The federal election has wound down, but the People’s Party of Canada continues to leak toxins like an old battery. And those corrosive after-effects are harming journalists, especially those who are people of colour and women.
During the election, the PPC and some analysts attempted to place the party within the mainstream of politics, despite evidence that its supporters included extremists and white nationalists. When journalists attempted to ask legitimate questions about those connections, the PPC’s leader, Maxime Bernier, lashed out. Perhaps sulking over his loss in his riding of Beauce, Mr. Bernier went on Twitter to single out three journalists – calling them idiots, posting their e-mail addresses and calling on his 160,000 followers to go after them. “They want to play dirty, we will play dirty too.”
Twitter responded by suspending Mr. Bernier’s account for 12 hours, which is less a slap on the wrist than a coy tap. The damage had already been done, and Mr. Bernier’s more rabid – and more racist – followers were unleashed.
For the past week, several journalists have been bravely retweeting the grotesque abuse they’re receiving. There have been death threats, rape threats and the kind of disgusting racism that we’re assured has no place in our political system – and yet clearly does.
“It’s Day 7 of this,” wrote Global News’s Ahmar Khan, alongside a screenshot of a racist epithet. He tweeted, “I absolutely show you all because it’s normal for many of us BIPOC journalists and people. This is partially what comes with existence in Canada. So, if I have to read it and it bothers you, well help to try and fix it, too.”
The Coalition for Women in Journalism has tracked alarming threats of violence and sexual violence sent to several Canadian journalists, many of them women from racialized groups. Research has shown that journalists of colour are more likely to be targeted, and women in particular bear the brunt of this.
The Canadian Association of Journalists is also calling on law enforcement to investigate these hateful messages, and to launch prosecutions if necessary, citing the Criminal Code’s prohibition of wilfully promoting hatred. The CAJ is also launching an Online Harm in Journalism Survey, which should provide helpful data in the long run.
But how about in the short run? How can we expect journalists to do their day jobs – reporting the news – as well as carrying the emotional and psychological burden of this harassment? If you think it’s not abusive, please imagine walking into your workplace every day and finding signs taped to the walls calling you racist names and threatening your life.
Also, if you happen to be thinking, “why don’t they just stay off Twitter and ignore the emails,” you’re part of the problem. Twitter, for better or worse, is a vital source of information for journalists, a place to find sources and share work (and sometimes bad jokes). Ignoring hateful and abusive emails only serves to hide the problem, even though in some ways it would be the easier thing to do. It takes bravery to share these messages and journalists deserve to have the public’s vocal support, at a bare minimum.
You know who could help to stop this? Maxime Bernier and the People’s Party of Canada. A message from the party to stop this campaign of hatred would choke off the flow of garbage. The fact that Mr. Bernier has not done this, and that the party has in fact doubled down on its stance, speaks volumes. The campaign against journalists, whom they brand left-wing activists, appeals to the worst elements of their base.
Mr. Bernier’s original tweet targeting journalists was shared in white supremacist chat rooms, according to the Canadian Anti-Hate Network. Do the supporters of the PPC really want to be associated with these fringes? If not, they should speak out now.
Although it won no seats in the election, the PPC more than doubled its electoral share to more than 800,000 votes. As Pam Palmater noted in Maclean’s, its “platform contained just the right combination of commitments to speak to those with far-right ideologies, anti-Indigenous views, pandemic gripes and pro-gun attitudes.”
For too long during the campaign, we tried to place the PPC in the spectrum of normal politics, like the polite Canadians we are. It took citizens with clearer eyes – Black, Indigenous, Muslim – to point out the danger. Now they’re the ones paying the price. It’s up to everyone to have their backs, and call out this disgusting behaviour.
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