Vicious Online Attacks Won’t Silence Voices in Canadian Media

When it comes to the news and information we consume these days, there is a greater variety of voices and points of view – women, blacks, Asians, Muslims, indigenous people, members of the LGBTQ community, and more. – than it was when I entered journalism. many years ago.

Canadians have benefited enormously from this change, in my opinion. The dialogue is richer when there are more experiences to draw from.

At the Toronto Star, for example, we now have men and women from diverse backgrounds who write and report expertly on topics such as federal politics, municipal affairs, arts and culture, investigations, immigration and more – the bread and butter of what we do as a news organization.

New voices also populate television, magazines, radio and podcasts. They provide information in an authoritative manner. Powerful and direct. Confident. Insightful.

When I entered the business world decades ago, steeped in the encouraging words of my high school English teacher, Mrs. Cox, there were few non-white faces.

My first full-time job was at Share, a weekly newspaper for the Black and Caribbean community in Toronto, where publisher Arnold Augustus and then-editor-in-chief Jules Elder gave me a chance.

When I joined the Star later, reporters like Bev Bowen, Royson James, Jim Atkins and Malcolm Johnson were among the few black and brown faces in the newsroom. Royson was beginning to lay the groundwork for what was to become a long and storied career as a Star columnist.

For a few years around this time, the Star seemed committed to the idea of ​​diversity in hiring. There were a few people of color in management roles. It was as if change was coming, albeit a bit slowly.

But soon after, something serious happened. The news industry began to struggle, to contract. Layoffs, takeovers and downsizing have become the order of the day. Diversity was suddenly on the back burner.

But during this time, earth-shattering changes were also taking place. The internet and social media were creating a host of new avenues for diverse voices to be heard – and they weren’t holding back.

The downside was that hateful and extremist voices also had a new platform.

That brings us to the present, where a surge in hate — fueled in part by political polarization, divisions over mask mandates and vaccines, economic and employment shifts, and other factors — has resulted in a torrent of racist, homophobic, misogynistic and violent messages. speaking to reporters, often women and women of color.

In the past week alone, a horrific message has been sent to Toronto Star podcast host Saba Eitizaz, a journalist of South Asian descent. The dirty, cowardly and pathetic note – the sender left no real name or contact information and hid behind an encrypted email address – also mentioned the Hill Times columnist and podcast host Erica Ifill, a black woman, and Rachel Gilmore, a reporter for Global News who is white.

I cannot repeat much of the content of the note as it is a family diary. But the personal attacks were meant to piss off these women.

Make them feel fearful, humiliated. Make them doubt themselves. Silence their intelligent, confident voices.

The letter infers that women are blacklisted and should be “quiet” and “retired.”

“There has been a clear, sustained and extremely organized ongoing hate campaign against Canadian journalists since last year. Most of them are racialized, women and vulnerable people,” Eitizaz said in a recent tweet after receiving the hate mail.

Others in my newsroom, mostly young non-white or ethnic journalists, have also been recent targets.

“They try to silence us, intimidate us and play on our anxiety. They try to keep minorities oppressed. That’s how I feel,” said one of my younger colleagues, who didn’t want to be named to avoid receiving more hate.

Reading some of their posts, I was struck by instances where similar language and terminologies cropped up. For example, some of the letters refer to female targets who are to be “boogaloo’ed the f…k out of Canada” – that is, escorted out of this country.

Featured Editor Anne Marie Owens says “the proliferation of these hate letters targeting journalists is a deplorable and deeply harmful undercurrent that most people outside the business are completely unaware of – it is not just hate and racism, but a direct attack on trusted journalism and a pernicious threat to those of us who practice it.

So how do we fight this? In recent weeks, the Star, the Hill Times, Global News and the Canadian Association of Journalists, along with affected journalists and others, have decided enough is enough. The parties have come together to draft a letter that will be sent to the chiefs of police in Toronto and Ottawa (the three women cover these cities) and to the federal Minister of Public Safety, Marco Mendicino. It is also sent to the Minister of Heritage – who studies laws and regulations to combat online hate – the Minister of Justice, the Minister for Women and Gender Equality, the Commissioner of the RCMP and the Attorney General of Ontario.

The letter points out that incidents of online abuse directed at the three women – “vile and targeted threats of violence” – have caused them to fear for their safety and prompted them to file a number of police reports. The lengthy letter includes demands that the chiefs and security minister take action to deal with the incidents and work with the media to tackle abuses against journalists and tackle online hate and harassment of all victims.

A key point of the letter is that the harassment appears to be part of a campaign against journalists, and that the police and the law often treat these cases separately. But it’s a fundamental misunderstanding that misses the “links between the cases and links to extremist groups,” the letter points out.

We will wait to see what happens to this effort. But I am certain of one thing: the voices under attack will not be silenced.

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