CAJ urges government, law enforcement to address targeted harassment of reporters

TORONTO, Sept. 29, 2021 /CNW/ – The Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) calls for swift and decisive action from authorities in…

TORONTO, Sept. 29, 2021 /CNW/ – The Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) calls for swift and decisive action from authorities in response to a recent wave of targeted threats made against multiple Canadian journalists.

Last week, Maxime Bernier, the leader of the People’s Party of Canada, publicly urged his followers on Twitter to ‘play dirty’ with journalists who were requesting comments around the party’s ties to the far right. Bernier proceeded to specifically target three Canadian journalists by publicly sharing their email addresses on the social media platform. In response, Twitter proceeded to suspend Bernier’s account for a period of 12 hours.

Over the past week, dozens more reporters, many of whom are female and/or journalists of colour, have been inundated with intimidating emails and messages on social media with threats of violence, sexual assault, harassment, and death. In an effort to ensure their safety, journalists have had to scour the internet to ensure their personal information is not available.

«Efforts to intimidate journalists from asking tough, serious questions is a tactic ripped directly from the pages of the authoritarian playbook,» says Brent Jolly, CAJ president. «The messages being directed towards reporters and editors are absolutely vile, deplorable, and completely unacceptable. We strongly stand by our members during these distressing times.»

The CAJ is mindful that several sections of the Criminal Code prohibit the wilful promotion of hatred. For this reason, we urge the RCMP, and other law enforcement bodies, to launch investigations immediately.

Earlier this year, the Department of Canadian Heritage announced it would be engaging in efforts to confront – and combat – so-called ‘online harms’. In light of the events that have taken place over the past week, the CAJ welcomes the opportunity to submit a brief to this consultation, chronicling the recent spate of hate against its members. 

The CAJ has been alerted to an increase in the number of instances where journalists have been unscrupulously targeted for the simple act of doing their jobs. The CAJ recognizes that, at present, there is currently no centralized means of tracking threats and harassment. It is for this reason that the CAJ is partnering with the CBC, and several journalism organizations, to launch the Online Harm in Journalism Survey. We ask all members to participate at their earliest convenience.

In journalism, criticism is expected; harassment and hateful messages are not. In the near future, the CAJ will also be launching a social media consultation process to come up with guidelines for all newsrooms on how best to support and protect reporters. The CAJ also encourages any journalist who receives such attacks to reach out to any board member should they feel unsafe.

«These are coordinated campaigns that strive to undermine the freedom of the press,» says Jolly. «It’s a disturbing reality that being a journalist in Canada has become a hazardous occupation. That’s why we look forward to working with news organizations, and others, in the coming days to ensure that the safety and security of journalists are protected – and these perpetrators of hate are held accountable.»

The CAJ is Canada’s largest national professional organization for journalists from all media, representing more than 1000 members across the country. The CAJ’s primary roles are to provide high-quality professional development for its members and public-interest advocacy.

SOURCE Canadian Association of Journalists