bureaucrats about mental health at Hart House on April 9th. I hope he learns something, anything; like, bankruptcy is bad for your mental health.

On Tuesday April 9th, Mayor John Tory hosted the Mental Health and Cities Summit to discuss the importance of mental health in an urban setting.

The blatant hypocrisy of John Tory speaking on the importance of urban mental health mere months after he brazenly threw 15,000 Toronto taxi drivers and their families under the bus financially, professionally, and emotionally is beyond appalling. His support for Uber’s business model – irresponsible to the point of being criminal – has destroyed the lives of thousands of hard-working drivers and put consumer safety at risk.

As my mother used to say, “I’d hate to have his nerve in a tooth.”

Bhairavi Desai of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance told National Public Radio in February: “I’ve been organizing taxi drivers since 1996, and I’ve never seen the level of desperation. I’ve started to receive so many calls from drivers seeking resources for suicide prevention and talking about homelessness and eviction notices…this is not accidental.”

New York City livery driver Douglas Schifter’s February 5th suicide in front of City Hall (he blew his brains out with a shotgun) was only one of three taxi driver suicides which took place in that city in three short months. Another, 57 year old Danilo Castillo, jumped off the roof of a building after calling his wife to detail for her his financial devastation.

Why does this matter to Torontonians? Because thousands of our taxi drivers are in exactly the same position: indebted to banks, committed to thousands of dollars in commercial insurance payments, bound by an incredible number of city by-laws. They are now competing with approximately 50,000 ride share drivers who are not required to follow these rules.

Toronto drivers may be a year or so behind the curve of the New York drivers, but their day of financial reckoning is coming, and they know it.

Law-abiding taxi owners who believed the  City of Toronto when it encouraged them to invest in a taxi plate, a safe car, training, mechanical inspections, security cameras and more are now scrambling to make payments and to support their families. Many simply cannot.

Toronto’s review of By-law 546, which invented an entire new set of dumbed-down rules for Uber and Lyft, was scheduled to be presented to Council in July 2017. Incredibly, Staff have simply and arbitrarily decided not to report until 2019. Apparently, direction from Council doesn’t mean anything anymore, and why should it? Municipal Licensing and Standards staff will continue to pick up a steady pay cheque for the next two years. Taxi drivers? Not so much.

One driver I met had his own apartment in spring of 2014. By summer, he was sleeping on a friend’s couch. By fall, he was homeless. Probably this has had an effect on his “urban mental health.” Hopefully, John Tory’s conference will help him.

Latif Gowher represents the 751 drivers who each invested roughly $80,000 putting an Accessible van on the road. “I won’t replace my van when it ages out, and a lot of other drivers won’t, either. The City wants cab owners to subsidize Accessible service; this has been a total failure.”

At a recent industry meeting, Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam fretted to Taxi News “There should be a way to change things…I don’t want to see these 751 drivers homeless.”

That’s a nice thought. Perhaps asking John Tory to demand MLS staff deliver their report less than two years late could be a start.










Where are the Social Justice Warriors standing up for Cabbies? Probably in an Uber, ‘cos it’s cheap

Feb. 12 Update: My column below ran in Taxi News in November, 2017. I did not post it to my website or Facebook because, as I noted a few times in the piece, nobody cares about the plight of taxi drivers.

However, Douglas Schifter’s suicide in front of New York City Hall last week was so sad and so compelling that I decided perhaps it was worth posting.

Additionally, I have decided that any politician or public person who promotes Uber and Uber’s criminal business model and then hypocritically runs out to support mental health causes and events should be called out and shamed. John Tory, come on down…


New York City taxi driver blows his brains out with a shotgun in front of City Hall

Early Monday morning, Douglas Schifter, a longtime New York City livery driver, posted an emotional 1,700-word note on Facebook.

Later that day, Schifter took his life outside of City Hall in Manhattan. His suicide has underscored the financial and emotional challenges for professional drivers, whose industry has been disrupted by companies such as Uber and Lyft.

Bhairavi Desai, the executive director for the New York Taxi Workers Alliance notes: “I’ve been organizing taxi drivers since 1996, and I’ve never seen the level of desperation. I’ve started to receive so many calls from drivers seeking resources for suicide prevention and talking about homelessness and eviction notices, and so, something has to be done here. This is not accidental, working people have a right to be protected.”

