BY SABRINA MADDEAUX
Harvey Weinstein. Matt Lauer. Kevin Spacey. Charlie Rose. Russell Simmons. Louis C.K. Brett Ratner. Roy Moore.
The list of alleged sexual predators and harassers outed and toppled by the #MeToo movement continues to grow by the day. The purge has been a long time coming. Never before have we seen so many powerful men, across multiple industries, forced to come to terms with allegations of abuse and the privilege that afforded them protection– until now.
While Canadians have widely been supportive of the #MeToo movement, cheering on women and men south of the border, sharing stories online, petitioning for justice and boycotting the work of outed predators, we’ve yet to see #MeToo rock the core of any Canadian industries. Where is our Harvey Weinstein? Who’s the northern Louis C.K. in sheep’s clothing?
There’s no question these men exist in the very upper echelons of the Canadian business, entertainment, sport and media industries. A recent survey by Insights West found that more than half of Canadian women have been sexually harassed at work. Like their counterparts in the U.S., almost every Canadian woman (and quite a few men, too) has a harassment, assault or rape story and many of the men responsible have yet to be publicly named, let alone suffer consequences.
While we’ve made theoretical strides in Canada, we can hardly claim victory over sexual misconduct and assault if there is little to no concrete change. After all, change is the ultimate goal of the movement– not a record number of retweets or Facebook likes.
So why is the #MeToo movement failing in Canada– a country that prides itself on its progressive values?
There’s little question the Jian Ghomeshi debacle affected the cultural climate in Canada. It was the most high-profile court case (and dismissal of a household name) the country has seen in a long time. It was a near-perfect opportunity to change the tide when it came to believing alleged victims and exacting justice.
Unfortunately it was a colossal disaster by almost any standard. Not only did Ghomeshi escape any legal repercussions, he maintained a strong army of fans and diehard believers. The women who accused him of violence, sexual abuse and harassment were hung out to dry by the Crown, filleted by Marie Henein in court and smeared by the media outside of it. The most intimate of details of their lives were exposed for the world to judge and, in the end, they walked away with seemingly fewer supporters than they started out with. It was devastating.
The Ghomeshi case breathed a chill into the hearts of victimized Canadians, publically affirming that their worst fears about coming forward may in fact be founded.
There are other unique elements to our culture that allow abuse to flourish and hide. Canadian business communities and industries are notoriously small circles, with everyone just a few degrees of separation from one another. As a result, vengeance and retribution from accused predators can be especially swift and harsh. While blacklisting someone in L.A. or New York takes teams of lawyers, publicists, private investigators and more, in Toronto it can be as simple as a few phone calls. Word spreads like wildfire and alternative job options are scarce.
Combine small social and professional circles with Canadians’ reputation for being unfailingly polite, self-blaming, overly apologetic and averse to conflict and you have a potent recipe for covering up, minimizing and avoiding accusations.
Then, of course, there are our stifling defamation laws, which put both accusers and media outlets who print their stories at risk for litigation. Whereas in the U.S. the accused must prove an accuser’s story false to win a defamation suit, in Canada the burden of proof is on the victim. This was a large reason why the Ghomeshi scandal took so long to break– and almost never did. It’s scary to think how many stories about high-profile rapists and assaulters may sit in the dusty corners of editors’ offices, unable to see the light of day due to fear of a massive lawsuit. Would the Weinstein story have ever been published by a Canadian newspaper?
While it’s certainly moving to see titans and boldface names south of the border taken to task, it’s time for Canada to have its own reckoning when it comes to predatory behaviour. Our culture of assault and harassment is no less severe than America’s, yet it remains largely in the shadows.
Only when we see big names begin to fall and justice for decades of abuse, can we truly claim to be part of #MeToo.
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