Rivers: There is a cultural revolution taking place in our society; education and conciliation may be a better pathway to peace than confrontation and litigation.

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

November 27th, 2017



2017 – The year harassment dominated our news! In an epidemic of outings, victims of harassment seemed to be popping out from the woodwork determined to slay their dragons – some of the very people we once respected. The truth is many of us, at one time or another, have been victims or perpetrators of this socially destructive wrong. There is that bully at school, the overzealous landlord or tenant, a supervisor at work or a subordinate or maybe even even a disgruntled life partner.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission defines harassment as “engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct that is known or ought to be known to be unwelcome.” Harassment is often related to the exercise of power where an unequal relationship exists, such as an employer threatening employees with job loss or demotion for something unrelated to their job descriptions. And of course harassment is often associated with racism, sexism and ageism. It’s the ugly side of human social interaction.

Former Canadian radio host Jian Ghomeshi leaves court with his attorney Marie Henein (R), after an Ontario judge found him not guilty on four sexual assault charges and one count of choking in Toronto, March 24, 2016. Jenna Marie Wakani/Reuters

Former Canadian radio host Jian Ghomeshi leaves court with his attorney Marie Henein (R), after an Ontario judge found him not guilty on four sexual assault charges and one count of choking in Toronto, March 24, 2016. Jenna Marie Wakani/Reuters

Assault may be involved though not necessarily. We recall CBC personality, Jian Ghomeshi, who stunned his national radio audience when allegations of sexual harassment and assault filled the papers back a few years ago. It was hard to believe that such a mild mannered on-air persona, a Dr. Jekyll by day, could also be such a Mr. Hyde by night. His punishment was losing his job and watching his promising career vaporize as the complaints of sexual misconduct piled up around him.

And assault is at the heart of the allegations against Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Charlie Rose, Bill O’Reilly, Donald Trump and Alabama senatorial candidate Roy Moore. They have crossed a line which they either didn’t see or didn’t care was there. So they have met their comeuppance, except for Trump who despite something like 16 sexual accusations against him won the last federal election. He just denies everything and everybody as fake news and liars, with even more confidence than former president Bill Clinton.

Trump and access

President Donald Trump in a video that captured his views on how a celebrity could relate to women. It should have cost him the election but America ignored it.

Trump’s unwavering political support for religiously pious Alabama child predator Roy Moore is unconscionable. The irony of sexual predator Trump promoting another sexual predictor, Moore, while attacking former comedian Al Franken for his sexual harassment has obviously escaped him. One can only hope the voting public will place ethics and their own morality ahead of partisanship – but this is Alabama and this is an America in flux.

There is a cultural revolution taking place in our society. But the challenge, as with any revolution, is how to rein-in the overzealous and avoid over-reaction. Wilfred Laurier University (WLU) has hit the news over the matter of gender based personal pronouns and how they affect identity. The binary system of gender identification seems to be inadequate for some who cross over from one discrete gender to another.

One should always respect the wishes of how people want to be called, but it is difficult to understand why the terms ‘she’ and ‘her’ would be offensive to a person who has transgendered from a male body type to that of a female, for example. There is now a demand for the use of the gender-neutral terms like ‘they’ and ‘them’, or one of the new batch of pronouns, ‘ze, sie, hir, co, and ey’ and ‘Mx’ for Mr., Miss, Ms or Mrs.

Wilfrid Laurier free speech

Students at Laurie r University supporting the rights of a Teaching Assistant.

Of course the conflict at WLU is also about freedom of speech and the responsibility of educators to challenge their students to fully explore a subject’s matter. And that subject warns that the deliberate mis-use of an appropriate pronoun applied to someone could be seen as harassment. But looming in the distance is the concern that using the wrong pronoun might also be construed as discrimination under Canada’s recent law C-16. And that might lead to criminal penalties.

Country/pop singer Taylor Swift had been groped while doing a photo shoot with a radio personality back in 2013. After she complained to the station’s managers the creep lost his job and since he was out of work decided to sue her for damages. She’s the biggest star in music today, sings almost as well as me, and could afford the best lawyers money could buy, which I can’t. So Swift counter-sued and won as the judge threw his claim out the window.

Not everyone wants to end up in court on matters this personal, staring down aggressive legal beagles and exposing your innermost self to some fickle judge who might just deliver a bizarre judgement. Sexual harassment is a serious offence, was even before Canada’s government formalized its illegality, but so is libel and slander. And that puts more of the spot light on accusers to get it right – to be objective and fair.

