Clicky

Internet Business Newswire

Global Business News

Facing Sexist, Racist Abuse, Canada Leader Seeks To Spark Reckoning

Mary Simon, a former diplomat and native rights activist, is the first member of the country’s Indigenous community to serve as the representative of the British crown and the official head of state
AFP

Faced with a stream of vicious insults on social media, Canada’s first Indigenous governor general Mary Simon has decided to turn her pain into a learning moment for her country and launch a fight against racism and misogyny online.

“For me, it’s important to call it out and bring it out and address these threats every day,” Simon told AFP in a recent phone interview.

She added: “I felt that because the comments directed at me became personal and attacked my identity that it was enough to open up the conversation in Canada.”

Simon, a former diplomat and native rights activist, is the first member of the country’s Indigenous community to serve as the representative of the British crown and the official head of state.

Simon’s duties as governor general are largely ceremonial, but she also has an important symbolic role as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces as well as summoning and dissolving parliament.

Her appointment in 2021 marked a symbolic step as Canada grapples with a dark history of systematic mistreatment of its native peoples — and she addressed the public in Inuktitut, one of Canada’s main Inuit languages, alongside English when she was named.

Several weeks ago Simon chose to publish some of the violent messages she has received online. She was called a “treacherous bitch,” “a worthless piece of meat” and “trash,” among other things.

“Every day, we were bombarded with harmful words, attacks against my identity as a woman, as a woman of a certain age, and as an Inuk,” said Simon, who is 75. “Unfortunately, I know very well I am not alone.”

Simon says she is encouraged by how Canadian society has responded to her campaign.

“There’s been a big reaction to the fact that I opened this up in a public way. And a lot of people are responding and saying, ‘Enough is enough,’ you know, so hopefully we can move this forward.”

Last month, on International Women’s Day, Simon hosted a roundtable with women from across the globe to discuss ways of combating online harassment.

In the interview, Simon stressed that while the government has a role to play so do big tech and civil society.

“Big industries have a role,” she said. “Communities have a role. So I think this is the beginning of a conversation.”

Simon, who comes from the Inuit people in the Nunavik province in northern Quebec said such abuse takes a heavy toll on girls and women — especially those in high-level positions — and ethnic minorities, adding that women are targeted more than men.

Hate campaigns have “devastating impacts on civic engagement, confidence and mental health, and can limit women’s professional pursuits,” she said.

Simon believes that racist attacks against her demonstrate the country still has a long way to go to atone for past abuses and find peace.

“Reconciliation is a process really, it’s a lifelong commitment to improve our relationship in Canada amongst different cultures and different peoples, especially with Indigenous peoples,” Simon said.

Indigenous Canadians experience higher levels of poverty and have a lower life expectancy than fellow countrymen, and are more often victims of violent crime, substance abuse and incarceration.

In recent years, Canada has been engaged in a painful reckoning with its dark colonial past after the discovery of hundreds of mass graves at the sites of residential schools where Indigenous children were forcibly enrolled.

Many were physically and sexually abused, and thousands are believed to have died of disease, malnutrition or neglect.

Simon expressed hope the nation was truly serious about reconciling.

“I think there was a reawakening of Canadians to work on this renewed relationship,” Simon said.

US President Joe Biden meets with Canadian Governor General Mary Simon at Ottawa International Airport in Ottawa, Canada in March 2023
US President Joe Biden meets with Canadian Governor General Mary Simon at Ottawa International Airport in Ottawa, Canada in March 2023
AFP