Outcry grows over violent online threats against women, racialized journalists

·3 min read

Warning: This article contains mention of abuse, harassment and rape and death threats.

An ongoing pattern of abuse and threats directed at female journalists and female journalists of colour has reached such a crescendo, it's drawing condemnation from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and an NDP MP.

“The pattern of harassment of journalists is incredibly alarming and completely unacceptable. This type of behaviour has no place in our society. No journalist should ever be threatened for doing their job,” Trudeau tweeted late Wednesday night.

NDP MP Leah Gazan also took a stand against the harassment in an emailed statement: “Recently, it has come to our attention that female journalists, primarily members of the Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC), who are simply doing their job have been subjected to abuse and violence that include rape and death threats.”

The ability of journalists to report transparently and hold powerful people and institutions to account is a key pillar of a functioning democracy, and “harassment, abuse, and any other forms of violence is a direct attack on that fundamental right,” said Gazan’s statement.

In recent weeks, many prominent Canadian journalists have tweeted out screenshots of hate mail they received, rife with slurs, references to physical and sexual violence and even rape and death threats. Some hate mail referenced a wall with printed photos of “all the Canadian media c—s that need to be boogaloo’ed the f— out of Canada,” and names Toronto Star podcast co-host and producer Saba Eitizaz, Global News reporter Rachel Gilmore and Erica Ifill, a columnist with The Hill Times and co-host of the Bad + Bitchy Podcast.

“The source of this violence is misogyny, racism rooted in white supremacy, the rise of right-wing nationalism, and far-right rhetoric that is emboldening people to lash out primarily at BIPOC journalists for doing their job to objectively scrutinize and report activities coming from these movements,” Gazan’s statement reads.

It is “a relief” to see a strong statement of support from Gazan, Ifill, one of the targeted journalists, told Canada’s National Observer.

“Violence is permissive. If you say nothing, people get more emboldened.”

Importantly, Gazan’s statement acknowledges how journalists with intersecting identities — namely women and Black, Indigenous and women of colour — are most often the target of racist and misogynistic threats and abuse, said Ifill.

Trudeau’s statement, on the other hand, is “generic” and ignores female journalists and female journalists of colour, she said.

“The prime minister took three weeks and came up with that? Oh my gosh, he really doesn't care,” she said with a short laugh.

Journalists across the country are speaking up about the uptick in threats and abuse and sharing their hate mail to draw attention to the issue.

Anna Junker, a reporter for the Edmonton Journal, recently tweeted out screenshots of hate mail she received which reference “psychological warfare,” a “summer hit list” and the need to start “prosecuting, wrecking and silencing the little criminals of the organization.”

Late last night, Gilmore tweeted that “someone who clearly owns guns directly threatened and harassed my entire family,” and that her loved ones are being forced to take precautions.

Over the nearly three weeks of near-constant harassment, Ifill said her biggest sources of support have been the other women being targeted, her friends and Twitter followers.

Strong public statements of support like Gazan’s are important because for those being targeted, it's a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation,” she added.

“If you don't say something, it's gonna continue and you'll get zero support, right? If you say something, you'll get more support but more people will come after you.”

Ifill, Gilmore and Eitizaz have all reported threats to their local police. The Canadian Association of Journalists wrote a letter to the Toronto and Ottawa police chiefs asking that they review and improve their processes for making complaints of hate speech and harassment.

Natasha Bulowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Canada's National Observer