Canadian recording artist and producer Kardinal Offishall was the perfect fit as host for a Saturday of TEDx talks, and for the 11th annual TEDxToronto, Kardinal did a fine job introducing conversations around topics like deepfake technology, pollsters and their role in Big Data, and the power of public art. He was considerate and curious with each speaker, while keeping the day’s program on track.

Photo: Kardinal Offishall / By: Hannah Maynes, @hannahmaynes


Photo: Cassandra Diamond / By: Jonathan Ball, @westend_studio

One of the most moving talks came from BridgeNorth founder and CEO Cassandra Diamond. Diamond shared her past experiences working within dangerous sex and human trafficking operations, explaining how she was always in “fight or flight mode” while living in Scarborough. The room was silent throughout her entire session; you could hear a pin drop and only the subtle shakes of people.

“What I learned that day was how to be hyper vigilant and how to avoid attack, something that no young girl should ever have to learn,” she recounted to the audience of about 1,000 people. Her goal is to abolish sex trafficking and help women “that need the support to exit similar circumstances.” Diamond urged the crowd to write and call their local representatives in government to demand and enforce changes, immediately.

Human rights and civil liberties lawyer Anthony Morgan queried about racial profiling, gun violence and crime in Toronto. He posed questions like: “Is our city spending more money on community problems than it is investing in people?” And he related much of his vision to 2Pac; he recited lyrics. A main focus Morgan highlighted was the importance of community control, advocating that it should be “nothing about us without us” when it comes to decision making in the black community. He also talked about evoking the African principle ‘Sankofa’, which translates to “to reach back and get it” in English.

Nuit Blanche artistic producer Umbereen Inayet presented powerful imagery from Nuit Blanche installations, focusing much of the talk on her deep artistic relationship with Director X. Inayet worked with the Toronto music video producer on his first public art installation, Death of the Sun, where you watched the sun take its last dying breath. Director X revisited this 2016 work this year with Life of the Earth, further alerting crowds to climate change and the need for environmental protection.

Inayet stressed the importance of public art as therapy, specifically looking at narrative therapy and the importance it brings to collective healing. She delved into her work in social work (an area that saw a few of the TEDxToronto speakers employed in) and pulled the audience through a creative kaleidoscope of visuals.

Photo: Mark Cohon / By: Joshua Best, @joshuabest

Chairman of Toronto Global and the former commissioner of the CFL, Mark Cohon, talked about earning and maintaining trust, while touching on his life growing up as the son of McDonalds Canada founder, George Cohon. Cohon’s Pops was in the crowd decked out in a bright red McDonalds jacket, naturally.

“Trust is the currency that every commissioner is judged on,” Cohon said. And his talk looked at how to make conversations matter with lasting impact, recalling how his father would always ask customers what they were doing, how their food was and just simple life questions. He stressed how ongoing communication builds community.

Photo: Esie Mensah / By: Jonathan Ball, @westend_studio

Award-winning dancer and choreographer Esie Mensah delivered an engaging presentation that really stuck, too. Mensah talked about the cutthroat world of dance, building the dance genre Afrofusion, and the paralyzing effect that shadeism has. She stressed that we need to “question the defaults” and stop preferential treatment in order to rise above prejudice.

Another important talk came from Joseph Palermo, who looked at deepfake technology. He conveyed that his work in this field is to show the dangers and “how it is done” so the public knows what’s happening. He even previewed a manipulated audio clip of a voice which sounded like Oprah Winfrey. The audience listened as a voice saying: “Hello everybody, Oprah Winfrey here. I hope that you’re all enjoying yourselves at TEDxTO. Although I cannot be there with you today, I would like to introduce you to Joseph,” was aired, sounding near identical to the voice of the well-known personality. He also talked about how today it would be “far too easy to tarnish an individual” with this type of simulation, however, he is mindful and hopeful that there is a potential for good with this technology.

“I for one would love to see a science lecture delivered by a revived Carl Sagan,” Palermo quipped. And then furthered: “As these technologies mature and over the long run in it will enable us to paint flexibly within the medium of video.”

The day saw catered lunch and snacks courtesy of Freshii and cold brew from Pilot Coffee. The gift bags came with KIND bars (banana and dark chocolate with 2 grams a fat and 130 calories), low-sugar candy SmartSweets, a bamboo toothbrush from Oxygenerate and bright orange socks from Syntegrity (“Problem Solving That Will Knock Your Socks Off”), among other little bits and bites.

Following the day of talks, out came selections of small eats, wine and spirits including a new entry from Collective Arts Brewing, who  now serves gin. That booth was packed all night.

We also can’t forget to mention the hilarious presentation from She’s All That, whose “Ice, ice, melting” rendition garnered some serious cackles from the crowd. So did the “bro” overuse as well as a skit around the need to find a cat dad that loves felines.

Photo: She’s All That / By: Jonathan Ball, @westend_studio
Main photo by: Hannah Maynes, @hannahmaynes
All photos provided to Sidewalk Hustle courtesy of TEDxToronto.