Racism on the TTC

“Circle the wagons.  The Injuns are comin’.”

Those seven words set off a cascade of feelings like a row of neatly placed dominos, toppled one after another.

My experience yesterday took place on the TTC.  The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) has to be one of the most diverse environments in the city.  From TTC employees to TTC riders – an Anishinaabe can get lost among the beautiful brown faces.  It’s certainly not the place where one would expect to encounter an overtly racist comment – from a TTC employee no less.

But there I was – rushing to get to work and running a little late.  I bound down the stairs at Yonge-Bloor Station just missing the southbound subway.  I have about a minute before the next train arrives so I walk down to the end of the platform.

I stroll briskly down the platform thinking about the Billy Joel interview I had just heard on the Howard Stern Show.  Needless to say, I’m in a great mood.

As I cross the half-way mark down the platform, I hear two things.  First, I hear the train nearing the station behind me.  Second, I hear the laughter and carrying on from two uniformed TTC platform monitors.  These are the guys in the big burgundy TTC coats and the reflective safety singlet.  They are responsible for my safety and well-being.

Then I hear those seven words, from the white guy to his buddy, in a faux-southern drawl of a cowboy:

“Circle the wagons.  The Injuns are comin’.”  Then some laughter from the two men.

My immediate reaction was to smile and keep walking.  Then I make the realization of what I experienced.  Racism.

As I make the realization – I have to make the choice.  Do I shrug it off and keep walking?  Or do I stop, cause a scene and make a complaint?  I am already late for work.  So I decide to shrug if off.  After all – he was just trying to be funny.  We are subject to racial humour everyday – on TV, film even the aforementioned Howard Stern Show.  Besides, he was carrying on with his TTC buddy – who is laughing in hysterics.

I get on the train.

As the subway door closes, it immediately starts gnawing at me.  I regret my decision.  I’m riding the train looking at all those around me.  All those beautiful brown faces – who probably didn’t hear what I heard.  I’m thinking they are probably subject to their own forms of racism and everyday comments.  As I pass station-to-station, those thoughts and feelings fill my chest.

I should have said something.

But isn’t that always the case?  I’ve experienced similar situations and comments in the past.  Sometimes I choose to address it and correct it. Other times, I’m consumed by my own conflict and fear.  Sometimes I’m just not brave enough to say something.  Sometimes I’m more concerned about the offenders… getting them in trouble, or fired and what-not.

Later that morning, I arrive at Queen’s Park for the Louis Riel Day commemoration.  Ironically, the ceremony takes place in front of an official monument commemorating Ontario’s participation in the Northwest Rebellion and the various battles against the Métis resistance.  Speaker after speaker talk about racism, stereotypes and inequality.  A young Métis woman speaks about the shame that is still harboured in her family for being Aboriginal.  I’m so moved by her words, I blurt it out my experience to my friend Saga and then to her colleague Tamar.

At first there is laughter.  But then the stark realization of what it is.  They are mortified over the incident.  The fact that it was a TTC employee demands that it should be reported.  Unfortunately, I chose to leave hurt, beaten, regretful, angry… a victim among a sea of victims.

Those seven words, uttered for comedic affect, have such a profound effect.  Quite different from the seven words that we should all be living by:  Love, Respect, Bravery, Honesty, Humility, Truth, Wisdom.  These are those gifts provided to us by the Seven Grandfathers.

Racism is alive and well.  Those of us in the minority are well aware of it.  Even in a multi-cultural environment of the great city of Toronto.  Deep in the bowels of the TTC – is an ugly monster that so many choose to ignore.



  1. Arnya says:

    aw, i feel bad for you my friend, that this happened … and i agree, racism is alive and well … but what i tell my boiiz, if it doesn’t feel right in the pit of your stomach – then you need to do something about that. and … what if your sons were with you, would you have let them get away with talk like that – i would hope not.

    i feel bad that this happened, that it still happens – and yes, growing up in the city, it happened a lot … unfortunately, the times they don’t a-change. shame on those two ttc employees!

  2. Ash says:

    No hope is lost, as long as the date/time/place is remembered, you can still file a complaint with the TTC – I would encourage you to do so.

    There may already be complaints against these particular men (especially if they were wearing burgandy coats – these are SUPERVISORS!) and yours may just top off the cake and send these men the Karmic ass kicking they need. I wouldn’t worry about them getting fired, if they do, then its just what they deserve.

    Don’t stand for public employees treating the public like shit.

    The TTC is a well uniformed, overpaid, underworked union and its incidents like these that need to be reported against the TTC so employees can’t hide behind the protection of that union.

    Getting paid close to $30/hour (plus full benefits & medical) and uttering these words?

    My Blood is Boiling.

  3. Rodney says:

    Aaniin Bob,
    I understand the dilema. The line between a joking figure of speech and racism is often caught the emotion of the people offended. In all reality these words are a step away from being replaced by terms like “savages” or any of the other of the stronger words out there in lieu a bad joke. Maybe one day when struggle for our rights is settled and we stand as equals in society these jokes of bad taste may be spoken to have the same feeling like “water off a ducks back”, but that day isn’t here yet and these words do have teeth. If there is to be any substanial change it has to come from leadership that can pass on social communication. But like every thing else changes are subject to the individual.
    Our path’s are often wraught with turning the other cheek to save the individual whether they be intentionally or ignorantly speaking. Do you recognize the issue and report the person or the society to promote change? As n’bisiing anishinawbe we look for peaceful solutions, but that is our way because of our numbers and our considered actions protect our families.
    Respect and honour cousin, baamaapii

  4. VirtueB says:

    Sorry that this happened 🙁 It wasn’t right in any way, shape or form. I’m glad you were able to speak up and file a complaint.

    <3 V.

  5. vicky says:

    It is rare that the majority on the subway are white. everyone is brown and it is so comforting. So why would they feel like they need to make fun. I dont’ get what they find so funny. Is it funny that natives take the subway? Is it funny that you were there? Is it funny that you could possibly hijack the subway? I dont’ get it.

  6. I would have confronted the two guys, myself. But that’s ME, you know my temper. I probably would’ve been kicked out of Canada- but my conscience would remain clear…