It is time to address the onslaught of abuse faced by women and BIPOC journalists

Threatening anyone, including members of the media, is a crime

It is time to address the onslaught of abuse faced by women and BIPOC journalists
Michael Spratt

A modest proposal: people should be able to go to work without facing a continuous onslaught of harassment, death threats, racism, and misogynistic hate.

And if there are death threats, criminal harassment, or criminal hate speech, police should do their job and investigate.

A radical idea, I know.

Threaten a banker, tell a teacher you want to rape them or look sideways at a cop, and you will quickly find yourself behind bars. But it seems like it’s an open season for journalists.

In February, the Canadian Association of Journalists and the Canadian Journalism Foundation released “Poisoned Well,” which details the results of a roundtable on journalists and online hate.

This report matters, and it is about more than just ensuring safety and basic human dignity. Attacks on journalists are often a troubling sign of crumbling democracy. “Freedom of the press is integral to a healthy democracy,” says Natalie Turvey, CJF President and Executive Director. “The online abuse suffered by too many journalists today goes well beyond critical discourse and, in many cases, harms their safety and well-being in the workplace.” 

And women and BIPOC journalists, the voices we need to hear the most, are taking the brunt of the assault.

Earlier this month, Rachel Gilmore (Global News), Saba Eitizaz (Toronto Star), and Erica Ifill (The Hill Times and Bad and Bitchy podcast) went public with the criminal harassment and threats they have received.

It was stomach-turning.

I can’t imagine my inbox being flooded by the hateful messages they receive, month after month, week after week, day after day. It is a continuous flow of disgusting hate, all because they are women who dare to do their jobs.

I am in awe of these strong, brave, and skilled journalists. Not only have they continued to do excellent work, but they have the courage to shine a light on the cancer of online hate publicly.

I don’t want to repeat the vile language used in the messages that Gilmore, Eitizaz and Ifill posted on Twitter. Repetition does harm, and you can read it for yourself. But I think it is important to provide a small sample of what they face every day, “We made a fun old-school wall with printout pics of all the Canadian media cunts that need to be boogaloo’ed the fuck out of Canada and there was Rachel Gilmore Cunt and Erica Ifill and some other Fat Black Blobster and the usual Woke West-hating man-hatting cunt activists in journalism. After rating which ones need to be silences first and which ones retied etc.”

Jeremy Mackenzie, Pierre Poilievre hand-shaker, designated violent extremists, and the founder of the radical group “Diagolon,” broadcast to his thousands of subscribers that Gilmore “deserve to be hated” and promised that “it will intensify” before saying that “you deserve worse and with the trajectory you’re on, you’ll get it.”

In another email, Gilmore was told, “Judgement Day is coming sweetheart. I suggest you make your peace with God.”

This type of language is not only disgusting, it’s criminal.

Wilfully promoting hatred is punishable by up to two years in jail, threats to cause death or bodily harm are punishable by up to five, and criminal harassment is punishable by up to ten.

There is no question that the vile communications are crimes, but the police seem reluctant to act.

When Gilmore tried to report the threats to the Ottawa police, they put her on hold for over two hours. And when Gilmore and Eitizaz finally did speak with the police, the complainants faced dismissive boredom and inaction.

Meanwhile, back on Twitter, as Gilmoure, Eitizaz, Ifill were tweeting about the threats they received, master of the false equivalency Jonathan Kay tweeted, “a lot of the same Cdn media that hyped the 'abolish the police' nonsense are now demanding that police protect them from online criticism. If u get an actual *threat*, call the police, of course. But our trade as a whole isnt owed any kind of platinum-status bubble-wrap treatment."

While Kay does not mention anyone in particular in his tweet, Rebel Media personality Shelia Gunn Reid did and called Gilmoure “hysterical“ and the rape and murder threats “mean tweets,” a message others broadcast to more than 1.2 million people.

It is reprehensible and dangerous to normalize, minimize and provide a safe harbour to the daily criminal threats that women and BIPOC journalists face – but it’s not a crime to be an asshole.

Police, however, have a duty to investigate crime and enforce our country’s laws – that is their job. And they are failing. We have laws that criminalize this conduct. Police have the tools and power to investigate these crimes. But they don’t. And someone is going to die.

Try emailing a cop telling them you will rape them and kill their family. See what happens. Journalists need that same protection of the law too.

Editor's Note: This article was amended to clarify that Jonathan Kay did not characterize the threats against Gilmore, Eitizaz, and Ifill as “online criticism.” 

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