The public conversation on sexual harassment and assault sparked by the allegations against Hollywood giant Harvey Weinstein and the #metoo hashtag that saw Canadians of all walks of life share stories of misconduct has been selected as Canada’s News Story of the Year for 2017.
The Canadian Press annual survey of news editors and reporters from across the country saw 23 out of 80 votes cast for sexual harassment as the most compelling story of the year, with the ongoing fentanyl crisis coming in second with 18 votes.
“No other story this year seems to permeate everyday life for men and women across the social spectrum,” said Joshua Freeman, web journalist for the Toronto TV station CP24.
“It cuts to the way that men and women interact with one another on a daily basis and raises questions about how far we think we’ve come versus where we actually are when it comes to sexism, professionalism, and our ability to navigate our own sexual impulses with maturity,” he said.
Darren Krause, managing editor of Metro Calgary, said the issue could be “the news story of the decade.”
“While it started in 2017, I think it will be one of the most reported issues in 2018,” he wrote.
The allegations that emerged this fall against Weinstein, an Oscar-winning film producer, opened a floodgate of similar accusations that spread to Canada and affected virtually every industry, from the arts and sports to politics and law enforcement.
Several powerful men, including Gilbert Rozon, the founder of the Just For Laughs comedy festival and Sportsnet baseball analyst Gregg Zaun, were fired or stepped down from their positions amid allegations of sexual of sexual misconduct, many of them dating back years.
Rozon did not comment on the allegations, while Zaun, who lost his job after multiple female Sportsnet employees complained about his inappropriate behaviour in the workplace, said he “naively” believed his language was not offensive.
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As the list of allegations grew, many institutions raced to tackle sexual harassment in their ranks.
The union for Canada’s TV and film performers said it would expedite its discipline processes for sexual harassment and assault complaints, while the federal government announced it was embarking on a regulatory overhaul to crack down on harassment in federal workplaces.
The year also saw police forces across the country, including the RCMP, review how they handle sexual assault complaints after it was revealed that many were dismissed as unfounded. As a result, several forces reopened cases that had previously been written off.
“Whether it’s through the #metoo movement here as well as in the U.S., the tidal wave that we’ve seen has been second to none in terms of women being able to come forward, women using their voices,” said Paulette Senior, president and CEO of the Canadian Women’s Foundation.
The swell of stories shared by famous and non-famous women alike has helped show the pervasiveness of a problem that has always been difficult to quantify due to low reporting rates, Senior said.
That, in turn, has brought a “sea change” in the conversation around sexual harassment and assault, with complainants more likely to be believed now than they would have been even a few months ago, she said.
The task for 2018 will be to capitalize on that momentum to bring about systemic change, she said.
“We can’t assume that because the conversation is happening, that that means that change is going to happen,” she said.
“So it’s about acting now, from conversation to actually making decisions and enacting those decisions.”
Sandra Cohen-Rose, president of the National Council of Women of Canada, said stamping out sexual harassment and assault will mean tackling economic imbalances and other mechanisms that leave women vulnerable to abuses of power.
“Everybody’s looking for a magic bullet that works and there just isn’t (one),” she said.