A COLORADO RADIO HOST named Erin O’Toole woke up this week to discover that, unbeknownst to her, she had become leader of the Conservative Party of Canada overnight.
Or, rather, she woke up to discover that a bunch of Canadians had confused her Twitter account with that of the same-named man elected to head the party Sunday.
To which another Twitter user replied: “OK, but are you ALSO interested in being prime minister?”
Another added: “But what do you think about Quebec dairy farmers and supply management?”
Then Elizabeth May chimed in. No, not that Elizabeth May. The one who replied to O’Toole is a bestselling author who lives in Perthshire, Scotland, not the Vancouver Island member of Parliament. May the author can relate to Colorado O’Toole’s predicament. “I’ve received entire angry e-mails … not for me,” she wrote.
That puts May in the same boat as Lisa Helps. No, not that Lisa Helps. The one we’re talking about here is a Vancouver woman who, even as a no- nonsense criminal lawyer, occasionally turns pink at the ears when fielding some of the venom-drenched comments intended for the Victoria mayor.
In a Times Colonist interview last year, Lisa the lawyer said she was appalled by the viciousness of many of the misdirected messages — flaming bags of dog crap dumped on the wrong porch, as it were. The social-media world is not known for its social graces. Nor its accuracy.
On the other hand, the name confusion can occasionally provide perennially pilloried politicians with a little much-needed love. Alberta’s Jason Kenney was bathed in online adulation after British cyclist Jason Kenny won gold at the 2016 Olympics. “I assure you, nobody wants to see me in lycra,” Kenney posted in reply.
OK, the mixups that come with sharing a name with a well-known figure can be a bit amusing. (Once again, let’s remember the late Freddy Krueger, a Victoria airport shuttle driver who used to dress up as the horror-movie character on Halloween.)
It gets more serious when, out of nowhere, your previously unremarkable name becomes an anchor.
Take Vancouver Island’s Mandeep Shahi. All was well in her world until the day in 2010 when another Mandeep Shahi, this one an Air Canada flight attendant, was caught spiriting four kilograms of cocaine into Heathrow Airport.
What made things worse was that our Shahi was travelling at the time. Someone called her parents to say that their daughter had been arrested for smuggling drugs. “That was embarrassing,” she recalled Wednesday.
Even worse, some news sites took Shahi’s photo from her LinkedIn account and published it beside stories about the smuggler. Shahi had the pictures removed.
She can’t do much about her name, though. Ten years later, it’s still a stumbling block. It’s not like she’s Brad Pitt of Haida Gwaii or Mike Tyson of Salt Spring Island or even her old school chum, Eddie Murphy. Her name is the opposite of famous, rare enough that when people read about the other woman, they wonder whether it is the Islander.
That’s particularly problematic for Shahi because she owns an Internet-based skin-care company called ZENMED, which means she enters into online relationships with vendors and others who, naturally enough, are anxious to know who they’re dealing with.
“They want to see if I’m legit, so they Google me and that’s the first thing that comes up.” She would like to think that after 20 years of doing business over the Internet, search-engine optimization would plunk her at the head of the line, but no, up pops the “Drug mule jailed” headline.
In January, she received an email from the producers of a popular television show called Locked Up Abroad, which features stories about people who have been jailed in foreign countries. Would she like to tell her story in her own words, it asked. Yes, she would, though it might not be the story they were expecting.
Her story would probably talk about the Groundhog Day, shoulder-slumping hassle she must endure when trying to hop on an airplane for business (not that we’re doing much plane-hopping these days). The smuggling Shahi was banned by Air Canada, which means our Shahi must show up at the airport early to sort through the inevitable red-flag ritual every time she flies with that airline or one of its partners. “I can’t check in online,” she says.
Erin O’Toole should count herself/himself lucky by comparison.
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