I had to laugh when these brave and determined men launched a 4 day hunger strike, during which they slept every night on the cold concrete in front of Toronto City Hall, were told by security that they had to remove their tents because they had no permits. “They are Uber tents!” one of the drivers replied merrily. Even faced with financial disaster, there was still humour.

Taxi drivers are owed giant apologies by so many groups, it’s hard to keep track any more.

I have read so many ridiculous, misguided, inaccurate and plain pathetic media articles about Uber in the past 4 years, I am at risk of becoming inured to the lunacy. I’ve lobbied politicians and pleaded with cops. I’ve debated family members and friends. I’ve pestered media members until they ran away from me.

Their minds are impenetrable; people want so desperately to believe you can get something for nothing, you can’t overcome their magical thinking.

We should never give up thinking skeptically, though, and challenging the lunacy; because what happened to taxi drivers could happen to anyone in any industry. The corruption and massive breach of business and political ethics that have infected the vehicle for hire industry can – and will – affect EVERY industry in future. Uber’s business model and philosophy is a cancer that must be removed from commerce.

Cabbies, unfortunately, have been the canaries in the coal mine. I’m so sorry.

 First, on behalf of women, I apologize to taxi drivers.

It appears that Uber’s terrible, horrible, very bad year was triggered by a blog post published in February by Susan Fowler, a female engineer at Uber. Her treatment was so egregious that her recounting of it set in motion a chain of events that forced CEO Travis Kalanick to resign.

What, you may ask, could possibly have happened to motivate Uber to send Arianna Huffington off on a fact-finding mission and hire former US Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate its toxic culture?

Well, this woman’s boss sent her an online message saying he would like to sleep with her. Instead of replying “Fuck you,” or even just “No,” or perhaps taking documentary evidence in the form of a printed chat message to a lawyer, she went to Human Resources, which did not help her. She was sad. She did not quit, though.

The next event, in a display of sexual discrimination so breathtakingly cruel I cry just thinking about it, Uber bought leather jackets for a team of male engineers, but they did not buy any for the women.

I think that largely, consumers do not realize that taxi drivers whose incomes are destroyed are not like workers being laid off from an office or a factory. Every one of these owner/operators pays for their own car and all expenses including commercial insurance. A man who puts an Accessible vehicle on the road already owes about $80,000 before he picks up his first fare.

I contrast these dire circumstances with those of cab drivers whose stories I have heard over the past four years: one driver I met had his own apartment in spring of 2014. By summer, he was sleeping on a friend’s couch. By fall, he was homeless.

I wish the legal, licensed taxi drivers who’ve had their lives decimated by Uber got even the tiniest percentage of the media attention female engineers get when propositioned or deprived of leather jackets – but nobody cares. Not even Susan Fowler, who is clearly completely comfortable with the thought of wrecking the lives of thousands of law-abiding cab drivers and their families, but doesn’t have the guts to say “no” to a lecherous boss. I am sorry for the pain she was content to cause taxi drivers, and I am sorry we are even the same sex.

Second, cab drivers are owed an apology by technology writers at every outlet that covers Uber.

These writers are supposed to be smart and prescient and have their finger on the pulse of all the trends which are going to affect us in the years ahead. In fact, they are so out of touch with business reality that they shouldn’t even be allowed to predict whether VHS VCRs will overtake Betamax, or whether online music shopping might be more popular than vinyl records.

Here’s a quote from a ReCode article on self-driving cars written by Johana Bhuiyan:

“Uber’s future depends greatly on solving self-driving. It’s what will keep the ride-hail company relevant as more automakers produce their own autonomous vehicles. But taking drivers out of the equation would also increase the company’s profits: Self-driving cars give Uber 100 percent of the fare, the company would no longer have to subsidize driver pay and the cars can run nearly 24 hours a day.”


Let’s just skip over the fact that Uber has NEVER turned a profit, and is on track to lose more than $3 billion in 2017.

Uber doesn’t own, or maintain, or insure, ANY cars.

The cars are owned by the drivers, who absorb every dollar of the cost of maintaining them no matter how much or how little revenue they generate.

Imagine what Uber’s bottom line would look like if, in addition to buying leather jackets for female engineers, they also had to purchase, insure and maintain their own cars. And then pay drivers. Uber’s business model is based upon persuading car owners to share their cars with Uber, while those drivers assume 100% of the risk of the business. While this appears to be far too futuristic a concept for a tech writer to grasp, P.T. Barnum was able to sum it up succinctly over 100 years ago: “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

9 determined men slept outside for 4 nights hoping to attract attention to their fight against Uber. One man, Huq, had a heart attack and was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital. Media on scene did not feel that was worth reporting.