Is the offense just a bad attempt at a joke or is someone genuinely out to hurt? As each new generation replaces the previous one, what was acceptable human behaviour continues to evolve. So jokes depicting racial or sexual topics and situations, once tolerated back in the day, are simply no longer acceptable. Still, the child is father of the man – people are captive to old habits and beliefs, even if those customs are no longer in fashion.

Tolerance cannot be a one way street. Some folks don’t understand that the world has moved on – they need help and education to wake up to reality. And education and conciliation may be a better pathway to peace than confrontation and litigation. That is true in cases of harassment, as in all things, despite the more recent trend to outing the culprits.

Crying wolfAnd sometimes actions and words can be ambiguous. A victim needs to be sure that harassment is what it seems before crying out, in case that cry turns out to be ‘wolf’ and the situation between them becomes intolerable. To that end the Ontario’s Human Rights Commission cautions that harassment needs to be seen in the context of a process – when it comes to words a single vexatious comment is insufficient. Because in the end nobody wants to be victimized twice.

Rivers hand to faceRay Rivers writes weekly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking.  Rivers was a candidate for provincial office in Burlington in 1995.  He was the founder of the Burlington citizen committee on sustainability at a time when climate warming was a hotly debated subject.     Tweet @rayzrivers



Background links:

Trump Sex Assault –    More Trump

Weinstein –   OHRC –    Gender Free

Congress Pays – Rampant Congress–    Charley Rose –    Jian Ghomeshi

Why do People Bully –    More Harass –    Even More Harass

Peterson –    Bill C-16 –    Gender Pronouns

Gender Queer –   Taylor Swift –    No Harassment in Russia

Return to the Front page
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

5 comments to Rivers: There is a cultural revolution taking place in our society; education and conciliation may be a better pathway to peace than confrontation and litigation.

  • David Fenton

    Trump bashing again Ray. We get it already you don’t like the man or the way he operates.
    Get over it, the world turned a corner and found itself in the dirty run down back alley of Liberal main St.
    People need to see the underbelly of life.
    How can you possibly function by not understanding the truth.

  • Gary

    As a male, a former CEO and a lawyer who has investigated and remedied several sexual harassment cases in-house in my former workplace, I do not agree with Ms. Hutchinson entirely (I go out on limb with that “Ms.”, I realize).

    It is true that these laws are broadly drawn and so a simple, single compliment intended in good spirit from a male co-worker or even a non-personal question can result in a formal HR reprimand in one’s personnel file. To me that is ludicrous unless the behaviour is repeated. The “crime” is strictly in the eye of the beholder. Hence you get situations where a female worker would welcome any and all sorts of comments from a male worker she admired, but would instantly report something the office cretin said to her. It is unfair and a land mine for any men in the workplace. I sometimes think the world would be better off if complainer just got a thicker skin.

    However, I have seen too many instances of women doing nothing whatsoever to draw men’s attention and being pestered by them anyway with little recourse. I am sorry to report that many men are just completely, mentally thick when it comes male/female interactions, and they are the ones with no filters on their mouthes. Women need the fall back of harassment laws and rules in a workplace if they cannot persuade the jerks to desist.

    More importantly, these laws were written to deal with the power relationship where men in authority demand sexual gratification from female employee on pain of retaliation if denied. And that still goes on a lot more than you might imagine.

    Perhaps Ms. Hutchinson you have been successful in deflecting unwanted advances and perhaps you have a paid penalties for doing that. The point is that you should never have been put in those positions in the first place.

  • S. Hutchinson

    I as a female I believe that the word “harassment” should never have been allowed to become legal. If I was to tell my story of personal success in handling situations that are so common today coming forward as “harassment”, one would then make judgement as to their own personal actions that have often initiated their so-called problems. A good look in the mirror as to what could possibly come out of what you are, tells 95% of the problems of today. I never did get rich with my handling of situations, but they worked every time. Proper presentation of yourself is so important.

  • Phillip

    While your premise that education & conciliation are the better way forward may be correct, it assumes that both parties to a problem are both willing to adhere to the same strategy. My experience is that the side happy with the status quo is often willing to adopt this stance while conveniently doing nothing to address the concerns of the other party. Our recent experience with 421 Brant Street certainly illustrates this point with council apparently hearing concerns but not listening to them. At this point, confrontation and litigation are the remaining option–not surprisingly in the 421 Brant Street case, this appears to be what is happening. Ultimately, dispute resolution is about power and the willingness to use it. Will your approach work? Human nature being what it is, I suspect the answer is rarely.

  • bill statten

    Excellent commentary Ray.

    Liked your heading about education and reconciliation being the best solution to the new cultural revolution rather than litigation and confrontation