Alberta female politicians targeted by hateful, sexist online attacks

Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill MLA Karen McPherson said she too was targeted by misogynistic online comments.

'There’s a fury that lurks underneath this ... that we have a woman running our province'

Alberta MLA Karen McPherson reported hateful online posts that targeted her gender to legislature security Sunday when they seemed to escalate in tone. (Bob Hawkesworth)

After reading a veiled threat online last weekend against Premier Rachel Notley, MLA Karen McPherson reported it to the legislature security team.

The Facebook post suggested that taking over the government would require "a lone gunman," adding it was not something the poster condoned but that "bad things happen to bad leaders."

McPherson had seen disturbing comments about the premier before, but this post on a Facebook page called Out the NDP in Alberta was of particular concern.

"The tone went from dissatisfied to more action focused," said McPherson, who has also been the target of online misogynistic comments since being elected in the riding of Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill in May.

"The comments I'd seen before that hadn't referred to harming anyone. That comment seemed to be a tipping point, where more of that violent imagery was used."

On Tuesday CBC revealed Notley's security detail is closely monitoring online activity following several posts that appear to threaten her life.

Many of those posts take aim at her gender, using profane references to female anatomy.

One post suggested someone kill the premier, calling her a c---.

Another said, "That dumb bitch is going to get herself shot."

Comments seek to degrade

Gender consultant Cristina Stasia described the comments as shocking and sexually violent, taking specific aim at the premier's gender.

"They're not calling her an idiot, they're calling her the c-word," she said. "They're not saying she's too progressive, they're calling her a bitch.

"And there's a fury that lurks underneath this about the fact that we have a woman running our province."

Stasia said the remarks seek to degrade but say little about policy and show Alberta, which is "saturated with misogyny and high rates of violence," still has a long way to go.

"That becomes incredibly clear when we see how emboldened people are on Facebook to threaten the life of a premier and think that they'll just get away with it."

People behind the comments need to know there are consequences, such as being outed or reported to their employers, Stasia said.

In May, Hydro One fired one of its Toronto employees after he was identified on social media as the heckler who shouted crude remarks at a female TV reporter.

Stasia also called for improved legislation to deal with social media threats. She urged online sites to take complaints more seriously and encouraged people to be vigilant about reporting offensive comments.

St. Albert MLA Marie Renaud said on three occasions she reported the posts about the premier to Facebook, but no action was taken.

"We reviewed the page you reported for harassment and found it doesn't violate our community standards," reads a message in response to her complaint."

On Tuesday, the Facebook page Albertans Against the NDP was pulled down, just hours after CBC ran its original story. It is now back up, but no longer public.

Female Alberta cabinet ministers have also had to put up with sexist online remarks about their appearance and weight.

"We need to do our best to get rid of gendered insults, because it's a way of undermining the power of women," said McPherson.