Writing in the Ottawa Citizen, Macdonald-Laurier Institute Managing Director Brian Lee Crowley argues the Jian Ghomeshi and Parliament Hill harassment allegations should draw attention to other injustices around the world.
Subjecting another person to sexual violence is never acceptable, Crowley writes. But, he argues, Canadians should be directing greater resources internationally to combat the violence groups such as Boko Haram and ISIS have perpetrated against women and their families.
The Citizen ran an edited version of this column.
By Brian Lee Crowley, Nov. 7, 2014
Getting repeatedly grabbed, leered at or subjected to sexual violence or innuendo at work or anywhere else is completely unacceptable. These things should go without saying but apparently the revelations now coming out of the Ghomeshi affair, the parliament of Canada and sex scandals in Britain and elsewhere make it clear that they must be said, repeatedly, and the words followed by action.
What I find so astonishing about the reaction to these events, however, is not the energy being put into denouncing perpetrators and the rush to judgment of people whose offences are only alleged, not proven. It is the apparent inability of almost anyone to see the contradiction between this reaction and the way many of us react to foreign events that raise the same issues but in a far more acute form.
In Canada we have several clear cases of alleged abuse of power by powerful people. Jian Ghomeshi was a media star whose ability to pull in the audiences made the CBC turn a blind eye to what was clearly a pattern of abuse of women both at work and in his private life. What made the CBC pull the plug on Ghomeshi wasn’t guilty knowledge and aiding and abetting on their part, but the fact that his behaviour was about to become public knowledge. Shame on CBC management.
As for the two male Liberal MPs suspended for alleged sexual harassment of two female NDP MPs, or political commentator Ian Capstick’s allegation of sexual touching by MPs while he was a parliamentary staffer, such allegations are also not news for anyone who has worked on the Hill.
When I was a parliamentary intern it was common knowledge that there were certain MPs with whom young women were not to be left alone. No attempt was made to rein in the wayward MPs; only a quiet effort to protect the vulnerable from their predation. And as for young men on the Hill there wasn’t even an unofficial acknowledgement of their vulnerability to sexual pressure from powerful male figures, including but not limited to MPs. Yet only now are these reprehensible behaviours becoming public knowledge and those who have potentially abused their power being called to account. Should have happened years ago.
Now, though, contrast the media frenzy and rush to judgment regarding such events in Canada with what happens abroad when atrocities are openly committed against the weakest of the weak. It is a classic case of First World condescension in the face of staggering Third World problems.
In Nigeria hundreds of Christian school girls were kidnapped by the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram. These girls wanted nothing but an education. Instead Boko Haram has cheerfully admitted that they have forcibly converted them and married them off, the great hopes of their innocent young lives dashed by brutal bullies.
Reaction in Canada? About two weeks’ attention, followed largely by silence.
How about what is happening to those who have the misfortune to fall into the hands of ISIS in Syria and Iraq? These are women who have had to watch their husbands, brothers and sons slaughtered and then are forced into sexual slavery or “married” off to some ISIS fighter, which is pretty much the same thing.
Reaction in Canada? Both federal opposition parties oppose responding to such barbarism in a language the perpetrators understand. Justin Trudeau, who pronounced a political death sentence on two MPs on the basis of unproven allegations, opposes military action against savages who behead people on camera for kicks and openly enslave women. Apparently “persuasion is superior to force; kindness trumps aggression” where ISIS is concerned, but not his own MPs. Alleged Liberal bullies get the boot, video-taped Islamic ones a hug.
In each case, the issue is whether we will hold the powerful to account and ensure the protection of the innocent. There is no honourable reason for picking and choosing.
Brian Lee Crowley (twitter.com/brianleecrowley) is the Managing Director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, an independent non-partisan public policy think tank in Ottawa: www.mli.dev.pcomms.ca.