Third, the mainstream media.

There aren’t enough column inches in Taxi News for me to recount the ways in which the mainstream media missed the boat on Uber (the sole exception being the Toronto Sun, which has actually made efforts to cover real industry issues).

I’ll just focus my comment on one recurring inaccuracy which is repeated in almost every article I read about Uber around the globe (England, Australia, Canada, the US, India and various Asian and African nations): how fairly or unfairly Uber “pays” its drivers.

“Uber doesn’t pay drivers!” I groan every time. “Drivers pay Uber! The driver does all the work, invests all the time, pays all the vehicle maintenance, and gives Uber 25 per cent of the money he earns. Without drivers, Uber has nothing. The drivers are Uber’s only source of revenue. Uber doesn’t pay drivers; drivers pay Uber!”

If they don’t understand that, they don’t understand anything about Uber. Why would we trust anything else they report? I am sorry we can no longer trust the mainstream media on much of anything.

Fourth, politicians.

Where to start? The betrayal of the taxi industry by politicians around the globe has been complete, quick and starkly hypocritical.

From John Tory in Toronto to David Cameron in England to Daniel Andrews in Australia, politicians who are either air-headed or corrupt just rolled over backward for Uber, re-writing or eliminating safety standards that have been decades and millions of dollars in the making and shredding the social contract with drivers that supported consumer protection.

Nobody puts it better than Hamilton taxi driver and writer Hans Wienhold:

“All of the most expensive elements of a secure taxi industry were never about safety at all. Now we see clearly that none of these things ever had anything to do with safety: they were just power grabs and cash grabs. No one will ever buy the politicians’ BS again.”

Finally, consumers.

People like cheap, there’s no arguing that.

Behrouz Kahmsa and Asafo Addai fought long and hard at City Hall, to no avail. Asafo eventually sold his taxi plate and left the industry, which is exceedingly unfortunate as he represents the exact kind of intelligent, dedicated man of integrity the city WANTS to be driving. I was so sad when I heard the news. He has moved on to a career as a truck driver.

When Uber first arrived, there was much ado about cartoon cars on cell phone screens and free ice cream and free puppy cuddles and hot women drivers.

Really, though, what it all comes down to is that Uber is cheaper than taxis, and people like cheap.

For the first two years after Uber arrived we read lots of stories about free water and candies in the car and happy grandmothers driving for extra cash.

When the first stories of sexual assault started showing up, a little dark cloud appeared on the horizon.

When an uninsured Uber driver killed a 6 year old girl in San Francisco, concerns were raised.

When London, England announced they were averaging almost one sexual assault per week and Londoners began referring to Uber as “rape roulette,” things began looking serious.

And then, when a woman in Texas was made a paraplegic in an accident in an uninsured Uber, people sat up and took notice.

Back in the day, when I was reading dozens of articles per day about Uber around the globe as part of my job, I felt some sympathy for these people.

Now, I confess, sympathy has evaporated. Now, when I come across complaints about Uber in my Twitter feed (“My Uber driver refused my service dog! My Uber driver left me at roadside! My Uber driver showed up at my apartment and told me he has feelings for me!”) I tend to reply sarcastically, “But you saved some money, so it’s all good, right?”

I particularly love the fact that there is a campaign underway by some women right now to get security cameras in Uber vehicles….now, consumers want to combine “cheap” with “safe.” They want it all; but as Austin Powers would say, “Some things just aren’t in the cards, baby.”

So on behalf of women, tech writers, media members and politicians, I apologize to all honest, law-abiding taxi drivers. You deserved better from everyone, and we let you down.

I’m so sorry.
























Girl Power: It’s not given. It’s taken.

Women who want to change the world by working in politics need to be able to say “No” to to intolerable conditions. We need to teach them this; everyone will be better off.

I had a good conversation with my brilliant daughter on Sunday. We talked at length about the sexual harassment allegations against Ontario PC Party leader Patrick Brown; party President Rick Dykstra’s horrific story had not even hit the media yet.

