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Governor-General Mary Simon during an interview at Rideau Hall on March 8 in Ottawa.Dave Chan/The Globe and Mail

After decades in the public eye, Mary Simon says she is used to constructive criticism, including on her social-media accounts as Canada’s first Indigenous Governor-General.

But recently, the comments she’s received on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram evolved from barbs about her role into a torrent of racist and misogynistic abuse.

In the past few weeks, the attacks “went to something more personal … like calling me names – every name under the sun,” she said in an interview.

“To be called some of those names – I don’t even like to repeat them – like “go back to the reserve” – I mean stuff like that, it shouldn’t be tolerated,” she said.

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The level of vitriol, as well as the violent threats, became so extreme that reading the posts was affecting the mental health of staff who worked on her social-media team.

Ms. Simon decided that enough was enough and turned off all the comments on all her social-media accounts.

Then, this week, she went one step further and published a selection of the vituperative remarks she had received to show the scale of misogyny and racism that she and other women and Indigenous peoples are subjected to online.

She says she hopes by disclosing the tweets – which included comments such as “old bag” and “beats a shack and caribou meat” – she will encourage “a conversation” about the level of abuse that women and girls, including Indigenous women, have to endure.

Speaking in a drawing room, looking out on Rideau Hall’s snow-covered gardens (where her golden Labrador was busy excavating a large hole in search of a tennis ball), she says there is a big a difference between critical comments about her role and the sustained personal harassment that chips away at people’s resilience and erodes their confidence.

“I am all for constructive criticism. I’ve lived with it all my career,” she said. “Doing it diplomatically is one thing, but to throw insults in your face through social media is not productive.”

Ms. Simon thinks she is a target because she is in the public eye. But the attacks that hurt her most were those undermining her identity “as a woman, as a woman of a certain age and as an Inuk.”

“It does touch me when someone really touches on the Indigenous identity issue,” she said.

On International Women’s Day on Wednesday, the Governor-General convened a round table with female leaders from Canada and around the world to discuss the ubiquitous problem of online harassment, and possible solutions to it.

Among the many ambassadors present was Adriana Solano Laclé of Costa Rica who explained that last year her country passed a law making it a criminal offence to make misogynistic insults and threats toward women in politics, including candidates, on social media.

Ms. Simon says the initiative is a very interesting response to the attacks on women in public life. She wants there to be a wider discussion about how society can create spaces for respectful public discourse, free of toxic hate – which is often anonymous.

“On online social-media platforms, you don’t really know who’s making these comments, but nevertheless, it’s there,” she said. “And I felt that we needed to address it.”

The Governor-General fears that the corrosive, drip-drip of insults on social media, if not curtailed, could put women off from pursuing roles in public life.

Ms. Simon was Canada’s first ambassador for circumpolar affairs and lead negotiator on the creation of the Arctic Council. She served as Canada’s ambassador to Denmark from 1999 to 2002.

She grew up in Kuujjuaq, a village on the coast of Ungava Bay in northeastern Quebec, speaking Inuktitut at home.

The Governor-General says she doesn’t think “you’ll ever get rid of” online hate. But people need to talk about “what we can do to curb it.”

Her decision to make some of the cruel comments public was a bid to highlight the issue: “Not only showing that it affected me and my office, but it’s about the larger community of women and girls – and that we need to have that discussion and for people to see it.”

She says she wants to help create momentum for change so younger women don’t have to endure the kind of online cruelty she has suffered.

“I have a lot of grandchildren and some of them are young women and, you know it erodes their confidence when they get attacked online,” she said. “It really affects young women.”