Email Us

A Communal Quest for Vindication

October 12, 2009 by  
Filed under lifestyle


Quest0A Toronto Life magazine feature disheartens the Vaughan community, whose major accomplishments are clouded with claims of corruption and scandal.

Every time I’m asked where I’m from I hesitate. I pause because I want to avoid the know-it-all smirk. I equivocate because I don’t want to hear the toxic and discriminative comments that fall from ignorant lips. That’s not fair to me or any other resident of Vaughan who lives life according to the law.

I’m not naive, but Vaughan is primarily a city full of heart, ­not villains. So why do cantankerous mediums continue to pollute our clean air with what appears to be anti-Italianism and acrimonious sound bites?

What alarms me the most is that Italians continue to be easy targets because they prefer not to speak out on issues that concern them. And many people take advantage of that.

Yellow journalism was at its best with a recent feature on Vaughan entitled “The Land of the Rich and Infamous,” written by Chris Nuttall-Smith, former food editor and current freelancer for Toronto Life. Residents of Vaughan found this story – which lambastes 905 developers, Mayor Linda Jackson, Vaughan council and the Italian community – plainly distasteful.

I asked Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Julian Fantino how he feels when his culture or the community he lives in is criticized in the media.

Julian Fantino, Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner

Julian Fantino, Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner

“Most of the critics have an agenda of their own, and very often there are issues that are not properly portrayed or reported,” responds Commissioner Fantino. I think it’s disconcerting … very often the facts are not really known. A lot of it is just sensationalism. The screaming headlines … all of that I think is intended to tear down and disenfranchise not only the community, but the people, unfairly. There’s far too much of that I think, going on in Vaughan,” adds Fantino, who has lived in this community since 1981.

With Vaughan’s 2010 municipal election approaching, the Toronto Life feature raked Mayor Linda Jackson and Vaughan council over the coals. Any charges against Mayor Jackson have not yet been proven in a court of law.

Apart from portraying council members as the “enemies” of the mayor, Nuttall-Smith colours his introduction with a harsh physical description. “She’s 50 years old, with dyed blondish hair and skin that’s often the colour of inexpensive bronzer … It’s fair to say that she carries around a few extra pounds.” This passage raises the question as to whether or not a person’s appearance affects his or her ability to govern a city.

In 2000, years before Toronto Mayor David Miller began an exercise regime to shed his extra weight, he was lauded with an A+ and named best councillor by Toronto Life magazine. For Mayor Jackson, presenting her best appearance comes second to executing her duties as mayor, as she displayed during the endless hours she spent helping citizens in the aftermath of the Vaughan tornado. Mayor Jackson recalls: “The skies opened up, and I said, ‘Don’t give me an umbrella! These people’s homes are destroyed, and all I would be worried about would be an umbrella?”

I have resided in this city for a little more than 20 years, during which time my experiences with some of the
non-Vaughan populace have left me speechless. The media have taken every opportunity to splash its headlines about Vaughan with blood. As a result, the excellence of our city has been spoiled by unhealthy, unbalanced reporting, bordering an obsession with politics, lifestyle and Italian developers. Nuttall-Smith’s story begins with: “Everything about Vaughan – its executive estates, its hectares of malls, its politicians’ aspirations – is big and brash … Its expansion has been orchestrated by politically connected developers who know what they want.”

Toronto Life is published by St. Joseph Communications, which was founded in 1956 by Gaetano Gagliano, who is Italian. As Canada’s largest privately owned communications company, St. Joseph’s corporate communications office is located in the core of the Canadian marketplace – Vaughan.

I wanted to ask St. Joseph’s CEO Tony Gagliano how he felt about the way his heritage and the community he works in were criticized by the very brand he runs. After I made several attempts to arrange an interview with him, his executive assistant sent me this message in an e-mail: “As previously mentioned, I am unable to schedule any time for a call due to Tony’s [Gagliano] schedule for the next few weeks. There is no one else that I can recommend to speak on his behalf. We thank you again for this opportunity. Warm regards, Rose Giorgio.”

I tried to reach the five building magnates described in the Toronto Life story under the subheading, “Developer Kings: The builders of Vaughan’s suburbs are also some of the city’s richest residents.” But John DeGasperis (TACC Construction), Vic De Zen (Royal Group Technologies), Carlo Baldassarra (Greenpark Homes) and Rudy Bratty (Remington Group) opted not to comment. Would anyone who was criticized constantly be comfortable speaking to the media?

The only developer who offered his thoughts was Alfredo (Fred) DeGasperis, founder of the nation’s largest construction company, ConDrain.