An experienced political staffer, she has dozens of her own stories about politicians making inappropriate comments; one Councillor, upon meeting her, announced “You look like my next girlfriend!” (Given that she is an exceedingly happily married lesbian, this is quite the long shot…)

She got me thinking about what was bothering me so much about these media reports. Maclean’s Magazine’s coverage of the Rick Dykstra story, in particular, hurt my heart. It made me worry a lot about the state of young women’s thinking and attitudes today.

The young woman interviewed by Maclean’s seems not to believe she had any power over her situation at all.

According to Maclean’s:

“At about 1:30 a.m., the woman… decided to go home. Dykstra jumped into her cab and gave the driver his address. When they got there, he was ‘very insistent’ that she go upstairs with him, she says, ignoring her repeated refusal.

She eventually relented. When they got to his apartment, she says he pushed her against the wall and starting kissing her. ‘I was saying no, but I didn’t feel there was much that I could do to stop what was happening,’ she says.

 ‘He brought me into his bedroom and he told me to sit down on his bed…he sat down next to me and was still trying to kiss me… I didn’t feel like I could move.’

‘He pulled down his underwear and forced me to perform oral sex on him.’”

This is an absolutely terrible state of affairs: that a woman in her 20s did not feel she could kick an unwanted man out of her cab? That she had to go to his house? That she had to go to his bedroom? That she could be forced to perform oral sex? Where ever did she get the idea that any job was worth that?

Recently I wrote a column on the concept that Muslims could choose whether or not to be offended by things said by others, because mature human beings get to choose their own thoughts, and Muslims have that power too.

Yet we have raised a generation of young women who believe that they must do what a man tells them to do, or who can be traumatized by the words that come out of a man’s mouth? For goodness sake, accused harasser Liberal MP Kent Hehr is a quadriplegic confined to a wheelchair, but women are afraid to ride in an elevator with him. I kind of think, as my son Dave would say, “I could take him.”

I am not in any way condoning the awful behavior of these men, but that is not the point here. In first year psychology you read about having an “internal locus of control” or an “external locus of control.” It’s probably the most important thing anyone learns in life: it has the potential to change every minute of your life, forever after.

If we could give young women the best gift ever, it would not be a world in which she could expect men to behave less like scoundrels and more like gentlemen.

It would be a psyche which gives them the confidence in their own judgement and personal power to kick the scoundrels out of their cab, and the courage to accept the consequences.

And in a perfect world, both.






Patrick Brown. Anonymous interviews. 2018 is ROUGH.

Alone and unstaffed, Patrick Brown runs out of the Ontario Legislature hounded by media.

I don’t like Patrick Brown; I never have.

We were in Ottawa at the same time, when he was a lacklustre backbencher, never rising above the level of an unassigned MP.

One of my friends worked on his Leadership campaign; she quit a few months in, thoroughly unimpressed.

As leader, his flip-flops on sex education and carbon taxes made me groan, and the apparent meddling in local nomination races were worrisome.

So, I don’t like him.

What occurred this week – the release of information detailing his unsuccessful attempts to “seduce” teen-agers – saw him literally running out of the Ontario Legislature, being chased by a crowd of reporters shouting questions. I expect his political career is now over.

Just to confirm what I believed to be true, I checked the Government of Canada website to read: the legal age for sex in Canada is 16. There are some extenuating circumstances, but generally speaking, 16.

(Full disclosure: I met my husband two weeks after my 17th birthday. I am now grappling with the fact that I should believe I was abused; it didn’t feel that way, though. We had our first baby when I was 21, and I have never looked back.)

While it’s illegal to give anyone under the age of 19 alcohol, one of the young women he met was in a bar, already drunk, at age of 18. Probably he did not ask to see her identification card.

Men have to up their game and re-examine their behaviour to be sure; no one is questioning that. It has become perhaps the biggest issue of 2018.

But young women also have to become more aware, A LOT more aware, of the effects of their behaviour on their physical safety.

An 18 year old who goes to a bar, gets drunk, goes home with a man and agrees to visit his bedroom has to know there is more going on than just a tour of his house. Otherwise, she should not be going to bars and getting drunk.

A 20 year old who visits a man’s bedroom after several drinks to view photos on his tablet – the single most transportable device ever invented – is naïve.

Men should not take advantage of women who are drunk, or who are naïve.

But, women should not be drunk and naïve.

At this year’s Golden Globe Awards, actresses all agreed to dress in black to protest the fact that men have been sexually harassing women.

