Definitely Not the Opera

How Calgary MLA Deborah Drever went from online shame to redemption

Alberta MLA became the poster child for online shaming and humiliation shortly after her surprise election victory, but now wants to be the poster child for redemption — and she's even been called "a textbook example of how shaming can actually change somebody."
Calgary MLA Deborah Drever, who was removed from the NDP caucus shortly after her election victory after controversial photos emerged online. Rather than resigning, Drever set out to redeem herself. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)

If anyone knows what it's like to be shamed on social media, it's rookie Alberta member of the legislative assembly Deborah Drever.

She became the poster child for online shaming and humiliation shortly after her surprise election victory, but now wants to be the poster child for redemption — and University of Calgary social media expert Tom Keenan calls her "a textbook example of how shaming can actually change somebody."

In May of 2015, Drever  —​ then a 26-year-old university student —​ earned her seat with a narrow victory in the constituency of Calgary-Bow, part of an NDP wave that swept the province.

But she barely had time to celebrate her win.

The controversial album cover for which Deborah Drever posed. She says she asked the band to find another image to use after seeing the photo. (Gatekrashor/Facebook)
"It was the next day. I woke up and my phone was ringing, and it was, like 'Deborah, you should probably delete your Facebook. Something's happening,'" she told DNTO guest host Chris dela Torre.

Photos had emerged of her posing next to a T-shirt emblazoned with marijuana leaves, and another from her Facebook account of someone giving the finger to the Canadian flag. 

Soon after, a heavy metal album cover surfaced featuring Drever posing as a victim of a sexual assault. Another photo originally posted on Instagram followed, which featured former Alberta premier Jim Prentice and interim Alberta PC leader Ric McIver. Underneath the image, a user with the name drevfever posted the comment "Gay boyz."

'I recognize that picture is problematic'

Drever explained that she posed for the album cover for a band member she was dating at the time. When she saw it, she said she asked them to use something else for the cover — a request she said they denied.

As for the comment on the Prentice and McIver photo, she said, "I recognize that picture is problematic. It was not meant to come off as homophobic in any way. I do not have a homophobic bone in my body, and that's not what the intent of that photo was. It was meant to be humourous, but again, I just recognize it's problematic."

Newly elected Alberta MLA facing criticism for controversial photo

8 years ago
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Past indiscretions showing up on social media are a problem more politicians are going to face, Meghan Grant reports

But with the photos drawing attention online, the damage was done. Just 17 days after being elected, Deborah Drever was called into the office of Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, and suspended from the NDP caucus.

"I understood that I was a distraction for the party," Drever said. "I did explain to her, you know, 'I know that you don't know me very well. But I just wanted to let you know that I have been an advocate on women's issues for a long time. This is something that I'm deeply passionate about, and I just want to let you know that this photo doesn't represent my values in any way.'"

Nonetheless, there was a backlash against her. "There were protests, there were petitions asking me to resign," she said. "I understand people's frustration, that these pictures were very public. They went national."

'I'm not a quitter'

But rather than hiding or resigning, Drever decided to redeem herself.

She sat as an Independent in the legislature, and set about talking with her constituents.

"I was expecting a lot of criticism from the constituents here, but they were very supportive," she said. "There was the odd person that would say, "Oh, how could you do something like that? What was going on in your mind?' And I said, 'I'm sorry that that happened, but again, I'm here to be your representative in the legislature.'"

Drever said the resolve to continue sitting as an MLA is in her nature.

My mother was a victim of domestic violence. And so I really wanted to help people who were in similar situations.- Calgary-Bow MLA Deborah Drever

"I'm not a quitter. I don't give up. Yes, there were certain people out there who posted these pictures for the world to see. They wanted me to quit. I didn't quit. I'm here for a reason, and I'm going to keep moving forward from that," she said.

She also said her own background and life experience encouraged her to work through the difficult period in her political career.

"I've had a lot of ups and downs. I was in the foster system for a while, I was taken away from my parents as a young child. I've been through a lot of struggle in my life," she said. "And I just kinda went to that. I was in fighter mode."

Sponsored private member's bill

She also got an assignment from Rachel Notley — Drever was told to reach out to women's groups, and people working with victims of domestic violence.

She went on to sponsor a private member's bill that would make it easier for domestic violence victims to flee abuse — an issue which was personal for Drever.

"My mother was a victim of domestic violence. And I was a child who lived through that. And so I really wanted to help people who were in similar situations."

The bill received unanimous support in Alberta's legislature in December of 2015.

After reaching out to victims of domestic violence and sponsoring a private member's bill, Deborah Drever (see second from right, along with fellow MLAs) was welcomed back to the NDP caucus. (CBC)

And the following month, Drever was welcomed back into the Alberta NDP caucus — which the University of Calgary's Tom Keenan said is a remarkable comeback.

"Because of her background, she had to earn her way into caucus, which she did," he said. "She had to do great things. And she's out there at every community event."

Can shaming be a positive?

Does Drever think the experience of being shamed, and returning to the caucus, was actually a postive?

"I think that's a really interesting perspective," she said. "I think now, people definitely know who I am," which she said helps publicize the work she's now doing.

And she offers some advice for aspiring politicians.

"I don't think you have to mask who you are on social media. You just have to be mindful of who your audience is. Be a very boring person," she said with a laugh. 

"And the best social media is just to get out there and meet people."