While I don’t want to discredit the hard work that Nuttall-Smith did on his feature, he said DeGasperis was a resident of Vaughan, but he is not; rather, he lives in the city of Toronto. “I was upset when I heard about [the story]. We’re very proud of what we’ve done for many, many years. We still keep doing it. We build buildings. I know they [the media] make the problem bigger. They always try to throw dirt on a project,” says DeGapseris. He won a lawsuit against The Globe and Mail in 2000, for which the Ontario Court of Appeal ordered the newspaper and a journalist to pay him $780,000, which he then donated to charity.

Under the headshots of most of the developers, their estimated worth is listed. If money talks, why not explain where some of the cash goes? Every year, all these men, including Fred DeGasperis (“worth $1.4 billion”), donate millions to charities and hospitals.

In just one example, Fred DeGasperis and family donated a staggering $7 million to Toronto General Hospital in 2004 to enhance patient care at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre.

“We believe we should take care of the sick people. We believe that when you work so hard and you make decent money you should give back to charity. We’re very proud of what we’ve done for hospitals,” says DeGasperis, who, like the other developers, has extended his generosity to Toronto institutions like the Hospital for Sick Children, Mount Sinai, Sunnybrook and Princess Margaret hospitals.

“Our very generous donor community, which includes wonderful supporters from the city of Vaughan, allows us to raise funds to deliver breakthrough research, exemplary teaching and compassionate care at Princess Margaret Hospital, one of the top five cancer research centres in the world,” says Paul Alofs, president and CEO of The Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation.


Matthew Teitelbaum

TACC Construction recently helped fund the Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) services at the Markham Stoufville Hospital with a $1 million gift.

Many Italian developers have also supported the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) with $500,000 contributions towards the Galleria Italia, a sculptural promenade across the front of the AGO. “I’m thrilled because I’ve never been with a group of donors who seemed more excited and pleased with the association and with their ability to make a difference,” says Matthew Teitelbaum, the AGO’s Michael and Sonja Koerner director and CEO.

Cities in Canada and across the world are troubled by scandals, and whether it’s true or not, a dose of equilibrium and a dash of class go a long way in fair reportage.

“We don’t need any more bad publicity about Vaughan,” says Remo Ferri. “I think there’s a great community up here. It’s a great place, and some of us have worked very hard to build what we have. We’re not crooks,” adds the founder of The Remo Ferri Group of Automobiles. Earlier this year, Ferri, who supports a number of charities, opened North America’s largest Ferrari Maserati dealership in Vaughan.

This city of Vaughan is home to multiple ethnicities, living and learning together in one of Canada’s fastest-growing cities.

The city of Vaughan is home to multiple ethnicities, living and learning together in one of Canada’s fastest-growing cities.

The issue of Italian culture begins when Nuttall-Smith writes, “The city has more than 250,000 residents today, and the largest concentration of Italian immigrants in Canada. More than 40 per cent of the population claims Italian heritage. Six out of eight of the city’s councillors are Italian; they often campaign in Italian and bow to local Italian-language media.”

Sandra Yeung Racco, Vaughan Councillor.

Sandra Yeung Racco, Vaughan Councillor.

In instances like this, I’m jaded from having to explain, very slowly, that no, not every Vaughan resident is Italian. “We have a very multicultural and diverse group of residents and businesses,” says Vaughan Councillor Sandra Yeung Racco. I think that makes us very rare. We have a good balance of multiple cultures within our community.”

A surprise to most, the city of Vaughan is just 38 per cent Italian. The rest of the community includes Jewish, Indian, Russian, Vietnamese, French and Romanian cultures, among others. “It is a very interesting and special experience for emigrants that first come to live in Vaughan and are new to the country. For me, Vaughan has everything you need,” says Mimoza Gila, an Albanian who lives in Woodbridge.

I must dispel yet another illusion: that of the housing climate of Vaughan. Guess what! We don’t all live like starlets in Hollywood-style “executive estates” with Roman pillars and multiple garages. “A number of condominium apartments and multiple row houses have been built [in Vaughan] over the past few years,” states the city of Vaughan’s website.

Just take a drive through Vaughan’s major communities – Concord, Kleinburg, Maple, Thornhill, Woodbridge – and you will find families living under the roof of a condominium, duplex or ­– gasp! – renting. Also, Vaughan is not “paved over,” with more than 1,000 hectares of vacant land.

For those who do enjoy the niceties of an upscale life, it all wasn’t handed down to them on a silver platter.

Vaughan isn’t where ”old money” lives and breathes. That kind of currency dwells in Toronto’s lavish Rosedale neighbourhood, where our nation’s wealthiest hold tea parties and clink their crystal in a lifestyle set in the most posh and expensive neighbourhood in Canada.

Maurizio Bevilacqua

Maurizio Bevilacqua

Vaughan is a city where immigrants settled many years ago, and instead of being stagnant, grew and expanded. Adding 10,000 new residents each year, Vaughan continues to be one of Canada’s fastest-growing cities. By 2031, it is expected to be home to 420,000 people. How could a city described as a “political mess” with “politically connected developers” continue to attract new residents?