Some of the black “protest dresses” amounted to little more than fishnet and lace, barely covering their vulvas or their nipples, as they hung off of their male escorts, producers, financiers. It is impossible to look at these photos without believing the women are pursuing, and receiving, something out of these relationships.

I made myself somewhat unpopular earlier this year when I proposed that rather than a #MeToo movement, we needed a #FuckYou movement.

“Any time a man proposes something inappropriate or outlandish just tell him, ‘Fuck you’!” I suggested to young women. I offered this advice in the spirit of believing that women possess enough personal power to control the situations in which they put themselves, like the young woman who told an amorous Patrick Brown, “Stop. I don’t want to do this Take me home.”

So he stopped, and he took her home. That was a good outcome. All women should keep that in mind, especially before they give anonymous media interviews that end mens’ careers.



Communications: Builders vs Politicians

My big brothers Jimmy and Wally are twins and both have been in construction their entire lives. They are both smart, generous, hard-working and funny. If my mom could have heard the language they adopted in construction, she would have washed their mouths out with soap. Still, they are the ones you want to have building your house; they are builders, not talkers.

I’ve been invited to sit on a panel at a conference of the Pearson Centre for Progressive Policy to discuss the one year anniversary of Donald Trump’s inauguration.

The Pearson Centre is not generally the kind of group that would invite a Conservative like me to address their members. I give all kinds of credit and kudos to them for being open to hearing opposing ideas and opinions.

I’ve thought a lot about what I would like to say, and I keep coming back to the difference between politicians and builders.

In politics, we work in the realm of thoughts, ideas, words, messages, and rhetoric. “Words ARE action in politics,” Ronald Reagan once noted. Sometimes, when I hear people speaking harsh or horrible words, it actually causes me to cringe in physical pain: my ears hurt.

Builders work in a different world, the world of concrete reality. “Matter matters,” my brother Paul observes.

I have six brothers and many nephews, and most of them are builders. They communicate using language so completely different than political rhetoric, I am sure it hurts the ears of many listeners.

My brother Jim, a builder for 40 years, is the best example. He has a repertoire of phrases that still make me laugh after decades.

“C’mon, people, we’re burning daylight!” he barks when the crew is not in action at 6am.

“C’mon, people, we’ve got a dime holding up a dollar!” he exclaims when a petty detail is holding up a project.

One day, Jim fired a man. The man returned to the jobsite the next day; he had a sawed-off cane handle tucked into the waistband of his pants, so it looked like he was carrying a gun.

“What did you do?” I gasped when Jim told me.

“What do you think I did?” he exclaimed. “I shit little blue putty balls!”

Oh….that was not the first thing I would have thought of, but I understood what he meant.

Jim was hired for the television show “Extreme Makeover” as Project Manager on the build of a house to be donated to a family in need, which would be featured on a special episode. The show also hired a handsome and charismatic actor to stand in front of the cameras and PRETEND to be the Project Manager, explaining to the audience what was going on.

Ten hours into the build, the show’s producer approached my brother: “We have a problem. Your team is building so fast, we can’t get all the shots we need. We need you to  slow down.”

”We can’t slow down. The volunteers already have their modified schedules,” Jim snapped back. “You’ll have to shoot faster.” They did.

While Jim’s words might hurt your ears, I have no doubt that if he was building your house, it would be perfect. If Jim did a walkthrough and the floor was not level or there was a gap around a window frame, the air would be purple with profanities. No amount of words, rhetoric, language or messaging could fix the problem: competent subs and trades will fix the problem. You might not appreciate his language, but you don’t want a talker to build your house. You want a builder.

Donald Trump is a builder. I’m sure his words hurt the ears of many listeners, but at this point in its history, I think America needs a builder, not a talker.

Happy anniversary!



Wishing you lots of Epiphanies

Somehow, I ended up with Six Kings, which hopefully means there will be even more Epiphanies around my house.

I must live in a rarefied world.

I was so surprised when a neighbour asked me after Christmas: “Aren’t you going to take down your Nativity decorations now that Christmas is over?”

“You mean, before the Epiphany?” I asked in a state of near-shock. “What would even be the point of putting up the Nativity, if you did not celebrate the Epiphany?”

I understand that much of the world celebrates Christmas on December 25th. As Will Ferrell states clearly in “Talladega Nights,” “Dear 8 pound, six ounce newborn infant Jesus,  with your tiny clenched fists…”

His character, Rikki Bobby, refused to accept the fact that Jesus Christ ever grew up or lived as an adult. He just loved the idea of Jesus as a new born baby, which we celebrate on Christmas morning.

