'Known for polite rule following': Canadians push back against cartoonish stereotype applied by New York Times

Arun Srinivasan
Contributor
'Known for polite rule following': Canadians push back against cartoonish stereotype applied by New York Times

In the absence of a binary, concrete national identity, people are often left to apply outdated stereotypes about Canadians.

Against all notions of politeness, Canadians are pushing back against a story filed by Catherine Porter of the New York Times over the past weekend, where it made the city of Toronto appear like doe-eyed simpletons during the coronavirus pandemic.

The headline reads “Toronto Was Obeying Social Distance Rules. Then Came Adorable Baby Foxes” — because according to the publication that lives by the adage “all the news that’s fit to print,” you can’t do two things at once.

Porter begins the story with this misleading lede:

A crowd of people bunched shoulder to shoulder one recent spring day on a boardwalk overlooking Lake Ontario. They leaned over a waist-high fence, taking pictures with their phones.

Only one wore a mask.

Seriously, Toronto?

Canadians suffered a national tragedy over the weekend when a Canadian Air Force jet crashed in Kamloops, B.C., during a flyover which was meant as tribute for frontline workers during the pandemic, killing Capt. Jenn Casey on Sunday. Considering the scope of the tragedy, it seems frivolous to file a story about Torontonians looking at a fox as a national dispatch.

As one would expect, people took issue with Porter’s story.

Porter’s dispatches also leaves plenty to the imagination, with a cartoonish description of the denizens of a city with nearly 3 million people, likening them to characters that wouldn’t be out of place in a Berenstain Bears book.

As a rule, Canadians have deep respect and fear of wild animals, grown from living in a country of vast forests and few people. The country’s literature is filled with stories of wolves and bears; Canadian coins are stamped with caribou and beaver.

But inside city limits, there’s a different calculus. In Toronto, wildlife is mostly derided as pests that dig up freshly planted bulbs (squirrels), jimmy open city compost bins and strew the smelly contents everywhere (raccoons), or — worst — eat beloved pets (coyotes).

Still, in the midst of pandemic, Toronto seems open to making an exception for foxes.


It’s not just Porter who should take blame for this brazenly lazy portrayal.

“Mayor John Tory was the first to go into self-isolation, and the rest of Toronto — a city known for polite rule following — soon followed. So that scene at the boardwalk? We can explain,” the Times’ Instagram caption reads.

A city known for polite rule following? Toronto is known for many things: the defending champion Toronto Raptors, being a leader in LGBTQ+ rights and advocacy, excellent food and nightlife, Drake, an inferiority complex (if we’re firing back at New York, let’s be honest here) among countless other things, but polite rule following? That’s a first.

“Seriously, @nytimes? This caption is tantamount to propaganda,” Instagram user @janeezay fired back.

“Known for polite rule following”? I’ve lived in Toronto for years and that is total BS. Plus; the red fox is NOT uncommon in Canada by any means, @nytimes,” @sundaygrace wrote.

As it stands, Toronto, and the country as a whole, has been pretty effective in flattening the spread of the coronavirus — at least well enough to do without some needless sanctimony from New York — but it would take a lot more than a fox sighting for us to collectively lose it and go outside.

Maybe we’re not so polite after all.