Evidence of meeting #20 for Status of Women in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was online.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Shaheen Shariff  Associate Professor, Faculty of Education and Associate Member, Law Faculty, McGill University, As an Individual
Lara Karaian  Associate Professor, Institute of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Carleton University, As an Individual
Jane Bailey  Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa, As an Individual
Matthew Johnson  Director of Education, MediaSmarts

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Karen Ludwig Liberal New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Thank you.

Thank you for your excellent presentations.

In terms of university rape culture—I'll start with that area—you've suggested looking at changing the curriculum. Would you recommend going back a step further and when faculties are setting their own degrees, or in the case of the K-to-12 system, when people are being trained to be teachers, that this curriculum also be changed? The people who have the first one-on-one encounters are our K-to-12 teachers, and then at universities I know from teaching at a university for a long time that faculty training is voluntary. What are some of the recommendations that you might offer there?

4:30 p.m.

Associate Professor, Faculty of Education and Associate Member, Law Faculty, McGill University, As an Individual

Dr. Shaheen Shariff

Thank you for your question.

The difficulty is that it's a catch-22. There's a real need for education of teachers, absolutely. Our teacher education programs lack some of this knowledge, but it's often difficult to even get legal literacy and critical media literacy into programs at the university level, at the teacher preparation level. They're inconsistent. It depends on who is teaching it and the expertise that's brought with it.

If we can work toward more compulsory courses in these areas and policy courses as well—policy development courses that incorporate some of these issues of intersectionality, integrated courses that bring in multidisciplinary perspectives in law and education and policy.... I developed a policy course for education, law, and policy students, and it was filled with law students because they didn't get that kind of course. Right now our dentistry faculty has asked me to develop a course on online social responsibility for dental students, compulsory from year one to year four, because dentistry students don't get this kind of education at all.

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Karen Ludwig Liberal New Brunswick Southwest, NB

If I could take the position of a university professor, I would just add that to have a student take one awareness course has always been my personal challenge with a women's studies program. How could we better help faculty integrate these elements into the curriculum so it becomes more of a culture in all courses?

4:35 p.m.

Associate Professor, Faculty of Education and Associate Member, Law Faculty, McGill University, As an Individual

Dr. Shaheen Shariff

You're absolutely right. For example, for dentistry, it's going to be the core curriculum with modules incorporated. Yes, absolutely, I think you're right. It has to be integrated throughout every aspect of the curriculum, and that includes school curricula as well. You're right that once the teachers are prepared at the university level, then they can take it further into the schools.

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Karen Ludwig Liberal New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Thank you.

My next question is for both of you.

Continuing on with the rape culture at universities, certainly we have a challenge in Canada because universities and colleges are not mandated to report them. In fact, the internal administration culture of some universities says that there isn't necessarily a positive outcome for one university to be reporting when 99% of other universities are not reporting.

I have two questions.

First, how can we, as federal legislators, mandate reporting for all universities? Second, in terms of slut-shaming—and Laura also mentioned the whore culture—so often we hear about boys who are sharing these images. What about the cases, as well, of girls who are also sharing images of other girls?

Those are my two questions, which I'm sure will take a while to answer.

Thank you.

4:35 p.m.

Associate Professor, Institute of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Carleton University, As an Individual

Dr. Lara Karaian

Can I just say that girls are also sharing pictures of boys a lot, and that boys' images are more likely to be distributed, according to the MediaSmarts studies, which I'm sure will be referenced? That's a very interesting thing to know: that boys' images are more likely to get distributed. Of course, the fact is they don't have the same repercussions, because we don't shame boys' sexuality, or at least some boys' sexuality, in the same way.

Can I just say that, for one thing, there are some people who are questioning the usefulness of the concept of rape culture? That's just to flag that as something to look at as you're moving forward, even though I know that other people are also working with that concept. That line of thinking is just developing.

There's a problem with the fetishization of reporting. Lots of people don't want to report, for many different reasons. I also think that when we have universities trying to have reporting standards that measure up with federal legislation, we have to make sure we're very, very clear about how the definitions on campus meet up with the federal definitions. In the United States in particular, some campuses have definitions that are so broad and sweeping that anything undesired could be caught under a sexual assault rubric, and then be reported, and then inflate numbers. That's not to say that these numbers are inflated; it's just to say that there are issues with language. It needs to be very specific.