As a child growing up in the Mid-west, however, my big sister Mary taught me the meaning of the Epiphany: Christ might have arrived on Christmas night. Unfortunately, human beings, dull as we are, did not grasp what His arrival meant until several days later. We are slow like that: God and Truth come to Earth one day. We figure out what it means weeks later. That’s just us. It doesn’t make us bad or stupid; it just makes us human. For some people, it takes days or weeks. For others, it takes years or decades; maybe a whole lifetime. The gap between the arrival and the realization is what makes humans, human.

Growing up in a family of 10 kids, doing dishes after dinner was a serious deal, and a real job. However, working with my big sister Mary, it never felt like work. I recall perfectly clearly the night she taught me the words to “We Three Kings” while she washed and I dried the dishes, pots and pans for dinner for 12 people.

“We Three Kings of Orient are

Bearing gifts, we traverse afar…

Moor and Mountain

Field and Fountain

Following yonder star”

When we finished the dishes, I had to go find a dictionary to look up the word “moor,” which I had never heard before. Mary was mind-expanding that way; she also opened my mind to the fact that all people do not understand all ideas at the same time.

She introduced me to the ritual of moving the Three Kings around the house, moving them a little closer to the Nativity every day, although they never actually arrived until January 6th, the Epiphany.

Decades later, a co-worker complained to me: “Rita, your life is a series of endless daily Epiphanies!”

“And that is bad….how?” I spluttered. I always assumed an Epiphany is a GREAT thing.

Three years ago, we lost my big sister Mary to Alzheimer’s disease. How, I wondered, could a human being so full of sweetness and love could simply be…gone? It was an Epiphany I did not welcome.

This Christmas, my son David approached me and sighed, “Ma, I’m so sorry. Winner (his 100 pound Rottweiler) came to me with….a camel.” He held out a damaged camel, belonging to one of the Three Kings. The camel’s head had been mostly chewed off, puppy-Rottweiler style.

“Ah, well,” I laughed, “That will teach me to leave the Three Kings around the house, where dogs can reach them!”

Actually, I will still leave the Three Kings all around the house. Mary would have.








Democracy for Iran! NOW IS THE TIME for a “Pussy March,” ladies.

It amazes me that I received these two Persian presents 15 years apart – yet the colour keys are virtually identical. The sight of them on my table makes me so happy.

“Even after all this time,

The Sun never says: ‘You owe me.’

Look what happens with a love like that:

It lights the world.”


I have to say – and perhaps I have a selective memory, but I don’t think so – that every Persian person I have met or taught or worked with has been a smart, hard-working, impressive person.

Possibly it’s because many of the smart, hard-working, impressive people picked up and got out of Iran when the going was good, decades ago. Possibly it’s just baked into their culture….Homa Arjomand, who organized the globe to fight Sharia law in Ontario 2005 was born in Iran. Many of the students in my Carnegie classes (almost always engineers) were born in Iran.

One year, when I was hired to run the Taxis on Patrol program, we had 12 finalist “heroes” to honour, and 9 of them were from Iran. The winner, an incredibly humble man who really did not want to be awarded anything, had a knife pulled on him at the back of his cab. He popped the trunk, pushed the assailant in, and drove to 52 Division Police station.

“I need an officer to come out to my car,” he informed the desk clerk. “There is a man with a knife in my trunk.”

“What is it with Iranians, that they are so proactive they make 9 of 12 nominations in this program? What were you thinking when you locked that guy in the trunk?” I asked the cab driver.

“Well, maybe it’s because where we come from, if you wait for the police, all the damage will be done before anybody comes to help you; so you help yourself. Besides,” he sighed, “that guy with the knife was so old and weak and spindly, he really could not have hurt anyone. I felt sorry for him.”

Imagine my delight when a Persian couple moved in across the street last summer. To welcome them, I made up a tiny paper plate of cookies to leave at their front door with a little “Welcome to Milligan Street” note. The next day, an ENORMOUS pink geranium appeared on my front porch, which bloomed for the entire summer.

A few months later, after a trip to ARZ, I made up a platter of dips and stuffed grape leaves and zucchini so I could “share the wealth” of my favourite store with them.

