Montrealer who experienced racism, threats now the face of national campaign against online hate

Warning: This story contains language some readers could find distressing.

She was called “vermin.” She was called a racial slur. And she was threatened by someone who called her and said “we know where you live,” all because she promoted an app that allows people to find and support Black entrepreneurs in Canada.

In June 2020, Carla became a victim of vicious racist attacks online. Her story, unfortunately, is all too common. Join @CRRF & @YWCA_Canada push back on online hate speech. This campaign is sponsored by @ToyotaCanada. ▶️ https://t.co/qMcek9IIHe#BlockHate #StopOnlineHate pic.twitter.com/QX2F1H01tZ

— CRRF | FCRR (@CRRF) July 29, 2021

Carla Beauvais, a Montreal-based social entrepreneur and columnist, never expected to face such hate from others on social media. The online database was in the works before the murder of George Floyd, but after his killing the solidarity with the Black community made the project all the more important in July 2020.

“I’m a single mom. My daughter … at the time was three. I live on the first floor in a building, so it's right on the street, so for a couple of weeks after I was really scared to get out of my house,” Beauvais told CTV News.

“I was very, very scared and confused because I was, like, I don't I don't get it.”

The traumatizing experience forced the Montrealer to retreat from social media and her role as a newspaper columnist, but now she's making a comeback by being the face of the #BlockHate campaign, launched Thursday by the Canadian Race Relations Foundation and the YWCA.

The national campaign aims to raise awareness about the pitfalls of ignoring hate speech and racism online.

A promotional video is part of the campaign. In it, strangers read the hateful comments (similar to Jimmy Kimmel’s popular late show segment “Celebrities read mean tweets”) directed at Beauvais following a news article about the app for Black-owned businesses.

“We let you into our country, then you infest us,” someone wrote on social media to Beauvais, who was born and raised in Montreal.

Another one said, “Shove your f--king application for n--gers up your ass.” 

The initiative comes one month after Montreal police revealed in an annual report that racially motivated hate crimes rose by 52 per cent in 2020 compared to the year before, a phenomenon seen in many other parts of North America. A poll conducted by the CRFF and Abacus date in January also showed that more than half (58 per cent) of racialized Canadians reported having experienced racism online.

Debate about hate speech was also the focus of the federal government’s Bill C-36, which would allow individuals or groups to file hate speech complaints with the Canadian Human Rights Commission. Provisions in the proposed legislation would give the commission the power to order perpetrators to cease communications or, in some cases, to pay monetary compensation and penalties. The government introduced the bill just as Parliament rose for the summer break.

Being a target of racist hate online herself, Beauvais said she was forced to rethink her role as a public figure as well as her relation to social media.

“I strongly believe that I'm a product of Quebec. And you realize, again, that you'll never be part of this nation, because you're always going to be cast differently,” she said in an interview.

“This really changed me and, in a sense, it's a good thing because I came to realize that there's other things more important than being on social media, but another part of me was completely destroyed.”

With a national campaign to bring awareness to the issue, she hopes it leads to people reflecting on the effect their messages have on other people.

"I really hope this campaign will allow people to pause and to think and do an introspection and see how they can be a better human, better person," she said. 

She also said there is a role for governments to take action in confronting hateful acts online.

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