Charlie Angus on racists in cyberspace


July 25, 2013

Now, I know online commentary isn’t generally known for its erudite reflection. After all, troll culture revels in trashing everyone.

But whenever an article is posted about Idle No More or treaty rights or First Nation poverty, the comments section is quickly overwhelmed with abusive attacks. It is impossible not to recognize a relentless pattern of malevolence. In cyberspace the racists are loud, proud and determined to define the terms of discussion around aboriginal issues.

Let’s compare these responses to those following recent natural disasters in Oklahoma, Bracebridge  and Alberta, which prompted outpourings of heartfelt and moving comments.

And yet when two communities in my region, Attawapiskat and Kashechewan, were hit by flash flooding earlier this spring, the pages were filled with vicious glee. Online consensus was that the families who were flooded out by failed sewage lifts were actually responsible for the flood – either because of deviousness or mental decrepitude. The idea that government agencies might send aid to help these Canadian citizens sent commentators into a rage.

I used to think trolls wrote their crap because they could post it anonymously. But now I see people not only willing to sign their name to it but even to supply a headshot. The purveyors of these false stereotypes seem to be hijacking the public conversation away from issues like chronic infrastructure underfunding, third-class education and the inability to share in economic development.

So why the lack of action?

It’s not as if Canadians haven’t taken impressive steps to fight cyber-bullying. And yet whenever I hear about the wonderful efforts being made to protect young people online, I think of the trauma experienced by children in Attawapiskat from online attacks. When the media began reporting on their struggle to have a school built in the community, online haters again took over the comments pages. A teacher in Attawapiskat told me the children were shaken by commenters calling them “lazy Indians,” “losers,” “gasoline sniffers,” etc.

How is it that school boards, parents, police and editorialists rightly tell young people to speak out against the humiliation by individual youth online but don’t seem to notice when the hate is directed at First Nation children?

Canada is one of the most digitally literate societies in the world. The task before us isn’t just about challenging stereotypes of First Nation people, but correcting the emerging and inaccurate image of the ugly Online Canadian. There is simply too much at stake to allow important issues and stories to be poisoned by trolls. So when you see examples of these hate comments, please be Idle No More.

Charlie Angus is the Member of Parliament for Timmins-James Bay.