CRACKDOWN ON SPEWING ONLINE HATE LONG OVERDUE
It’s been a long and difficult week for the province of Saskatchewan.
When you weren’t talking about the Gerald Stanley trial, you were constantly refreshing your Twitter and Facebook feeds trying to keep up. I’m embarrassed to admit that I was one of those jerks who turned my cellphone on in the middle of a children’s movie theatre when I heard the verdict was going to be announced.
Both the public interest in the trial and the media attention were anticipated. However, the onslaught of social-media commentary was like a train wreck you couldn’t stop watching. There was nothing nuanced or refined about the discussion. Every news outlet was full-on pleading with people to stop being racist, making violent threats and uttering hate speech.
The begging was warranted. The outcome of the Stanley trial became almost irrelevant to some; this was just an opportunity to spew hatred toward Indigenous people.
The only laughable moment was Feb. 8, when the RCMP “reminded us” that we “could” be held accountable for our online communications. Thanks for the reminder, RCMP. But here’s a thought: why not hold people accountable and actually lay a charge?
We cannot continue to live in this bubble where people feel entitled to write any random racist and/or violent comment online with no consequences. It’s obvious we can’t hold each other accountable because online vitriol continues unabated. So instead of the RCMP communicating their most heartfelt concern about the issue, how about arresting and charging someone?
Section 319(1) of the Criminal Code states that everyone who, by communicating statements in any public place, incites hatred against any identifiable group where such incitement is likely to lead to a breach of the peace commits a criminal offence. Frankly, I’m having a hard time remembering whether I’ve read anything online recently that didn’t fit this definition.
Social-media reaction was out of control after Colten Boushie died in August 2016. The situation was so bad, then-premier Wall rebuked the entire province. However, last spring, the only reaction from the RCMP was that they had “looked into” the situation. No charges were ever laid. So when the RCMP piped back up a few days ago with their gentle “reminder,” it was hard to do anything but roll your eyes.
It’s not lost on many that one of the critical problems in rural Saskatchewan is that an emergency call to the RCMP is not the same as one to a city police service. If you live in Saskatoon, you can expect a 911 call to bring the police quickly. People living in rural Saskatchewan don’t receive that same level of service, even in emergency situations.
There needs to be a re-examination of how the RCMP delivers services to rural parts of Canada. Moreover, it should be the RCMP leading the issue by bringing the country’s attention to the gap in service. This should not be left to the victims of crime. If the problem is lack of resources, they might want to consider hiring former Saskatoon police chief Clive Weighill, who seemed to be able to suck millions of dollars from Saskatoon city council (present company included) no matter how stretched the budget was.
Feelings of helplessness with the justice system among Indigenous people did not start and will not end with the Stanley case. Those feelings existed long before anyone even knew the names Stanley or Boushie.
One step to increase Indigenous people’s confidence in the justice system would be for the RCMP to start actually holding people criminally responsible for their online comments instead of sending out gentle “reminders.” It’s a concrete step that is long overdue.