Mary Simon to host forum to address online abuse

Photo by Jeff Pelletier. Gov. Gen. Mary Simon speaks in Iqaluit during a celebration for Nunavut’s 25th anniversary as a territory on April 1.

Jeff Pelletier, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Nunatsiaq News

Following her four-day visit to Nunavut, Gov. Gen. Mary Simon will host a symposium in Ottawa to address online hate and talk about creating safer, more respectful spaces on the internet.

The Governor General’s Symposium: Building a Safe and Respectful Digital World is set to take place April 11 at Rideau Hall, her official Ottawa residence.

“It’s to grow the conversation across the country and maybe worldwide, so that changes can be made to the way social media is used,” Simon said in an interview this week in Iqaluit.

Participants will include academics, journalists, government officials, gender equality advocates, mental health workers, technology industry representatives and youth leaders from across Canada, according to a news release from her office.

Online abuse has been one of the issues Simon has been most vocal on over the past year.

In February 2023, her office announced it closed the comments and replies sections of her public Facebook, Instagram and X (formerly Twitter) accounts.

“In recent months we have witnessed an increase in abusive, misogynistic and racist engagement on social media and online platforms, including a greater number of violent threats,” a statement from the time read.

On March 8, 2023, which was International Women’s Day, her social media pages shared a video of some of the hateful comments, which include derogatory words for women and Indigenous people.

Some of those comments directly attacked Simon for being Inuk. She is Canada’s first Indigenous governor general.

“I decided to go public with it, because I felt that if I just walked away from it my silence wouldn’t be able to help anybody,” Simon said in an interview on Monday.

“It wasn’t even about my work, it was about me as an individual because I was Indigenous, because my culture and my identity wasn’t the right one with [whoever] was sending these hate messages.”

Simon said the kind of abusive language she has faced online discourages younger women from running for political office or seeking leadership positions.

Closing her social media comments was not about silencing critics and free speech, she said.

“We all have freedom of speech, but it’s about how we attack people or individuals,” she said.

“You can have disagreements and be respectful with each other … and I think these are things we have to teach our young people as well.”

Although politicians will be among those attending Simon’s event, she said it’s not a “political” meeting.

Rather, she hopes to bring people from various walks of life together to share their experiences of facing online hate, and have a discussion about ways to prevent further abuse.

“We are inviting them to tell their stories so that people get to know what is out there,” she said.