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There isn’t a day that goes by in this country when there aren’t hundreds, likely thousands, of people who are the target of some form of online harassment and abuse.

In recent weeks we have seen Canada’s Governor-General, Mary Simon, speak out about the racist and misogynistic vitriol she has been subject to online. It became so bad she turned off the comments on all her social media accounts.

In a recent round of media interviews, Ms. Simon spoke about the need to have a national “conversation” about the problem. With all due respect to the Governor-General, the time for talk has long since passed. We desperately need action.

The federal Liberals have promised legislation to deal with online hate but nothing has happened. The Conservatives have already signalled that they will resist any law that restricts a person’s freedom of expression.

Meantime, the online hatred and provocation that too many people are subjected to every day, particularly women and often women of colour, persists. The journalist Rachel Gilmore, who has been open about the threats and abuse she has received in the past, recently went public with messages she received after announcing she’d been laid off by Global News. Many expressed delight she’d lost her job. Others said they hoped she died a terrible death from cancer.

It takes enormous courage and an abnormal level of determination to try and bring these horrible people to justice. Ask Jody Vance.

Ms. Vance is a Vancouver talk show host (and formerly the first woman to anchor her own prime-time sports show in Canada) who was the victim of internet stalking and harassment by a man who lived 90 minutes from her home. It began in 2015, with the person taking issue with what he perceived to be her liberal viewpoints on matters in the news. It would get progressively worse.

He barraged her with an endless stream of misogynistic and violent messages. One included a photo of starving Jewish prisoners in Nazi Germany, with the message that she and her young son belonged “in a concentration camp to be punished.” Threatening her son was her breaking point.

The harasser also began sending sexualized images of Ms. Vance, which he copied to others in the media, including her bosses.

She reported the harassment to police in 2019. By then, a media colleague had helped reveal the man’s true identity. He was eventually charged with criminal harassment. Last week, he pleaded guilty. His penalty? Twelve months’ probation and an edict to stay away from Ms. Vance and some others in the media he had bothered.

Ms. Vance was understandably upset by the sentence, which she characterized as a slap on the wrist. It reaffirmed the broad view that criminal harassment penalties are rarely meaningful.

During the sentencing, Ms. Vance got to address her harasser, Richard Oliver of Chilliwack, B.C., and tell him about the damage that he had caused. She described having to go to her son’s high school with a photo of Mr. Oliver, telling the principal: If you see this person, call the police.

She had to undergo therapy. She had to take unpaid leaves from work to deal with stress. Ms. Vance estimated that the professional job opportunities she had to pass up because of the emotional turmoil in her life cost her “tens of thousands of dollars.” She was forced to surround her home with security cameras. She changed the licence plate number on her car.

“I hope you find and fix what is broken in you,” Ms. Vance told the court, while staring directly at Mr. Oliver. “I hope you fix the thing that gives you pleasure attacking anyone in this way.”

Imagine all the people out there who have also been ruthlessly pursued by someone hiding behind an anonymous façade. Few are inclined to exert the enormous personal energy it takes to bring such a person to justice.

And when other victims see the pathetically light sentence that Ms. Vance’s aggressor received for years of harassment, it will make even more of them question the wisdom of trying to bring their perpetrators to justice. What is the point?

Ms. Vance told me that she had to present the court with her victim impact statement ahead of time to see if it was appropriate. In one paragraph, she described having to show her young son a photo of Mr. Oliver, instructing him to immediately run to safety if he ever saw the man.

“Shame on you,” Ms. Vance wrote, in the hopes of looking Mr. Oliver in the eye as she said it.

Those were the only three words the court made her cut out of her statement.

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