Five years ago, women around the world began to publicly disclose their experiences of sexual harassment and assault on social media using the hashtag #MeToo (#MeToo).
This anniversary gives us an opportunity to reflect on how Canada itself is dealing with the #MeToo movement and, more specifically, misogyny in Canadian politics.
The 2017 events come 11 years after Tarana Burke founded the #MeToo movement, which sought to raise awareness of the violence faced by black women and girls in the United States. The #MeToo hashtag went viral in October 2017 after allegations of sexual harassment against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein were made public.
Five years later, what do we know about gender-based violence in Canadian politics?
First, violence and persecution have not decreased; rather, they have even become stronger in Canadian politics.
In response to increasing threats and security concerns for members of the Canadian Parliament, the Minister of Public Safety announced in June 2022 that all Members of Parliament will be issued “alert buttons” for their personal safety.
An analysis of tweets received by the Samara Democracy Center from incumbent candidates and party leaders during the 2021 federal elections shows that 19% of these messages were unhealthy, meaning rude, offensive, hostile, threatening or vulgar.
While politicians from all walks of life are targeted, women, Indigenous, black, racist and queer people bear the brunt of the attacks on Canadian democracy.
Harassment against Chrystia Freeland
In August 2022, a man held Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland and her all-female entourage in front of the city hall elevator in Grande Prairie, Alta., and hurled insults and abuse at her.
The incident has prompted other female politicians to speak out about the pressures they face.
Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek tweeted about the harassment she experienced, while Quebec Liberal MP Marwah Rizqy revealed the harassment and threats she’s been subjected to recently.
In the fall, Ms. Rizgi received death threats, including from a man who called the police to tell them where her body was. She was pregnant at the time.
A few weeks later, people began a campaign of online harassment, many of them racist, targeting female journalists.
In all of these cases, the attackers used violent, misogynistic or racist language, imagery or paraphernalia to humiliate, intimidate and threaten their targets.
We also learned that some political leaders seem willing to exploit the hatred embedded in our political culture for partisan purposes.
In October 2022, Global News reported that 50 of Conservative Party leader Pierre Poilievre’s most recent YouTube videos included a covert misogynistic hashtag.
The hashtag MGTOW (“men going their own way”) refers to an online anti-feminist movement that advocates male supremacy.
When asked about this, Poilievre said he condemned all forms of misogyny but did not apologize.
Silence and exclusion
Research shows that when women politicians, workers, activists and journalists are oppressed simply because they are women, it poses a threat to democracy.
Mona Lena Crook, a political scientist at Rutgers University, said that violence against women in politics aims to silence and exclude them from public life.
As my research with Cheryl Collier of the University of Windsor shows, violence and harassment are barriers to women’s participation in Canadian politics and undermine democratic values such as gender equality, representation and participation.
After the 2021 federal election, women held 30.5% of the seats in the House of Commons. Today, Canada ranks 61st out of 190 countries for women’s political representation.
Fortunately, Canadian women are benefiting from some progress.
In 2018, the federal Liberal government passed Bill C-65, which updated and strengthened existing legislation to prevent and address harassment and violence in all federally regulated workplaces. This includes the parliament.
In 2021, in response to Bill C-65, the House of Commons and Senate updated their policies to prevent and address violence and harassment.
Since the #MeToo movement, many state and territory legislatures have also adopted codes of conduct or policies to combat sexual harassment.
While these policies and codes are not enough and more action is needed, media and public attention as #MeToo has led to changes in these legislative bodies regarding workplace harassment and violence.
But this is not enough. Nondisclosure agreements in cases of harassment and bullying should be banned in all organizations and workplaces, including legislative bodies. But banning such arrangements will not be enough to stop unethical behavior.
My research with Ms. Collier shows that predominantly white, cisgender, and male-dominated political institutions need to do more to overcome their sexist and exclusionary cultures.
Lawmakers must adopt strategies to disrupt the “networks of participation” that protect the powerful and enable abusive behavior. There is a need for completely impartial and transparent processes that address all forms of violence and impose serious sanctions against those who abuse or harass.
Democracy is under attack
It should also address the harassment of journalists, political candidates, workers and elected officials by a small group of the public.
An attack on a politician should be seen as an attack on Canadian democracy and should not be tolerated in a free and democratic society.
Finally, political parties should improve the recruitment and selection of people from diverse backgrounds into public office.
at 10e In 2027, the anniversary of the #MeToo movement, Canadian democracy will hopefully be strengthened by the steps we take today to end violence and harassment in politics.