Brock’s acting vice-provost of Indigenous engagement experiences online attacks

·3 min read

A Brock University senate advisory committee is calling on the school to file a complaint over alleged online harassment directed at acting vice-provost of Indigenous engagement Robyn Bourgeois.

It maintains she has been the target of harassment by a third-party coalition group that operates under the handle BrockCivis on Twitter and describes itself as a “coalition of Brock University admin, faculty, staff and students.”

At the Feb. 22 committee meeting, Bourgeois said the account had targeted her since her appointment in October.

Recently, Brock held its annual REDress project to raise awareness about missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and LGTBQ people.

Brock Civis retweeted the university’s post with the caption: “What a stupid way to characterize this ongoing tragedy. How about instead of using it to score ideological points, you recognize violence against women extends far beyond colonialism.”

An exchange on Twitter between event organizers and Brock-affiliated groups and Brock Civis led to the school’s sexual violence prevention committee issuing a statement.

The student co-chairs of the committee, an affiliated group of the president’s advisory committee on human rights, equity and decolonization, said their letter was in response to what they felt were racist and demeaning comments made on Twitter by the account.

“The student co-chairs and members of the Sexual Violence Prevention Committee condemn the statement made, as it clearly targets and undermines the activist efforts to honour the memory of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and 2SLGTBQQIA people,” the committee said in its statement.

“The statement made deliberately refuses to recognize that Feb. 14 has been designated as a day to memorialize the loss caused by ongoing settler-colonial violence.”

Brock Civis responded with a quote and attributed it to “Lerner, 1987.”

“The practice of raping the women of a conquered group has remained a feature of warfare and conquest from the second millennium B.C. to the present. It is a social practice which, like the torture of prisoners, has been resistant to ‘progress,’” said the Brock Civis account in response.

The university’s provost and vice-president, academic, reaffirmed the Brock Civis account is not affiliated with the school and said the school is exploring avenues to deal with the harassment experienced by Bourgeois.

“It is essential for us to acknowledge the distress that’s been caused to members of the Indigenous community by the incidents of the last week or so and to provide our support for Indigenous people and survivors of sexual violence,” said Wells.

There were calls from Two Row committee members for the university to contact Niagara Regional Police.

Brock communications manager Dan Dakin confirmed handling of the incident was forwarded to its campus security team to determine the best approach.

Bourgeois said the issue is bigger than her.

“Brock Civis is attacking survivors, relatives or people who have been affected by MMIWG. Not only that, though, he is attacking any racialized female in leadership,” said Bourgeois.

“This issue is bigger than me, and the harassment, racism, and misogyny need to stop.”

She is among a list of public figures in Niagara who have faced online hate.

Most recently, Niagara Regional Police closed an investigation into online threats made against acting medical officer of health Dr. Mustafa Hirji.

Also, Welland city councillor Lucas Spinosa resigned after saying he experienced vandalism at his family business, threats of physical violence against himself, family and staff, attempted break-ins and online threats and harassment.

The Review attempted to contact the Brock Civis account, but there was no response.

Sean Vanderklis is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter for the Niagara Falls Review, covering education issues across Niagara. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative.

Sean Vanderklis, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Niagara Falls Review