Public cases of threats and intimidation of women in public life have intensified in recent weeks, with significant examples of abuse targeting politicians – most recently Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland – as well as activists and journalists.
For weeks, a group of journalists, mostly colored journalists, publicly shared a series of private, anonymous emails they received. Those emails contained specific, targeted and disturbing threats of violence and assault, as well as racist and misogynistic language.
“It was very insidious, and the language around it was a perversion of progressive language used to essentially abuse and torment us. We were also told that we were on a list of journalists to be silenced,” Erica Ifill, a columnist for The Hill Times and a podcast host, told ETN Radio’s The House for a segment that aired Saturday.
The online harassment spilled over into a face-to-face meeting again on Friday, when Freeland faced a tirade of verbal abuse during an incident in Grande Prairie, Alta.
A video that has been circulating widely on social media shows several people, one of whom is filming, approaching Freeland as she and several others walk through Grand Prairie City Hall toward an elevator.
During the brief encounter, the man yells at Freeland, calling her a “traitor,” a “f—ing b—h” and telling her to leave the province.
The couple is told by others to leave the building and eventually go to the parking lot.
Born in Peace River, about 200 miles from Grande Prairie, Freeland was on a multi-day tour of Saskatchewan and Alberta, meeting officials, businessmen and workers.
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Harassment condemned by politicians
The actions in the video were widely condemned by politicians and others across the country on Saturday. Conservative leadership candidate Jean Charest called it “gross intimidation” and “dangerous behavior” in a tweet. Former Liberal minister Catherine McKenna called it “beyond the pale.”
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney called the incident “reprehensible” and Conservative MP Dan Albas said: “What our Deputy Prime Minister went through yesterday has no place here in Canada.”
The verbal intimidation and threats directed at minister @cafreeland during her visit to Alberta yesterday were objectionable.
If you disagree with a politician, make sure to exercise your right to protest. But screaming threatening language & physical intimidation crosses the line.
In an interview with ETN News, Grande Prairie City Councilor Dylan Bressey said the encounter was “utterly ridiculous.”
“Something we see all over Canada — and our community isn’t immune — is that there are people who feel powerless, angry and scared, but they’re expressing it in a totally inappropriate way that doesn’t help anyone.”
Legislation just one piece of the puzzle: expert
Harassment has long been a problem for Canadians in public life, especially women. McKenna, for example, was sometimes forced to have extra security because of harassment she received, and many other MPs have revealed threats against them.
One of the most extreme examples of online harassment occurred in London, Ont. recently, when transgender activist and Twitch streamer Clara Sorrenti had to leave the country after a campaign of intimidation that included a case of “swatting” – when a threat of violence under her name but without her knowledge led to armed police showing up on her doorstep and arrest her.
Ahead of the 2021 elections, the federal government introduced legislation to protect Canadians from what it calls online harm, but that bill died when the elections were called and, after widespread criticism, new legislation is back under discussion.
Legislation governing how social media platforms deal with harmful content is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to online harassment, said Emily Laidlaw, Canadian research chair of cybersecurity law at the University of Calgary. Reforms to the justice system, education and other policy areas such as cybersecurity and privacy were all important, she said The House.
“It’s about all kinds of different laws and social silences that we need to deal with harm online, and that’s really what makes it so difficult,” Laidlaw said.
Yuan Stevens, a lawyer specializing in human rights and technology, compared the problem to smoking, where education and awareness led to both legal changes and a shift in public opinion.
“I think Canada will need a holistic effort that doesn’t just ban, ban and punish this,” he said, but instead an approach that addresses attitudes toward people of color, women, LGBTQ people, and others. and the “root causes” of intimidation, threats and violence.
‘It’s psychological warfare’
Ifill, a columnist for The Hill Times, described how the campaign appeared to target her and other journalists, from a few people to a group of more than a dozen, many of them people of color.
“Every email gets more complicated. They create scenarios based on our previous work to haunt us with,” Ifill told guest host Ashley Burke.
“It’s more than just an email. It’s a concentrated effort. It’s psychological warfare.”
The pattern of harassment of journalists is incredibly alarming and completely unacceptable. This kind of behavior has no place in our society. No journalist should ever be threatened for doing his job.
Raisa Patel, who previously worked with ETN News, included: The Housewas one of the journalists who spoke out in support of colleagues and then received an email himself.
She told Burke that although the emails contained racism and misogyny, “some of us felt no response to that element on these emails, because that’s what we’re used to receiving as female and racialized journalists. But what was especially alarming, was the targeted nature of this campaign.”
The journalists said they also struggled with the police’s responses, including difficulties reporting the incidents and convincing the police to take action.
“It was very difficult to try and get the police to see the highly coordinated nature of this campaign and some of its more threatening elements. Since we went public, I think that process has improved somewhat,” Patel said. .