Federal Liberal cabinet ministers are trading in their summer barbecue bibs for crisp autumn button-downs this week as they gather for a three-day work retreat in Vancouver before beginning their pilgrimage back to Ottawa for the opening of Parliament’s next legislative session.

Having fanned out across the country over the past 10 weeks, ministers will have heard many common themes from Canadians. They’ll, no doubt, report back about how they’ve been told by constituents to do more to address critical issues like affordability and the skyrocketing prices for consumer goods, global warming and refugee resettlement, to name just a few.

But when ministers convene to compare notes on their summer dispatches, there’s another far more insidious problem that needs to be brought to the cabinet table for deliberation. It’s one, in fact, that threatens the very fabric of our democracy: anger, aggression and hate spurred by increasing social polarization.

A high-profile example of this social schism was on plain display late last month when Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland was verbally berated by a man and a woman when she went to meet the mayor of Grande Prairie, Alta., at city hall.

Prime Minister Trudeau was quick to denounce the actions, saying: “This kind of cowardly behaviour threatens and undermines our democracy and our values and openness and respect, upon which Canada was built.”

Strong words for sure. Indeed, calling out threats and hateful rhetoric is an important act. But it is still just a single step in what needs to be a far more comprehensive and co-ordinated response plan that must transcend partisan affiliations.

Politicians aren’t alone in experiencing this rising tide of hate. Over the past several months, dozens and dozens of journalists from across the country, many of whom are women and/or journalists of colour, have been targeted by what appears to be an orchestrated campaign of online hate and harassment by multiple nefarious actors and groups.

Journalists have been threatened with physical harm. They’ve had their inboxes and social media accounts bombarded with messages filled with racist epithets and images of graphic sexual violence hidden behind a cloak of anonymity and perpetuated by a culture of impunity.

Hate and harassment, whether online or in-person, are parts of the world we live in. We must go beyond more condemnation to combat hate.

The federal government must confront and deal with #threats to our democracy: anger, aggression and hate spurred by increasing social polarization, writes @CAJ president @Brent_T_Jolly. #journalists #harassment #CDNPoli #OnlineHate

What else can be done?

That’s certainly not a simple question to answer. But what is certain is we cannot stand by idly, palms to the sky, in the hope this problem suddenly abates and then magically disappears. We must start somewhere because we’ve reached a breaking point.

That’s why, last week, in a remarkable show of industry solidarity, more than 50 news organizations and press freedom groups, including Canada’s National Observer and the Canadian Association of Journalists, banded together to issue a series of calls to action to a lengthy list of federal cabinet ministers and opposition party leaders.

The message delivered was simple and straightforward: the exponential spread of hate and harassment are global problems that threaten not only the safety and well-being of journalists but the proper functioning of democracy itself.

As the document states, efforts to mitigate future harms will need to include legislative reforms, improved collaboration and co-ordination between law enforcement agencies and the need to hold social media platforms accountable for the toxic stew that is all too frequently shared on their platforms.

Within hours of their publication, Trudeau responded to the calls to action, saying the government would look at the proposals in the context of “a systemic approach to weaken our democracy [and] to intimidate those who are there to hold to account.”

At face value, the response is moderately encouraging. But if past precedent is a prediction of future behaviour, you’ll understand why I’m careful not to invest too heavily in grand pronouncements that are not tied to substantive action.

This is, after all, the same government that promised during the last election campaign it would introduce legislation within its first 100 days to combat serious forms of harmful online content. As part of that legislation, the Liberals also promised to strengthen the Canada Human Rights Act and Criminal Code to combat online hate more effectively. That bill is long past due.

To extend what CNO columnist Max Fawcett wrote last week, the vile threats being volleyed against Canadian journalists are just another example of “stochastic terrorism” at play. This is not about journalists asking for any kind of “special treatment” or protection. It is, instead, about asking our leaders, and ourselves, whether we are prepared to allow our civic discourse to nosedive into the creeping calls of authoritarianism and conspiracy-laden chaos.

As a citizen and a journalist, that’s a reality that both disappoints and frightens me. But without swift and decisive action, I fear we are now approaching the point of no return.

Brent Jolly is the president of the Canadian Association of Journalists.

