News / Toronto

Mayor Tory says Toronto must embrace immigrants, won't denounce Kouvalis comments

Tory was heavily criticized online this week after he was asked about the statements made by Kouvalis.

Mayor John Tory, surrounded by city councillors, talks at city hall Tuesday to reaffirm, in light of events in the U.S., Toronto's status as a "sanctuary city."

Torstar News Service

Mayor John Tory, surrounded by city councillors, talks at city hall Tuesday to reaffirm, in light of events in the U.S., Toronto's status as a "sanctuary city."

Toronto is a place of welcome, Mayor John Tory reaffirmed Tuesday, saying the city remains both a home for refugees and safe haven to undocumented immigrants.

He said political leaders have a “moral obligation” to speak out against hatred.

But Tory stopped short of denouncing his former campaign strategist Nick Kouvalis — to whom he remains loyal after his 2014 election win — whose controversial comments have drawn criticism he is capitalizing on the fear and hatred of refugees recently inspired by President Donald Trump. It is expected that Kouvalis will help Tory seek re-election in 2018.

Criticism peaked this week after Kouvalis on the weekend called a political science professor a “cuck” on Twitter — a derogatory term that has been used by the bigoted “alt-right” against their opponents — and accused him of “treason.”

Kouvalis has since apologized for those comments. He did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

“We understand that as Canadians we are almost all immigrants and that no one should be excluded, mistreated or disrespected on the basis of their ethnicity or their nationality or their faith or a host of other attributes,” Tory told reporters on Tuesday surrounded by a strong showing of more than 20 council colleagues.

His statements came just before the mayor introduced a motion backed by left-leaning Councillors Joe Cressy and Joe Mihevc to reaffirm Toronto’s status as a so-called “sanctuary city” — a designation that allows undocumented immigrants to access city services — and to urge the federal government to “continue an immigration and refugee policy based on the values of inclusion, acceptance and non-discrimination.”

“To those who see immigration or new Canadians as something to fear, as the mayor I say this: The people we welcome in Toronto as immigrants and refugees help build our city and our country. They are children. They are parents. They are neighbours. They are coworkers. They have often faced real danger and persecution in the countries they have fled. In my experience this gives them a unique understanding of the blessings that come with residence here in this city and in this country.”

He went further: “We all care about the safety and security of our nation, but Canada’s immigration and refugee policies have served us very well and in no way threaten that safety or security.”

But in the background were Kouvalis’ comments and Tory’s links to the man who is currently the campaign manager for federal Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch. Leitch has proposed vetting immigrants, refugees and visitors for “anti-Canadian values.”

Tory was heavily criticized online this week after he was asked about the statements made by Kouvalis.

On Tuesday, when asked directly about how his refusal to denounce Kouvalis contradicted the motion at council, Tory said he would not support any campaign that is “inconsistent” with his position on inclusion, but refused to wade into proposed policies.

Tory noted Kouvalis was right to apologize for his earlier tweets and said he will be in charge of any future campaign messaging.

“For anybody who wants to work on my campaign, if they’re people who don’t share my values, if they don’t share the same approach, who have issues with how I articulate things or what I stand for — and I stand very clearly for what I said today — then that’s fine. They don’t have to work on my campaign, but I will be the one that will govern that,” he said.

Tory did not specifically say Kouvalis, who he recently told the National Post was “one of the smartest people I have available to me,” would be unwelcome on his future campaign.

Councillor Joe Cressy, who stood next to Tory at Tuesday’s presser, said afterwards he has been “disgusted by the behaviour and comments of Nick Kouvalis.”

“His hate has no place in Canadian politics.”

Tory’s motion to reaffirm Toronto as a welcoming haven passed at council almost unanimously, with Councillor Stephen Holyday voting against the “sanctuary city” clause.

When the motion needed votes to be introduced on the council floor, Tory’s Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong and Councillor Christin Carmichael Greb could be seen walking out of the chamber, abstaining from the vote.

Minnan-Wong told the Star he walked out intentionally, and has never supported Toronto being a “sanctuary city.”

“People that are here illegally should be returned to their homes,” he said.

Carmichael Greb did not respond to a request for comment, but was in the chamber for the actual vote on the motion and supported it.

Council, including Tory, also unanimously supported a motion to request the federal government reconsider a cap on privately-sponsored refugees from Syria and Iraq in light of a recent ban in the U.S., with hundreds of Torontonians one the waiting list to sponsor them.

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