Canadian #MeToo supporters celebrate Time's 'Silence Breakers' Person of the Year

Women in Canada working to end sexual harassment and violence are celebrating Time magazine's choice to feature "Silence Breakers" as its Person of the Year but say the conversation doesn't end there.

Advocates applaud magazine's choice and hope momentum carries conversation further

Participants march against sexual assault and harassment at the #MeToo march in Los Angeles on November 12, 2017. (Damian Dovarganes/Associated Press)

When Time magazine named "The Silence Breakers" its 2017 Person of the Year on Thursday, Canadian women who are supporters of the #MeToo social media movement applauded, celebrated and called for a continued focus on sexual harassment and violence.

"I think it's really exciting," said Tutu Ilelaboye, a Toronto woman who recently attended a #MeToo solidarity march in her city. "It's another opportunity to bring awareness to this message."

She knows Time is facing criticism for the women it chose to put on the cover, but Ilelaboye said she wants to focus on the positives.

"We've got to go step by step — and if this is a step in the right direction, let's celebrate that," she said.

The magazine highlighted women in the U.S. who came forward this year with their stories about being sexually harassed and assaulted and who helped launch "a revolution of refusal."
Time's 2017 Person of the Year is a group of people the magazine has dubbed The Silence Breakers. The cover features, left to right, Ashley Judd, Taylor Swift, Susan Fowler, Adama Iwu, Isabel Pascual and one woman who's face can't be seen. (TIME)

The article featured Hollywood actresses who spoke up about movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and other celebrities, along with ordinary women from various professional, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.

It said the use of the #MeToo hashtag on social media provided "an umbrella of solidarity" for millions of women to share their experiences. The phrase was started more than a decade ago by an activist named Tarana Burke but became a global rallying cry after actress Alyssa Milano tweeted it in October.

Canadians who work on issues related to sexual harassment and violence against women saw Time's decision as validation of their efforts.

Time's choice an 'affirmation'

"I think it's an affirmation that this is not just about the #MeToo conversation but a larger conversation about ending sexual violence," said Farrah Khan, an advocate and co-ordinator of Ryerson University's Office of Sexual Violence Support and Education.

The conversation doesn't start and stop with a hashtag on social media, Khan and other activists said. And in Canada it was already happening before #MeToo took off and the Weinstein story emerged, said Khan.

When CBC radio broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi was fired in 2014 and charged with sexual assault, it generated a national conversation about workplace conduct and about violence against women. His trial in 2016, where Ghomeshi was found not guilty on all charges, dominated headlines.
Farrah Khan, an advocate and educator at Ryerson University, says the #MeToo social media campaign has helped push forward conversations around sexual harassment and violence. (Grant Linton/CBC News)

Journalists Antonia Zerbisias and Sue Montgomery started theTwitter hashtag #BeenRapedNeverReported in support of women who shared their stories of sexual assault. It spread around the world.

This year, more Canadian women came forward with allegations that made headlines. Some were related to Weinstein, including an Ontario actress known as Jane Doe who has filed a civil lawsuit accusing him of sexual assault. The claim has not been proven in court.

Just last week Sportsnet broadcaster Gregg Zaun was fired after female employees made complaints about inappropriate bevaviour. And Just For Laughs co-founder Gilbert Rozon stepped down after multiple women said he harassed or assaulted them. A group of his accusers, who call themselves Les Courageuses, or the courageous ones, are seeking a class-action lawsuit.

Conversations in Canada

Courtney Alysse Skye, a policy specialist and adviser who is working with the Ontario Women's Native Association, said Canada's attention on the issues goes beyond workplace harassment and violence.

"It's important to think about the work around missing and murdered Indigenous women and how much consciousness-raising that has done," she said.

The ongoing national inquiry is helping engage people and make them feel more comfortable talking about the issue, said Skye.

Krittika Ghosh, an advocate who works with refugee and immigrant women, said Time's "Silence Breakers" should be celebrated, but while the cover did show some diverse women, Burke, the #MeToo founder, should have been on it.

Ghosh said it was a "missed opportunity" to feature a woman of colour who has been advocating for women for decades.

"Oftentimes the work of women of colour is appropriated by other folks in the movement, and we are put on the sidelines," said Ghosh.
Actress Rose McGowan, left, waves after being introduced by Tarana Burke, right, founder of the #MeToo campaign, at the inaugural Women's Convention in Detroit, October 27. (Paul Sancya/Associated Press)

Ghosh, Skye and Khan said they hope the conversations around the treatment of women will be more inclusive of women who face additional challenges because of their race, sexuality, disability or other barriers to equality.

"I think it's really important to focus on women who are marginalized," said Ghosh, who works for the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants.

Momentum needs to go on

Ghosh also said there needs to be structural changes to address violence against women, in addition to attitude changes. Pay inequity, for example, and lack of affordable housing are reasons some women may not be able to leave abusive relationships, they said.

But the #MeToo movement is a "good step forward," said Ghosh, and it needs to "keep going."

Hilla Kerner, spokeswoman for the Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter, said she isn't worried about the momentum slowing down.
Hundreds of people shared their experiences as survivors of sexual harassment and assault at Toronto's #MeToo rally on December 2. (CBC)

"I think this wave will carry on," she said. "I think there is a real sense of global movement, and it's unstoppable."

Kerner said she's not surprised that Canadian women have been participating in the #MeToo marches or other events such as the Women's March earlier in 2017.

"I think women are responding locally in solidarity to other women globally," said Kerner, who added she's seen an increase of volunteers this year with her group.

"Canadian women are responding very powerfully," said Kerner.


Meagan Fitzpatrick is a multi-platform reporter with CBC in Toronto. She previously worked in CBC's Washington bureau and covered the 2016 election. Prior to heading south of the border Meagan worked in CBC's Parliament Hill bureau. She has also reported for CBC from Hong Kong. Follow her on Twitter @fitz_meagan