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Governor General hosts symposium targeting online hate

Canada’s Governor General hosted a symposium at Rideau Hall on Thursday with experts and individuals sharing their experiences of being subjected hate, harassment and threats of violence online.

Mary Simon says she was at the forefront of online abuse targeting her as an Indigenous woman after she was sworn in. Her office eventually turned off the comments on social media.

“A lot of people internalize it and then become ill, either physically or mentally, so I felt it was a time in Canada where we should all be talking about it,” said Simon.

One of the panelists was Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, who said not only did her following increase 3,000 per cent during the pandemic, but so did the amount of hate she received online.

“Even though I experienced that racism ahead of the pandemic, everything was just blown up into stratospheric proportions,” Tam said.

For her, that online abuse translated into fearing for her safety in public.

“I think my life changed because, of course, I couldn’t really go out and even now I can’t really go out in public. I can’t take a taxi on my own or an Uber because I don’t feel safe,” Tam said.

Government officials aren’t the only people who are prone to online abuse. Others, including journalists, are also speaking out about similar experiences.

“I got an email that was putting me on a hit list with some other reporters and I had a lot of people threatening not just me but also my family,” said journalist Rachel Gilmore.

The symposium aimed to create awareness around a growing problem that’s gaining momentum, while at the same time creating a network of resilience and working collaboratively to develop solutions.

“I think we get through this, yes, through legislations by encouraging the big tech giants to play their part, but we also get through this by having conversations and moving the needle forward,” said Fae Johnstone, executive director of Wisdom2Action. 

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