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Pam Damoff

That's actually your time. I apologize. I seem to be cutting you off each time you're answering.

4:35 p.m.

Associate Professor, Institute of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Carleton University, As an Individual

Lara Karaian

That's fine.

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Pam Damoff

That brings us to the end of our first panel.

We're going to suspend for just a few minutes to prepare for the second panel to join us. I want to thank both of our witnesses for being here and sharing their information with us.

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Pam Damoff

We'll get started again with our second panel. I want to thank Matthew Johnson and Jane Bailey for being here. You each have 10 minutes for your presentations, and then we'll go to questions. Do you have a preference on who starts?

4:35 p.m.

Jane Bailey Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa, As an Individual

Matthew will go first.

4:35 p.m.

Matthew Johnson Director of Education, MediaSmarts

I'd like to start by thanking the committee for the opportunity to present our research and our resources today.

Since 2001, MediaSmarts has been conducting a research report entitled “Young Canadians in a Wired World”. It looks at Canadian students' experiences with networked technology. Most of the data I'll be sharing today come from our most recent quantitative study, which was released in 2014 and surveyed more than 5,000 students from grades 4 to 11 across Canada.

Our quantitative study found that girls are significantly more likely than boys to feel that the Internet is an unsafe place for them and significantly more girls than boys fear that they could be hurt if they talk online to someone they don't know. More girls than boys also feel that their parents are worried that they could get hurt online.

Ironically, all this may prevent girls from developing the ability to manage online risk. Research from the U.K. suggests that more restrictive approaches based on an online safety model produce students who are less able to keep themselves safe and who are generally less confident and capable users of digital technology.

Another reason that girls may not feel safe is surely the frequent and often public attacks on women online. Some cases may be high profile, such as the attacks on critic Anita Sarkeesian after she launched an online campaign to fund a series of videos looking at sexism in video games.

American research has found a rise in online hate material specifically targeting women. Like other forms of hate, this rhetoric can influence the culture of more mainstream spaces.

Online misogyny was not originally connected to what might be thought of as traditional hate groups, such as groups of white supremacists. However, all such groups rely on the same ideologies of hate and appeal in a similar way to youth, particularly boys and young men who feel alienated from society.

Women who aren't public figures also attract online hostility. Over one-third of Canadian students in grades 7 to 11 encounter sexist or racist content online at least once a week. Girls are much more likely than boys to feel hurt when a racist or sexist joke is made at their expense. Boys are much more likely to say that they and their friends don't mean anything by it when they say racist or sexist things online and that they do not speak up against such content because they are usually just joking around.

Overall, girls are somewhat more likely than boys to experience online meanness and cruelty and are more likely to say that it was a serious problem for them.

Sexting is an activity that is actually less gendered than might be expected. Boys and girls are equally likely to send sexts, and there is only a small difference in the number who forward sexts that were created by the sender. There's little evidence that sending sexts is by itself a risky act. For example, one study of American university students found that many of them reported positive experiences, although Australian research suggests that girls are often sent sexts by boys as a form of harassment.

Harm is most likely to occur when sexts are shared or forwarded. Contrary to widespread perceptions that the sharing of sexts is rampant, our research found that it is far from normal behaviour. Of the 24% of students in grades 7 to 11 with cellphone access who have received a sext directly from the sender, just 15%, or 4% of all students in grades 7 to 11 who have cellphones, have forwarded one to someone else.

Those sexts that are forwarded, however, reach a fairly wide audience. One in five students say they have received a sext that was forwarded to them by a third party. Having a sext of oneself forwarded is an event that has particular consequences for girls. Though sexts sent by boys are more likely to be forwarded, there is undoubtedly more social disapproval of girls who send sexts. This may explain why those who do forward sexts don't appear to see it as an ethical issue.

We found a strong connection between household rules and student behaviour. For example, the presence of a household rule on treating others with respect online has a strong association with not engaging in cyberbullying. However, we found no statistically significant relationship between the presence of such a rule and whether or not students forward sexts.

It would seem, therefore, that those students who forward sexts do not see it as an ethical question, or that they don't see the authors of the sexts as deserving of respect.