The next day, my neighbour appeared at my door with an absolutely gorgeous glass bowl for my dining room table. It sits atop a beautiful fabric runner which came from Shiraz, in Persia. (Shiraz is famous for two things: the grapes from which the popular wine is made, and the poet Hafiz.) I have given up trying to out-gift my Persian neighbours: it’s impossible.

Now, thousands of men and women in cities across Iran are protesting in the streets, demanding a Democratic government and better economic policies. I always felt the West let Iranians down during their Green Movement in 2009; I can’t do much now, but here is what Homa Arjomand is asking us to do:

  • Support the movement of people in Iran for freedom, equality, prosperity and secularism.
    • Distribute the news as soon as possible through various social media
    • Join the demonstration in support of people of Iran organized in the West by activists and freedom seekers
    • Request the Canadian government and all other Western governments to put pressure on the United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights to adopt a resolution for closing down all Iranian Embassies around the world.



Rita’s Wardrobe Malfunctions

My favourite Christmas sweater was abused in a “wardrobe malfunction.” It survived the ordeal.

I have had two wardrobe malfunctions in December, one of which was funny and one of which was definitely not.

First, I was driving in a tricky situation wearing “Fake Uggs.” I don’t want to smear Uggs because these are cheaper knock-offs I purchased elsewhere.

I was cheerfully driving up the road to drop off a Christmas bag of cookies, pickles and burritos to Farmer Doug who works the field behind my house. (“Thank a Farmer!”)  I could have just parked on the road, but instead I turned into the entranceway to the field, which is a fairly steep, short embankment which was also muddy.

When I moved my right foot to step on the brake, the rubber edge of my Fake Uggs got caught UNDER the brake pedal instead of resting on top of it. My car slid directly into a fencepost and under a fence board.

The rubber edge of my boot got caught under the brake pedal and did not want to let go! It was a vey scarey experience.

It was a really alarming experience! I cannot get out of my mind the picture of the consequences if that had happened elsewhere, say, at a crosswalk with a mom pushing a stroller, or on the 401 on an icy drive.

The good news is that it happened in a muddy field and a fence post stopped my car.

The bad news is, the impact dislodged my bumper slightly and dented my hood. Not a big dent, but noticeable.

When I got home and was able to survey the damage, I was dismayed. Damn! Money.

Recalling one of my favourite Red Green episodes, I decided to see if I could just hammer out the dent: I picked up a rubber mallet and tapped the bumper. It popped right back into place, which was great!

I decided not to approach the dent in the hood until the car was warmer; I assumed that would be better.

Yesterday, after a long day full of errands and a jolly Christmas party in Toronto which meant I got home at 8pm, I decided it was as good a time as any to see if I could tap out the dent in the hood, too. I was tired and space in the garage was tight; even with the light on, it was still pretty dim.

I propped open the hood and tapped from the underside with my trusty rubber mallet. Unfortunately, I could not tell from the underside of the hood if I was making any difference to the top, so I pulled out the prop rod and let the hood drop so I could check.

Whoops! The hood caught the edge of my favourite Christmas party sweater! “Crap!” I thought. “I hope I did not wreck the zipper.”

As it turned out, that was the least of my problems. Try as I might, I could not pinch the lever that releases the hood. I spent several minutes trying, and then finally gave up, too tired to persevere. “I’ll try again in the morning when the light is better,” I sighed, shrugging off my favourite Christmas sweater and leaving it hanging forlornly from the hood.

The good news is that in the morning, when I was not so tired, I realized that the reason I couldn’t open the hood was because it has to be popped from inside the car first – of course I knew that – and as soon as I did, my favourite sweater was released and the zipper was not damaged.

So what I learned this December: I won’t be driving wearing my Fake Uggs anymore. And I should be grateful for small miracles like helpful fence posts and sturdy sweaters. It’s not my wardrobe that malfunctions – it’s me.

Merry Christmas!















Challenging my American relatives at Thanksgiving

I can’t be in Michigan for American Thanksgiving this year, which makes me very sad.

I have no explanation for this, but I cannot get Steven Spielberg’s movie “Lincoln” out of my mind. While slavery still exists today – horribly – in Africa and the Middle East, thousands of American men gave their lives to extinguish it in the United States of America. Yet somehow, if you consume very much of American media these days, you could come away with the idea that Americans are in SUPPORT of slavery. How did such a ludicrous idea take hold?