Keep reading

So why is this online hate happening? I'd like to know what people's diagnosis of the problem is. Like any other problem, we have to deal with it at the root cause level - or the problem will NEVER be solved. I think there is also a big disinformation problem behind it, in Canada at least, aggravated by wilful ignorance "getting into bed with" certain popular but ill-informed social mores and prejudices to suppress important facts. I've done my own extensive analysis and could comment at length - all based on thorough supporting documentation. But before doing that, I'd like to see what other people think about this first.

This may be too simplistic, but I believe that the far right cultural / political machine was unleashed, emboldened, "given permission" etc. by the rise of Trump. The infamous, fully staged ride down the escalator of Trump Tower to announce his candidacy for the Republican nomination for President, the words he chose to speak and who he was appealing to, was an inflection point marking the uptick of hate speech. “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best,” Trump said, as he claimed the country was dispatching immigrants to the US. “They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us [sic]. They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

Yes it's clear beyond doubt that Trump has been and continues to be a huge problem in the U.S. . In the comment that I posted previously, my focus was on the situation in Canada and what Canadian people think of it.

I see your point Robert, but one would have to be naive to think that TFG isn't or doesn't influence "politics" and intolerance (a mild word) here in Canada (if not worldwide).

Yes there is no doubt that popular public opinion in the *U.S. - ill informed or well informed - has plenty of influence on Canadian public opinion. For instance, this is obvious from the Alberta truckers' so called "freedom convoy" which caused 3-4 weeks of disruption in Ottawa in January. The truckers involved constituted only about 10% of truckers based in Alberta and were protesting against COVID-19 vaccine mandates, and were basing this on the disinformation about COVID-19 and vaccines which some Donald Trump supporters were exploiting to stir up trouble. (The remaining 90% of Alberta truckers were all vaccinated). I could talk at length about other examples of disinformation or misinformation, and wrong analysis in news reports. And we can NEVER rule out the possibility of Russian agents and other bad actors operating (behind the scenes, hoping thereby to avoid being implicated) to influence public opinion for creating confusion designed to topple other countries' governments; that is a very long standing problem. We all know, for instance, how they helped Donald Trump get elected back in 2016.

As well, outgoing Premier Kenney has been instrumental in unleashing Alberta extremists. His constant criticism, his dogwhistles and gaslighting has crested a huge number of Albertans living in unreality . Premier Moe is a close second. Premier Ford jumped off that platform when he observed he was going to be a one term Premier. Blaming the Prime Minister and the Liberals for undefined grievances dating back a 120 years is also living in unreality.

I'd say there are two basic causes. One is what you might call systemic--it's about the general direction our politics and economy have been going, basically coming down to increasing inequality and decreasing involvement of the public sector in doing anything about it. That always seems to lead to more extreme politics, whether towards socialism or or fascism or both. In Italy, it wasn't just Mussolini rising; at the same time there were massive working class movements, which tended to be Communist because that's the version of leftism that was in vogue at the time. In modern North America, the system has gotten much better at stifling leftists, so the rise of the right is much more noticeable than the rise of the left, but even so the rise in inequality has led to some left wing resurgence. One thing about rising inequality is that while we think of it as causing problems mainly for the poor, who are getting poorer, it also creates a lot of instability and uncertainty, which hits a lot of people even up to the upper middle class. Their lives might not actually be much worse, but they can't count on it staying that way, and they get upset. The hard right message actually attracts more of those people.

The other cause is related but simpler: Money. Some of the wealthy think fascist politics are useful to them, and they have poured cash into creating it for decades now, whether it's on social media today or the creation of right wing "talk radio" 30+ years ago or the rise of Fox News in between. The rise of strongly political right wing religion is another important example; this stuff is funded heavily. Both the desire and the capacity for a few extremely wealthy elites to spend this much money is greater just because with so much inequality, they're that much richer and can put a much heavier thumb on the public discourse scales. But the message is also received by more people in troubled times.

So if we want to stop this problem, we need to do two things. First, make society more fair and stable and less unequal. Build lots of social housing, revitalize public health care, rein in profiteering corporations, tax the rich, have a strong social safety net, increase the minimum wage, pursue full employment, strengthen unions, stuff like that. This reduces the impetus to seek messages of fear and anger . . . even among people who are dead against that kind of policy.
Second, take measures to seriously curtail the use of money to influence public discourse, whether in social media, traditional media, or the use of religion as a political tool.

Yes, good analysis. I'll have more to say later.