Girls who send sexts are seen as having transgressed appropriate gender roles and, therefore, having given up the right to expect that their images will not be forwarded or shared. Much of the harm that comes from sexting seems to be related to gender-related double standards that portray girls both as innocent guardians of their sexual innocence and, if they should stray from that role, as being responsible for any consequences they might suffer as a result of their actions. U.K. research has found that these stereotypes are often found even in educational anti-sexting campaigns, showing how poorly considered interventions may cause more harm than good. Addressing this by teaching boys about the importance of consent is key both in terms of requesting a sext and sharing it. American research shows that girls who were coerced or pressured into sending sexts were three times more likely to report a negative outcome.

At MediaSmarts we support intervention strategies based on media and digital literacy. Briefly, this means teaching youth critical thinking and ethical decision-making skills, and educating them about their rights in both online and offline contexts.

With specific reference to cyberviolence against women, our approach includes conducting research to ensure that all of our interventions reflect students' concerns and authentic experiences and to inform youth about the actual rates of behaviours like cyberbullying and sexting; fostering empathy and teaching social-emotional learning skills in online contexts; encouraging youth to think ethically about their online interactions, to respect their own and others' privacy, and to recognize the characteristics of healthy and unhealthy relationships; teaching media literacy skills that enable students to recognize, decode, and confront hate speech, including gender-based hatred, and to question the gender stereotypes that underlie online misogyny at both the individual and community level; focusing on the ethical dimension of sharing sexts, rather than excusing those who share them by blaming the senders; defining media literacy, digital literacy, and digital citizenship in holistic, comprehensive terms, in recognition of the connections between stereotyping, sexualization, healthy relationships, advocacy, ethics, and consent; teaching students about their legal and human rights and how to exercise them; and providing students with practical tools for digital citizenship and activism, both when they witness individual cyberbullying situations and in improving the culture of their online communities.

Thank you.

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Pam Damoff

Thank you very much. You're well within your 10 minutes. We'll move on to Ms. Bailey.

4:50 p.m.

Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa, As an Individual

Jane Bailey

Thank you very much for inviting me to be here.

My remarks are going to focus on cyberviolence against girls and young women, although, as will become obvious as I proceed, in the seamlessly integrated online/offline world that is inhabited by young people today, distinctions between cyberspace and real space are virtually meaningless. As we know, the consequence of so-called online behaviour can be very real.

My remarks are grounded in the work that I've been doing for 15 years on the intersections of law, technology, and equality, and in particular the eGirls Project, which I co-led with Valerie Steeves until 2014, and the work of the eQuality Project, which I currently co-lead with Dr. Steeves, and for which we're proud to have MediaSmarts as a partner organization.

I'm also a member of the national steering committee of the National Association of Women and the Law.

The eGirls Project itself focused on girls' and women's experiences with online social media. In it, we interviewed girls aged 15 to 17 and 18 to 22 to ask them how their perceptions of their online lives lined up with policy-makers' solutions for online issues for children and to find out what they would want policy-makers to know about what life was like for a girl online.

Of course, technologically facilitated harassment and violence surfaced in those conversations, but so too did their concerns around mediatized stereotyping; privacy; the intense scrutiny girls find themselves under online; and corporate policies, practices, and structures that compromise their capacity to participate as equals online and off. It's this latter issue that's led us to the eQuality Project.

The eQuality Project is focused on the way that online behavioural targeting actually shapes the online environment that young people inhabit and the degree to which it sets young people up for conflict and harassment, particularly youth from diverse and intersecting equality-seeking communities. One of our current initiatives is to review and assess the efficacy of criminal law responses by looking at Canadian case law on technologically facilitated violence against women and girls.

I had originally intended to talk about three things, but I'm only going to talk about two. The first is a pet peeve of mine: why the term “cyberbullying” has to be treated with caution. The second is what needs to be done based on lessons learned from the eGirls Project participants.

The term “cyberbullying” has to be treated with caution because its generic nature just too easily whitewashes issues of discrimination and violence, which require tailored responses beyond punishing individual children or even teaching them how to properly use technology.

Research shows that young people who are perceived as different, whether because of ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, or perceived disability or disability, are at greater risk of being bullied and cyberbullied. Similarly, as we've heard, girls and young women are more likely to be targeted by technologically facilitated sexual violence. In a sexist society, one form of that, the non-consensual distribution of intimate images, leaves women and girls open to humiliation, embarrassment, and reputational ruin for expressing their sexuality, for exposing their bodies, or even for others' decisions to expose their bodies, which is perhaps the most troubling of all, despite superficially conflicting messages that tell girls and women that social success depends upon emulating a stereotypical, heteronormative version of “sexy”. I put “sexy” in quotes. I call that flip-top sexuality. I don't think it has anything to do with sex whatsoever.

