The West Island Black Community Association (WIBCA) only made it a few minutes into its annual general meeting held virtually on Zoom Friday, when they realized something was wrong.
The speaker, Alex Vachon, said he could hear whispers in the background during the land acknowledgement and when he finished a pornographic image was drawn on the screen. Shortly after the image was taken down and one of the moderators apologized, voices uttering racial slurs such as the n-word interrupted the presentation.
Participant Dr. Sabrina Jafralie said it was clear the meeting to discuss the WIBCA’s upcoming year and highlight its success was hacked by two or three people. One person even appeared on screen wearing a pink balaclava, covering their face.
“It’s just unfortunate that, you know, any organization where there’s people of colour or oppressed groups are experiencing these type of Zoom hate bombs. It’s just, it’s really hurtful,” Jafralie said.
The moderators were able to kick the unwanted guests out, but after several minutes of harassment in the meeting and chat, the impact was already felt.
“I think it turned from a safe space into a space where we were violated, so to speak” Jafralie said.
As someone who works with children, participant Moashella Shortte said she was saddened to hear what she described as younger-sounding voices directing slurs towards the group.
“It was the the anger, the disdain and those voices that really got to me,” she said.
After two days of reflection, Shortte said she feels a renewed sense of purpose for the work the WIBCA is doing.
“What has happened since then is that we have renewed faith and hope and drive to continue the work. We’re doing it with that in our community. And now I feel like it’s even more necessary. It’s more urgent,” she said.
While those involved acknowledge it will take time to heal, they say the support they’ve already received from allies in the West Island is helpful.
Gregory Kelley, MNA for the West Island riding of Jacques-Cartier, spoke to chairperson Kemba Mitchell when he first heard about the incident, and encourages the community to support the WIBCA.
“It’s frustrating because they’re a really good group of people,” he said. “They do a lot of good in the community, they’re trying to educate people.”
Mitchell has filed a police report and will host a press conference on the incident Monday.