An aboriginal man from the N.W.T.'s Sahtu region is calling CBC's decision to temporarily close comments on stories about indigenous people "commendable," saying the comments showed a "deplorable" side of society.
CBC's acting director of digital news, Brodie Fenlon, explained on Monday that the corporation made the difficult decision because the staggering number of hateful and vitriolic comments left on its web pages are testing the moderation process.
EDITOR'S BLOG | Uncivil dialogue: Commenting and stories about indigenous people
Eugene Boulanger says he's tried to debate people who post offensive comments on aboriginal stories.
"It's amazing what people will do or say when they think it's anonymous," he says.
"That's why that's such a dangerous phenomenon, the comments sections, and why a lot of people stay away from it, because it really sucks your energy to read that kind of stuff.
"It shakes people to the core to know that, 'Wow this could be anybody... [anybody] in the grocery store could be thinking this kind of hateful, disgusting sentiment towards fellow human beings.'"
Boulanger speculates that there might be a spike in racist comments towards indigenous people because Canada's dark history has been challenged in recent years, which makes people defensive. But he points out that it's not just aboriginal people targeted.
"It does have effects, it has effects throughout society, where it normalizes a general attitude towards Muslim people or indigenous people and that attitude is really dangerous because it leads to things like people burning mosques or attacking women with veils."
Boulanger calls it commendable that CBC is taking the issue seriously enough to regroup.
"I hope that the CBC can reach out to indigenous communities who've been working against this for a long time… and can come up with a solution for this, because it is quite deplorable."
A young aboriginal artist in Yellowknife says she started noticing an increase in the number of hateful comments on news stories a few years ago. Nigit'stil Norbert says it seemed to coincide with the rise of the Idle No More movement.
Norbert recalls comments she read on one story about missing and murdered aboriginal women. A mother who had lost her daughter wrote a comment on the story. Norbert recalls being moved by it. Then she read the comments that followed it.
"They were so scary, you know, like, 'Thank goodness she died.' There was so much violence, I cried," said Norbert. "Imagine getting that comment, 'thank goodness your daughter is dead,' because she's indigenous."
Norbert says she's particularly concerned about the effect the hate could have on people struggling with mental illness, suicidal thoughts or addictions.
"There is room for dialogue, but we should be having constructive dialogue," she said.
"This animosity toward indigenous people in Canada, I think that's always been there. It's kind of been festering there. We have this whole history of colonization, assimilation, residential school — these are major issues we haven't discussed in this country at all. We're just beginning to do that with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the work they've been doing."
'We see it ourselves'
The CBC's Fenlon says in the last two months, people have posted two million comments on CBC stories.
Stories about indigenous people attract an unusually high number of hateful comments and personal attacks.
"What I do know is that we've heard from our own staff, we see it ourselves, we've heard it from indigenous staff, that they're seeing more and more of these comments slipping through," Fenlon says.
He says a committee will figure out a better way to sort the ignorant comments, which are allowed, from the hateful ones, which are not allowed. But it's not always an easy line to draw, he adds.
CBC is hoping to have comments on stories related to aboriginal issues open again by mid-January.