When Spielberg’s “Lincoln” was released, I booked the entire day off to attend the opening. I was surprised to see so few people in the theatre, as I assumed it would be considered a blockbuster.

The film lived up to every expectation that I had. Based upon Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book “Team of Rivals,” with a screenplay written by Tony Kushner (author of “Angels in America”), the story is absolutely thrilling. Lincoln decided, as the American Civil War ended, that all of the blood spilled and losses mounted during that war would be wasted if a new amendment to the Constitution – the 13th Amendment – was not passed. Lincoln made it his life’s mission to get it passed.

Frankly, I think every NFL player “taking a knee” during the national anthem should move to Somalia or Saudi Arabia ASAP.

Also, I am throwing down a challenge to every one of my American relatives: if you have not watched Spielberg’s “Lincoln” with your kids already, you should do so this holiday season.

Now, now, now.


Aunt Rita







Rita’s Nativity Story

Pete Hedemark decided one year to start building Nativity settings….I think I got the first one, in 1999. I loved it on sight! It has been one of my favourite parts of Christmas every year since. Even when it is empty, it is beautiful: we are waiting.

One Christmas, my brother Pete built me a wooden Nativity. I loved it from the first moment I saw it and have treasured it ever since.

A generous friend saw how much I loved the Nativity structure and bought me a set of wooden figurines. Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, the shepherds and angels were rustically hand-carved in Germany and very lovely.

Unfortunately, they were also extremely brittle. I learned this when my cat ran across the roof and tipped it over. Two of the shepherds snapped in half! I was dismayed, but philosophical. I could get by with two less shepherds.

Then, I stopped home one busy workday to be greeted by my housekeeper Krys and her daughter Kirsten. Krys had been part of our family as a babysitter since she was eleven years old, and we had a great working arrangement: after her babies were born, I offered to pay her to look after my house and bring her own kids with her. She did not have to pay for daycare and I did not have to worry about the endless important details of looking after a home. It made for a very happy house, and most days it worked out perfectly.

Except on this day, which was so traumatic I still cry thinking about it.

Krys met me at the door with four-year-old Kirsten, who had tears streaming down her sweet little cheeks.

“Show Rita what you did,” Krys commanded.

Sobbing and hiccupping, Kirsten held out her shaking hands. The Joseph figurine was broken into two pieces. Joseph’s head was in one hand, while his torso was in the other. I have never seen a little girl so frightened and heartbroken.

“Oh my God, those crappy Nativity pieces!” I exploded. “Who makes Nativity pieces that no one can touch?” Without even setting down my car keys, I turned around and left the house.

Krys had no idea of where I was going. She half thought she was going to be fired.

I jumped in my van and drove straight to FlatIron’s Christmas Market.  “I have got to buy some Nativity pieces which are unbreakable,” I told the saleswoman.

“Oh, you need the Fontanini pieces,” she informed me. She led me to the back wall of the store – past numerous locked glass display cases of hand-carved wooden pieces, I observed morosely. Who makes Nativity pieces that no one can touch?

Even when the manger is empty, we still worship: we are waiting. The My Little Pony was added by a little girl who loved this Nativity; I have loved it ever since. She belongs there.

The Fontanini display was incredible! Mary, Joseph, Jesus, shepherds, angels, Kings, oxen, asses, camels, sheep, rams, dogs…all in hard, painted resin which could be endlessly handled and washed. I lost my mind, picking out all the figures I wanted. The Nativity, to me, represented every important thing humanity needs: love, hope, optimism, shelter, warmth, respect, caring. Joy.  Work. Responsibility. Mothers. Fathers. Family.

I bought a duplicate Mary, Joseph and Jesus to give to Kirsten as a gift.

And then, I got to the cash register: $400 worth of figurines. I swallowed hard and presented my credit card; there was no looking back now.

I arrived home with my bags of figurines and enlisted Kirsten to help me set up the new Nativity. “You can play with these all you want,” I assured her. “That is the whole point of a Nativity: kids should play with the people. That’s how you learn what is important.”

Imagine my delight when, a few days later, I asked Krys if I should get my brother to build a Nativity for Kirsten.

“Oh, don’t worry about that!” Krys laughed. “Kirsten emptied out her Barbie house and put Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus in it. They already have a home.”

Love, hope, optimism, shelter, warmth, respect, caring.  Joy. Work. Responsibility. Mothers. Fathers. Family.

Merry Christmas!