Unifor is concerned after a Newfoundland judge missed an opportunity to send a message that vulgar, verbal attacks on journalists are not acceptable.
“A person wouldn’t get away with yelling obscenities at a traditional workplace, like an office and people yell this phrase at reporters, and it impacts our work,” said Heather Gillis, Unifor local 915M member and reporter at NTV News in St. John’s.
Last week a provincial court judge in St. John's ruled a man who shouted a sexist slur that humiliated Gillis in 2017 while she was interviewing a politician, did not meet the criteria for a conviction for disturbing the peace.
These attacks on Canadian journalists started with a Youtube prankster in 2014 and have since escalated. Unifor takes the safety of journalists seriously as their workplace can be any public place where news is breaking.
Gillis snapped a photo of the accused’s license plate, which is exactly what Unifor members are advised to do in such cases, so they can report it to police and their employer.
“But it is employers who are responsible to assess this harassment as a workplace hazard and mitigate risks of these attacks before they happen,” said Lisa Kelly, Unifor’s Women’s Director, who will be leading a seminar on this topic at the upcoming Unifor Media Council in Kelowna in May.
Unifor has raised this issue in joint labour-management meetings with employers and through health and safety committees. Some workplaces already send extra staff or hire security for reporters covering live sporting events where alcohol is served, the risk of sexual harassment and attacks is predictable.
Unifor has been proactive on the issue of workplace harassment, and has successfully negotiating women’s advocates in more than 350 workplaces across Canada, in addition to anti-harassment policies and joint investigation processes to make workplaces safer.