“Vaughan is a city that can in fact become world-class,” explains Maurizio Bevilacqua, a member of Parliament who represents Vaughan. “People [in Vaughan] are entrepreneurial and enlightened in the sense that while they excel at creating economic growth, they also understand their social responsibility. We are willing to share with one another … our focus is to improve the quality of life and standard of living for all Vaughan residents.”

The people of Vaughan were not spoon-fed a great life. They have felt the effects of segregation, communism, fascism and Nazism; they have endured poverty and oppression. But they rose out of hardship and misery; they struggled and sweated and strained to get to where they are today so their children could enjoy a lifestyle they didn’t have. “A lot of people came to this country in the ’40s and ’50s with only the shirt on their back, wanting to make a better life for themselves,” says Mayor Jackson. “They sacrificed … leaving wives and children in other countries to come to this country to make a better life, and they worked non-stop.”

As the innocent and hardworking residents of Vaughan continue to face an unfair reputation, the city’s accomplishments have taken a back seat. “The perception being created is an unfortunate one, but it is one that certainly can be improved by presenting the true nature of Vaughan and the community – its reality, not its mythology,” says MP Bevilacqua.

It’s time to take a stand, so that the next time you venture out of Vaughan, you won’t feel ashamed to say where you came from.


4 Responses to “A Communal Quest for Vindication”

  1. Woodbridge Joe on October 13th, 2009 3:37 pm

    OK – fair enough to get defensive and shoot the messenger, but we all know that things are not all rosey in Vaughan. We have serious problems with dysfunctional government. The article did not take a swipe at the residents. The article in fact took a stand against bad government and pointed out how very destructive bad government can be to an entire community. You want people to change what they think about Vaughan? Hold the people accountable who are messing up our city….vote the politicians that are the cause of the problem. Otherwise, stop whining….I liked the article. It tells it like it is.

  2. A Friend of Vaughan on October 13th, 2009 10:36 pm

    Thank you for this article!
    I think this article proves how the media too often distorts the truth. In regard to the original comment posted, the article written prior to this one DID NOT “tell it like it is.” Yes we have some issues with our government, like ANY city does, it is really unfortunate that all the amazing things that have been done by council members have been overlooked becuase of many of the outrageous comments made throughout the media. Furthermore, as citizens with the right to vote, it is OUR responsibility to filter out the rubbish from the truth, we cant believe everything that is written or said, becuase as unfortunate as it may be, the media does NOT write news without the intention to make a profit. Don’t forget that a great scandal sells. Just because a few of our current politicians have made less than appropriate choices in the last two years, it does not give us or the media the right to tear down the ones who have remembered why they hold the positions they do.

  3. A friend of A Friend on October 14th, 2009 2:10 pm

    I suppose the article would have had a better slant had the City of Vaughan, or the companies cited offered hundreds or thousands for an ad. While you might argue the facts and merits of the arguments put forward in the article, at least the publication is an ATTEMPT at arm’s length journalism.

    How the Editor-in-Chief of your publicatoin referred to the article as a ‘possible selling technique’ is completely hypocritical considering fee-for-vanity based ads represent the essense of your publication’s business model.

  4. Dan on April 1st, 2010 2:05 am

    This is an overly defensive diatribe that attempts to buoy our spirits with the prevailing notion of optimism and a rehearsed “let’s blame the media” punditry. I liked the Toronto Life article and feel it exposed a good deal of the insider-dealing, cronyism, and partiality to developers, rather than citizens, which has plagued Vaughan for some time. It sensationalized, but the core facts – those being the undeniably duplicitous actions by certain officials – are clearly outlined. Bawk all you want about the harsh tone it employs, the facts tell the story. Oh, I wonder why Vic De Zen didn’t opt to comment? Maybe because he’s working on a statement for his April 20th trial? If the mere notion of justice exists in this province, that man will spend the rest of his life in jail.

    “Yes we have some issues with our government, like ANY city does, it is really unfortunate that all the amazing things that have been done by council members have been overlooked becuase of many of the outrageous comments made throughout the media.”

    Really? Every city deals with incumbent councilors who pay for their Benzes off through insider dealing and conflicts of interest? What’s in the news today, but good old Pete dealing with yet another Vaughan conflict of interest scandal. But just like the rest of the councilors, he “didn’t know” he had a financial stake in a company he helped reward a contract to. Peter Meffe, Joyce Frustaglio, Di Biase, Jackson? A who’s who of political opportunists that have used their authority for their own ends of blatant corruption. This city is run by developers, the more media attention the better, because until the citizens wake up and oust them from office, this cycle will continue.

    I’m from Vaughan, born, raised, and embarrassed. I have since moved away and couldn’t be happier.

Feel free to leave a comment...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!