Taking stock of gender-based violence in Canadian politics

Quebec Liberal Marwah Rizqy speaks during a press conference as Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade, left, looks on in August 2022 in St-Agapit, Quebec. Rizqy received repeated death threats, resulting in the arrest of a man. THE CANADIAN PRESS / Jacques Boissinot

Five years ago, women around the world began to publicly disclose their experiences of sexual assault and harassment on social media using the hashtag #MeToo.

This step gives us the opportunity to reflect on how Canada has handled its own supposed #MeToo account and misogyny in Canadian politics specifically.

The events of 2017 occurred 11 years later Tarana Burke founded the #MeToo movement to raise awareness of the violence black women and girls experience in the United States. The #MeToo hashtag went viral in October 2017 after allegations of sexual misconduct against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein went public.

Five years later, what lessons have we learned about gender-based violence in Canadian politics?

The first is that violence and harassment have not diminished; on the contrary, they have intensified in the Canadian political sphere.

In response to the growing threats and security concerns of parliamentarians, the the Minister of Public Security announced in June 2022 that all MPs would receive “panic buttons” to increase their personal security.

During the 2021 federal election, analyzes of tweets received by incumbent candidates and party leaders conducted by the Samara Center for Democracy show that 19% were probably toxic, meaning they were uncivil, insulting, hostile, threatening or profane.

While public servants from all walks of life are targeted, women, Indigenous, Black, racialized and queer politicians are bear the weight current attacks on Canadian democracy.

Freeland docked

In August 2022, a man cornered Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland and his all-female entourage in an elevator at City Hall in Grande Prairie, Alberta. and hurled insults and curses at him.

The incident prompted other female politicians to speak out about their own experiences of harassment.

Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek shared his experiences harassment on Twitter, while Quebec Liberal MP Marwah Rizqy went public with the recent harassment and threats made against her.

Rizqy has received death threats, including from a man who allegedly called the police to tell them where they could locate his murdered body. She was pregnant at the time.

A few weeks later, an online harassment campaign directed against women journalists — many of whom are racialized — was ongoing.

Threatening with violence

In all of these cases, the harassers invoked violent, misogynistic and racist language, imagery or paraphernalia as a means of demeaning, intimidating and threatening their targets.

We have also learned that some political leaders seem willing to use the vitriol seeded in our political culture for partisan ends.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre rises during Question Period in the House of Commons in October 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre rises during Question Period in the House of Commons in October 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

In October 2022, Global News reported that a hidden misogynistic label was placed on 50 of Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre’s most recent YouTube videos.

The hashtag, “MGTOW” (men go their own way)refers to an online anti-feminist movement that advocates male supremacy.

Pressed on the subject, Poilievre condemned all forms of misogyny but did not apologize.

Silence and exclusion

Academic research shows that when harassment is directed against women politicians, employees, activists and journalists because they are women, it constitutes a threat to democracy.

Mona Lena Krook, political scientist from Rutgers University argued that the purpose of violence against women in politics is to silence them and exclude them from public life.

As my research As Cheryl Collier of the University of Windsor points out, political violence and harassment are barriers for women in Canadian politics and undermine democratic values ​​such as equal representation and participation.

Read more: Another obstacle for women in politics: violence

After the 2021 federal election, women held 30.5% of seats in the House of Commons. Today Canada ranks 61st out of 190 countries in the political representation of women.

Female foreign ministers, including Chrystia Freeland, Canada's then foreign minister, pose for a photo at a conference in Montreal in 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Female foreign ministers, including Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s then foreign minister, pose for a photo at a conference in Montreal in 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Positive developments

Fortunately, not all lessons from #MeToo have been negative, and positive progress for Canadian women has been made.

In 2018, the federal Liberal government passed a new law, Bill C-65, which updates and strengthens existing legislation to prevent and address harassment and violence in all federally regulated workplaces. This includes Parliament.

In response to Bill C-65, the House of Commons and the Senate updated their policies in 2021 to prevent and address violence and harassment.

Since #MeToo, many provincial and territorial legislatures have also adopted codes of conduct or policies to address sexual harassment.

While these codes and policies are insufficient and further action is needed, media and public attention to workplace harassment and violence since #MeToo has spurred change in these legislatures.

A large crowd gathers in Nathan Phillips Square for the start of the Toronto Women's March in January 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Tijana Martin

A large crowd gathers in Nathan Phillips Square for the start of the Toronto Women’s March in January 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Tijana Martin

But more needs to be done. Non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) in cases of harassment and violence must be banned in all organizations and workplaces, including legislatures. However, banning NDAs alone will not stop unethical behavior.

As my research with Collier’s shows, political institutions — which remain predominantly white, cisgender, and male-dominated — must do more to uproot their sexist and exclusive cultures.

Legislators must adopt strategies to disrupt the “networks of complicitythat protect powerful perpetrators and enable abusive behavior. Completely impartial and transparent processes that address all forms of violence and impose strong penalties on those who commit acts of violence or harassment would help.

Attack on democracy

Harassment of journalists, political candidates, staff and elected officials by a small fraction of the public must also be addressed.

An attack on a politician must be seen as an attack on Canadian democracy and should not be tolerated in a free and democratic society.

Finally, political parties must do better to recruit and elect diverse people to public office.

When the 10th anniversary of the #MeToo movement arrives in 2027, Canadian democracy will hopefully be strengthened by the actions we take today to end violence and harassment in politics.

This article is republished from The conversation, an independent non-profit news site dedicated to sharing ideas from academic experts. It was written by: Tracey Raney, Metropolitan University of Toronto. Like this article ? Subscribe to our weekly newsletter.

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Tracey Raney receives funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

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