On the anniversary of the Polytechnique massacre, Quebec legislators unanimously adopted a motion put forward by Québec solidaire MNA Ruba Ghazal to end online violence against women.
The motion recognizes that online harassment isn’t a virtual phenomenon in that it can have serious impacts in the real world.
This comes a day after activists and politicians descended on the national assembly to demand authorities take more action to fight online violence.
Laurence Gratton, one of the women present, said when she went to the police after receiving horrifying threats, she was ignored.
She says when she was in university studying to be a teacher a few years ago, she and some fellow female classmates were bombarded with relentless online threats.
“There were false accounts writing to me, telling me that I should die, that I should get raped and everything,” she told Global News.
Gratton says the harassment only got worse throughout her studies, but police initially told her she shouldn’t worry, that it wasn’t dangerous.
“You feel like it will never end,” she recounted. “You have no power to confront the person that is writing to you. there is nothing you can do.”
Her case was featured in the recently released Quebec-made documentary Backlash: Misogyny in the Digital Age, which shines a light on the barrage of hateful, misogynist violence women face online.
On Monday, Gratton joined the two filmmakers behind the documentary, Léa Clermont-Dion and Guylaine Maroist, at the national assembly to send a message.
“This phenomenon has grown tremendously, and nothing is being done,” said Maroist.
The trio was backed by Ghazal and the Parti Québécois’ Joel Arseneau, as they touted a petition with more than 25,000 signatures demanding the government take two specific actions to combat the problem.
Firstly, they want all Quebec police officers to follow a mandatory online violence training program, so people like Gratton don’t feel left out in the cold.
“We think it’s one of the solutions that we can we can really apply easily, so that’s the first step,” said Clermont-Dion.
The activists also want Quebec to pressure Canada to adopt a law forcing social media companies to crack down on hate speech, or risk being fined, as has been done in certain European jurisdictions.
“That’s really an inspiration from German law and the provincial government has to put pressure on Ottawa to make that change,” said Clermont-Dion.
In a statement, Quebec’s Public Security Minister François Bonnardel told Global News he is actively working with his team to produce a plan to attack the scourge of cyber violence.
“We will take our time to study the demands formulated today with all the necessary rigor,” he said, adding that fighting cyber violence is a priority for him.
Clermont-Dion and Maroist said in a news release that the adoption of Tuesday’s motion was a gain for the cause, but that they are eager to see concrete measure put in place as quickly as possible.
— With files from Global News’ Annabelle Olivier