To the extent that cyberbullying, then, as a term, suggests somehow random targeting or random effects, I think the term has to be approached with caution, in particular when we're talking about women and girls. Otherwise we're going to miss root causes, such as misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and racism, that actually demand redress. We can't fix the problem by treating the symptoms.

The second point I want to talk about is what needs to be done. What did we learn from the eGirls' eQuality project participants?

First, consult directly with diverse groups of girls and young women and recognize the expertise of community organizations working against violence against women and in support of survivors. We cannot assume that adults' perceptions of the problems of girls and young women mesh with their own perceptions and experiences.

For example, Canadian federal public policy dialogue around children and technology has placed significant emphasis on the risk of unknown sexual predators online. The eGirls project participants indicated some concern about unknown sexual predators online, especially with respect to their younger siblings and relations; however, they demonstrated far more concern about the impact of the widespread availability and scrutiny of data relating to them and the ways in which the online environment exposed them to what they perceived as the risk of reputational ruin at the age of 12. Girls and young women may be equally at risk—if not more—of technologically facilitated violence by those they know than by strangers. For anyone working in the violence-against-women community, we've known this for a long time about sexual violence in general.

Second, recognize technologically facilitated violence against women and girls as an equality-based human rights issue and proactively address root causes rather than focusing solely on criminal law responses.

I'm a lawyer. I'm the first person to say that individual perpetrators should be held responsible for their actions, and I part company with any suggestion that an individual's unilateral decision to display his girlfriend's naked picture on a pornography site is an expression of sexuality that we ought to be giving much merit to or concern for, or that a charge in that case is necessarily wrong in those kinds of circumstances. Individual perpetrators do have to be held responsible for their actions, particularly where they're taken unilaterally.

Meaningfully addressing the disproportionate targeting of girls and young women for sexualized cyberviolence, though, requires nothing short of social transformation. That's what it's about. As a friend of mine said, “Yes, you're talking about ending the patriarchy, so good luck.” That's okay. That's what we're talking about: ending the patriarchy.

We have to address misogyny, racism, homophobia, and other intersecting oppressions that have been used as tools to keep women down, to silence them, and to keep them out of the public sphere. In the online context, they are preventing girls and young women from participating as equals. Some eGirls project participants felt it would be particularly important to address discrimination and prejudice through educational measures to combat these forms of oppression, as well as to address heterosexist stereotyping that privileges thin, white representations of femininity and sexuality that were a prominent part of the advertising they were targeted with in online social spaces.

Third, focus on the role that corporations play in structuring online interactions to compel data disclosure and make privacy protection difficult, instead of focusing on telling girls and young women what not to do. Too often, policy approaches focus on reactive responses that result in blaming those attacked for having disclosed too much and that subject girls and young women who have been targeted to further monitoring and surveillance by parents and other adults. The eGirls project participants felt that policy-makers should give girls in particular a break. That's a quote. “Give girls a break,” they said, and pay more attention to corporate practices and policies that compromise their ability to negotiate privacy in networked spaces.

Fourth, provide more support for girls and young women who have been targeted by technologically facilitated violence. The eGirls project participants felt there was too little focus on providing support and encouragement for targets of online abuse. Policy-makers need to make sure that community organizations working to combat violence against women and girls and to support survivors and schools dealing with these issues have adequate funding to meaningfully address these needs.

Fifthand last is again another pet peeve of mine: do not make unnecessary expansion of police power the price of addressing technologically facilitated violence against women and girls.

One of our project participants lamented that protections from online predation for girls and women were too often associated with unnecessary expansion of police surveillance powers. Once again we saw with the passage of Bill C-13 that the censure of non-consensual distribution of intimate images came at the cost of expanded police powers that were in absolutely no way limited to addressing violence against women and girls.

In conclusion, it's time for adults to take responsibility for economic and social policy decisions that have resulted in the seamlessly integrated online/offline world our children now inhabit.

I'm happy to summarize that in the answer period, if I can.

5 p.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Pam Damoff

Thank you very much.

Our first questions will come from Ms. Vandenbeld.

5 p.m.

Liberal

Anita Vandenbeld Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

I'll be sharing my time with Ms. Sahota.

