Geddy Lee joins the guests at his Rosedale home for a wine tasting andauction to raise money for the White Ribbon Campaign.
Restaurateur Michael Carlevale, jaunty in a marine-blue bow tie, turquoise vest, and silk jacket, surveys the crowd as he takes a sip of J. Lassalle Blanc de blanc 1988 champagne. "You know," he muses, "20 years ago, people in Toronto had parties, wonderful parties. For no reason other than it was a party. Now people in this town socialize only for charity."
We are standing in a dark-suit crush in rock legend Geddy Lee's lush, massive backyard, deep in the heart of Toronto's Rosedale. We are there, of course, for charity. This evening's event is the "2nd Annual Wine Tasting, Rare Wine Auction & Backyard Barbecue" in aid of the White Ribbon Campaign, which bills itself as the "largest effort in the world of men working to end violence against women."
The campaign was founded in 1991 by Toronto city councillor Jack Layton and author Michael Kaufman to commemorate the weeks leading up to the Dec. 6 anniversary of the Montreal massacre, which, as the group's Web site puts it, "should be a day for men to step back and listen to the voices of women."
Since then, it has evolved into an organization that funds educational kits used in high schools, universities and corporations, and lends support to women's shelters, transition houses and rape crisis centres.
The campaign has amassed an impressive list of corporate sponsors, among them Canadian Tire, which was the subject of controversy a few years back when it kept former chairman of the board Earl Joudrie on after he was accused by his then-wife, Dorothy, of physical abuse. (The claim was made during Dorothy Joudrie's court trial, at which she stood accused of pumping six bullets into her husband. Joudrie was later found not criminally responsible for her actions.)
More than 200 people, mostly Bay Streeters, lawyers, accountants - the new class of wine connoisseur - have paid $125 to sample a wondrous oenological array: Chateau Margaux 1989, Chateau Latour 1989, Chateau Lafitte 1989, Chateau Haut-Brion 1983, Henschke Mount Edelstone Old Vine Shiraz 1995. And then to bid on 43 lots of wine - most of rare and impressive vintage, much of it donated from private cellars.
Many of the guests are wearing white ribbons, twisted into our cultural icon for causal concern. Now there's red for AIDS, pink for breast cancer, green for the environment, white for violence by men against women and, most recently, blue for Internet copyright pirates defending their freedom to download sheet music. The White Ribbon Campaign does not encourage women to wear the ribbon, even though some do, as it believes "men must take on the task of building the campaign."
The media invitation highlighted the power guests who would be in attendance: criminal lawyers Clayton Ruby, Brian Greenspan and John Rosen; financial wonder boys Steve Hudson, formerly of Newcourt Credit Group, and Steve Kaszas of Nesbitt Burns; restaurateurs Carlevale and Franco Prevedello.
The star of the night, though, is Lee, bass player and lead singer for Rush, a man whose name is uttered in hushed awe by a generation of Boomer rock wannabes. Lee agreed to host the event last year at the first annual wine tasting, held at the home of Clay Ruby, a neighbour and fellow oenophile. I ask Lee how many people circulating around his estate he knows. "Not many." He pauses and thinks. "Two. I know two people here well." Lee, an unassuming, sweet kind of guy, deflects the label of wine connoisseur. "I prefer wine geek," he says. As for the charity, he nods his head. "It's a fine, fine cause."
Riedel has supplied the crystal. Rodney's Oysters has set up a shucking station. A barbecue grills scallop kebabs and tiny lamb chops. Waiters circulate with stylish hors d'oeuvres. Security is low-key but menacing. One massive specimen munches a Power bar and warily watches over the crowd eager to check out Lee's kitchen.
The sky is grey, heavy with the threat of torrential rain. This afternoon, Ken Murray, Paul Bernardo's former lawyer, was acquitted of obstructing justice by withholding videotapes that showed Bernardo raping and torturing four girls. John Rosen, Bernardo's trial lawyer, stands at a crowded tasting station next to the swimming pool, sampling Bordeaux. "He's really pissed off," someone says. "God, how awful to be a criminal lawyer," murmurs another.
A man I know points out a businessman. "He's on wife number 15, I think." Conversation turns on talk of real estate and deals. "You really have to look at the tax implications," one man tells a woman. "I've put you in a limited partnership - $50,000 units."
"Look at Jack," one Bay Street lawyer says, gesturing at Layton meeting and greeting. "It must get tough running the gauntlet between being a socialist and living the high life."
Talk turns to auction-bidding strategies. There's much excitement about a collection of Penfold's Granges from various years. "There are a lot of Type A people here," one man, clearly a beta, says. "They're used to getting what they want. I'm not sure I want to go up against them." A well-known accountant yells over to someone, presumably a client. "Hey, here's something you can do with all of that cash you can't make public." Event coordinator and White Ribbon board member Nancy McRoberts figures the event will bring in $40,000 to $65,000, depending on how crazy the bidding gets.
Before the auction, Michael Kaufman talks for a few minutes about the cause. "It's sad that we all have to be here today," he begins. "One out of three women is a victim of violence by a man," Kaufman tells the crowd, which is becoming restless. "Help the women you love," he concludes. "That's the message."
Layton, a seasoned charity-circuit auctioneer, begins the bidding on a 1990 Tignanello. "Do I hear 50? Fifty. Do I hear 100? One hundred." Quickly, waving white auction paddles punctuate the night.