‘I don’t think it’s a joke’ – Rehtaeh’s dad
Glen Canning not surprised by derogatory tweets, says the problem is a culture that accepts them
January 29, 2014, 12:24 PM AST
Last updated January 29, 2014, 12:29 PM AST
When Glen Canning first read the tweets that led to the suspension of 10 players of the Saint Mary’s Huskies football team, he wasn’t surprised by their content.
Canning has spoken out against cyberbullying and online discrimination to audiences across Canada since April when his bullied daughter, Rehtaeh Parsons, died days after attempting to kill herself. A photo of her allegedly being sexually assaulted had circulated around her school in the preceding months.
When he saw UNews’ story linked in a Reddit post, he saw Reddit users saying the players’ tweets, trivializing sexual violence and using misogynistic language, were simply jokes. He disagreed.
“I don’t think it is a joke. I don’t think it’s funny to people who have been victimized by sexual violence. I don’t think it’s funny to people who go to the university like gay youth, where they’re thinking that’s the kind of culture there,” says Canning.
“Those kind of things aren’t like some kind of joke out there, just meant to be funny. Those things are actually indicative of a person’s character, that they find that stuff funny.”
“And if they’re not challenged on it, then they’re going to find that stuff funny when they’re out in a bar, or when they’re walking around downtown. Or later on in their life when they’re going to hire somebody.”
Some of the tweets in question were retweeted by hundreds.
Canning says similar tweets could be found by lots of people, but that doesn’t make it any more acceptable.
“You know? It’s wrong. And it’ll always be wrong, it doesn’t matter how popular it is or how funny someone thinks it is, or the fact someone thinks it’s a big joke.”
He says it’s not just the fact the players tweeted derogatory comments, it’s the fact there’s a culture that finds it acceptable.
Mohammed Abdallah, who plays offence for the Huskies, spoke to Global Halifax in response to the suspensions.
“I heard a lot of it was song lyrics, other stuff too. Maybe they just weren’t thinking,” said Abdallah in the interview.
“I know there was one comment made where someone said, ‘that’s just the lyrics out of a song,’ ” says Canning, referring to online comments on stories about the suspension.
“Well, you know, lyrics out of a song is, ‘Let’s sharpen our blades and stick them in the body of Jews, and hang black pigs in their synagogues.’ Those are lyrics out of a song written in 1848, and you’re not going to have anyone singing them or posting them on Twitter or Facebook,” says Canning.
“Because they’re wrong. They’re ugly. That kind of culture was accepted, and people would say something, I’m sure, 100 years ago – ‘Oh, it’s just a joke, lighten up on it.’ And then we end up with Nazis. You have to challenge these things every single time they happen.”
More than 80 students at SMU underwent sensitivity training as a result of the rape chants in September. Canning says sensitivity training is effective in holding people accountable, more than anything else.
“You cannot train empathy in people, or compassion for others in people. But you can certainly remove the ability of them to say ‘I didn’t know’,” he says. “You can remove the excuses they’ll all come up with if they get caught doing something.”
Abdallah told Global the tweets were a mistake, and said the players feel bad about it. Some players have spoken with the news media individually, apologizing or adding context to their messages.
Rhys Tansley told the Canadian Press a tweet of his saying “bitch get on yo knees” was “taken out of context, directed towards his girlfriend and quoted a YouTube video called ‘unforgivable.’ ” “We share a sense of humour,” Tansley added.
The night UNews’ story was published, Tansley tweeted a link to the story, adding:
“didn’t know twitter can make you famous? people so sensitive. too much time on there hands.”
The sentiment is echoed in many comments appearing online.
“You know, the whole thing where people start saying people are being overly sensitive – people who say that are probably privileged people,” says Canning. “You know, they’re probably people who’ve never been a victim in their lives. They don’t know what it feels like.”
“When my daughter was being assaulted, they took a picture of it, and they did that because they thought it would be funny. So I guess everyone’s level of sensitivity and, ‘funny,’ is different. And I think that’s why you need to set standards,” says Canning.
“If you just let it go, you’re just going to have a complete free-for-all, where there will be no standards. And then you’re gonna have a lot more victims because it will be acceptable and it will be forgotten about and people will just let it go.”