Thank you very much for being here.

I'd like to pick up on that last point about surveillance, juxtaposing that with the fact that it seems there is a double standard. There's an inequality, almost a victim-blaming, for young girls. I was struck by the statistic earlier that more boys' images are being forwarded, but the impact on girls is stronger—the shame, the humiliation, the worry about reputation.

Can you elaborate a little bit on that aspect of it? As well, what happens if that then gets reinforced in things like the anti-sexting campaigns or the surveillance or the police? How can that actually reinforce the problem?

5 p.m.

Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa, As an Individual

Jane Bailey

First, MediaSmarts' results with respect to the sharing of images were obviously reflective of a widespread study. There's also data with respect to women showing that, in one study, 90% of those who had complained of non-consensual distribution were women. I think the jury is still out in terms of exactly.... Maybe with respect to boys and girls in Canada this is obviously what the statistics tell us, but other statistics are telling us different things.

In terms of the impact, it's obviously a reflection of the double standard, as has been talked about. An image of a naked girl is perceived as a source of shame. A “dick pic” of a guy is funny, or it may be cool, unless there is some association of it with an allegation about his manhood. We sell sexuality as a sign of manhood for boys, something to be proud of, but as something for girls to be ashamed of. In that regard, what Lara was talking about earlier is very reflective.

I don't know, Matthew, if you want to say something.

5 p.m.

Director of Education, MediaSmarts

Matthew Johnson

I think with regard to that 90%, what's important to remember is that in our statistics, it was simply a question of whether a photo had been forwarded and not whether it was consensual or not. It was not whether the person reporting it had any issue with it.

There's very little quantitative data worldwide on forwarding. Most if it has focused on consequences rather than simple numbers. One of the issues with having just quantitative data to work with is that we're always looking at research done mostly by other people and other organizations to try to put it into context.

5 p.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Pam Damoff

Go ahead, Ms. Sahota.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

Mr. Johnson, at the beginning of your presentation you that often cyberbullying or cyberviolence can be seen as young people being overly sensitive: you know, it's just a joke, and you should be able to hang with the boys and take it or whatever. It still happens in adulthood too, to some degree.

Can you define for me what cyberbullying and cyberviolence actually consist of? The previous panel cited a very interesting survey about what people perceived as being a violation of someone's rights and what people didn't perceive as being a violation. I'd like your expert opinion on what you think constitutes cyberbullying and cyberviolence and what the differences are between the two.

5:05 p.m.

Director of Education, MediaSmarts

Matthew Johnson

Both of those are really complicated notions to unpack. In fact, we were careful in our questionnaire not to use the term “cyberbullying” because we have a strong sense, from American research, that this is not a term that has meaning for youth. It's something they see adults using. They perceive it as something that either younger kids do or other kids do, but not themselves.

We asked about two things. We asked about meanness and cruelty online—that was one question—and we asked about making threats online, threats of physical harm.

We divided meanness and cruelty further into a number of methods: name-calling; rumour-spreading; sharing an embarrassing photo or video, which could include sharing a sext, although it had a broader definition than that; sexual harassment, which again could include sending a sext, as I mentioned; making fun of someone's race, religion, or ethnicity; making fun of someone's sexual orientation; harassing someone in an online game; and we also just had an “other” catch-all.

There are certainly other forms that we didn't ask about. We know, for instance, that online relationship abuse is a significant issue, for the simple reason that relationship abuse is a simple issue and young people carry out their social lives online as much as offline.

Finding a specific definition may not be really valuable. What is more important to us is how young people see it ethically, particularly the reasons that they choose either to ignore it or to approve of it, or even to support it.

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Ruby Sahota Liberal Brampton North, ON

Ms. Bailey, you were saying—

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Liberal Pam Damoff

That's actually your time, I'm sorry.

Ms. Harder is next.

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Rachael Harder Conservative Lethbridge, AB

Thank you.

First of all, I want to thank each of you for coming and taking the time to present to us today. I believe the information you're providing us with is very helpful in terms of this study, so thank you so much for your time.

My first question is directed to Mr. Johnson, but I also invite you to speak to it as well, Ms. Bailey.

Mr. Johnson, I understand that with your group, MediaSmarts, one of the things you do is create products for parents. Am I understanding that correctly?

5:05 p.m.

Director of Education, MediaSmarts

Matthew Johnson

Yes, that's right.