Journalist Jolly sure hit the nail on the head. Our legal system and leadership have neglected this issue, I assume thinking it would go away. It hasn't and it won't. Without some action, it will not only continue to grow, but get worse and it be qoe is me when a Journalist or politician is killed. Below is the legal definitions of assault. And listen to the Star's This Matters Podcast Augyst 29 on what female Journalists put up with
Justice Laws Website
Criminal Code (R.S.C., 1985, c. C-46)

Marginal note:

• 265 (1) A person commits an assault when

• (a) without the consent of another person, he applies force intentionally to that other person, directly or indirectly;

• (b) he attempts or threatens, by an act or a gesture, to apply force to another person, if he has, or causes that other person to believe on reasonable grounds that he has, present ability to effect his purpose; or

• (c) while openly wearing or carrying a weapon or an imitation thereof, he accosts or impedes another person or begs.

• Marginal note:
• Application

(2) This section applies to all forms of assault, including sexual assault, sexual assault with a weapon, threats to a third party or causing bodily harm and aggravated sexual assault.

• Marginal note:
• Consent

(3) For the purposes of this section, no consent is obtained where the complainant submits or does not resist by reason of

• (a) the application of force to the complainant or to a person other than the complainant;

• (b) threats or fear of the application of force to the complainant or to a person other than the complainant;

• (c) fraud; or

• (d) the exercise of authority.

I agree that disinformation is the root cause. It's more widely disseminated than ever before via the internet which has itself become so deeply entrenched in society as to become its own ungovernable entity, like the Catholic Church (or the MAGA Republicans.) True believers both, cult members all and linked by false information, the definition of disinformation.
After centuries of protracted conflict, democracies have finally succumbed to religion by "enshrining" it as a basic human right. So the right to believe whatever we choose, even if we're hopelessly deluded by a particular idea that is literally wishful thinking, a figment of our imagination, it has generally been deemed entirely respectable, one might even say "sacrosanct." (NOT the case in theocracies where your figment HAS to coincide with mine or your life is at risk.) So our accommodation which we call "secularism," which means including and accepting ALL religions equally was supposed to quell discord, and maybe would have more had we simultaneously enforced strict separation of church and state.
So false information is ever the accelerant for the tribal male's hare-trigger pride, whether in ownership of territory or the chimera of personal identity. The former makes more sense than the latter, but the reaction can be equally strong. It's as complicated as we are.
That precious identiy is often at least partly tied to ideology, the root of that word being IDEA and while some ideas are definitely better than others, our democratic society takes pride in the premise that NO idea is beyond scrutiny and/or criticism, indeed we are collectively enlivened by ongoing debate(s). However, there is one major exception with consequences as sprawling as the internet and that is religion with the unique cachet (and sanction) of being ancient. Indeed, Douglas Coupland theorizes that younger generations have replaced religion with the internet.
So because politically religious groups have been able to harness the internet like everyone else they have emboldened previously latent legions of male faux warriors who happen to be fully primed by perceived displacement arising from significant social changes in society over the last few decades. The traditional patriarchy of religion has naturally appealed to them; it's like putting on any uniform, they line up for the proxy power. Religious wars continue apace in the world but are now joined by our "culture wars," the root word being "cult." Remember when the conservatives used the term "barbaric cultural practices" and were widely reviled? That was TRUE, inarguably, but we piled on in our effort to be more definitively Canadian and "out-tolerate" them. They have rightly called it "virtue signalling" and I think it's where WE fanned the flames. If we're talking about root causes, I think that's one, and the aftermath of 911 started it when liberals very kindly rallied around Muslims, inadvertently INCLUDING their ideology which is that of the religion of Islam. The term "Islamophobe" encapsulated this sentiment nicely but made us the liars AND hypocrites. The NEW thing in this mess, the sunshine, would be the unvarnished truth as vital context, what I have heard called a "truth sandwich" in journalism where you provide this context before reporting and reinforcing it at the end. This would actually BE the "sunny ways" of Trudeau's motto.

Again, good analysis. Trudeau's problem, in my view, is that he and his government are being mis-led by popular disinformation and wrong analysis in certain key subject areas, without realising it. As a result, there is general failure to implement his "sunny ways" and "better is always possible" political philosophy across some important problem areas in Canada, on account of lack of popular support for this.