Social issues

Canadian women of the year – The Whistleblowers: Lucy DeCoutere, Reva Seth, and Kathryn Borel

In celebration of the new year, Elle Beaver brings you profiles of courageous Canadian women who changed our world in 2014.  Meet the icons, agitators, athletes, survivors and changemakers who challenged our view of womens’ place in Canadian society. They are the women who spilled the beans of a long-held open secret, shattering the resounding silence that exists around sexual violence. The women whose J’accuse ignited a national conversation. The women who spoke up – and spoke out – against Jian Ghomeshi, the host of CBC Radio’s Q, whose spectacular fall from grace rocked Canada in late 2014.

Kathryn Borel, Lucy DeCoutere, Reva Seth

Kathryn Borel, Lucy DeCoutere, Reva Seth

It isn’t often that newsmakers and changemakers remain anonymous. Consider many of the other women on Elle Beaver’s list of notable Canadian women of 2014: Dalila Awada, Rinelle Harper, Robyn Doolittle, Eugenie Bouchard, among others. Yet many of the women who went public or to the police with their Ghomeshi experiences remain anonymous.  Faceless. Nameless. And in their honour, Elle Beaver recognizes Lucy DeCoutere, Reva Seth, and Kathryn Borel, women who lent their names and faces to the case against Ghomeshi at great personal peril, as some of the top Canadian women who changed our world in 2014. For years, even those of us operating in the limelight of the Canadian arts and media scene had “heard about Jian.”  Nothing In Winnipeg blogger Melissa captured it best, writing:

The question was whispered around wine glasses from Toronto to Vancouver, they were tapped out in texts and Twitter direct messages between old friends, or between kindred spirits newly met. In time, the answer that most followed became just as familiar as the question that preceded: a nodded affirmative, a mouth twisted in a rictus of disgust.

“Do you know about Jian?”

And yet no one spoke up.  It wasn’t until a series of anonymous tweets issued from @BigEarsTeddy and one woman – a ‘jilted ex-girlfriend’ who ‘colluded’ with other women to ‘show a “pattern of behaviour”  –  were discovered by the media that the story gained traction with CBC executives. By the time CBC fired Ghomeshi and his now infamous Facebook defence (which you can find out how NOT to react to, here) went public, it was clear that a woman unknown to Canadians had just kick-started a national conversation on consent and sexual assault.  Not far behind her, Lucy DeCoutere, who would be the first of Ghomeshi’s victims to go public.  And behind Lucy, Toronto lawyer Reva Seth. Behind Reva, Kathryn Borel, a former producer at Q.

Elle Beaver feminist blog - Jian Ghomeshi Lucy DeCoutere. Source: National Post

But much like the attacks on Carla Ciconne, the author of an XO Jane piece thought to be about Jian Ghomeshi, reaction to the radio star’s accuser was swift and decidedly ruthless with the typical reaction we reserve for women who go public: disbelief, doubt, denial. A flurry of hashtags, from #TeamJian to #IBelieveHer and #IBelieveLucy, captured the early tensions in this national discussion. But the floodgates had opened and nine women, and one man, would come forward to speak publicly about being choked, slapped, and assaulted by Ghomeshi. And it was only the beginning. In the following weeks, silence would be broken on allegations of sexual harassment, assault, and misconduct from the hallowed halls of university campuses to Parliament Hill. In November, only two weeks after the Ghomeshi news broke, two female MPs – who are still anonymous – privately went to Liberal Party of Canada Justin Trudeau with allegations against Liberal MPs Scott Andrews and Massimo Pacetti.  Of Pacetti forcing himself on her, the female NDP MP told The Toronto Star, “It was sex without explicit consent.” Canadian Feminist Blog

Reva Seth. Source: Metro News

Within days of this information going public, former deputy prime minister of Canada Sheila Copps spoke out about her own experiences of being sexually assaulted  – once by someone she knew, and a second assault after a day-long parliamentary session on violence against women when she was an MPP at Queen’s Park. In Montreal, three UQÀM professors were publicly accused when someone anonymously plastered their office doors with stickers calling for zero tolerance for rape culture on campus. And in Halifax, collective outrage and calls for expulsion from school when students discovered that some of their 4th year dentistry classmates had congregated online to joke about “hate-f*cking” their peers and drugging women for sex. And yet despite the courage shown by Lucy DeCoutere, Reva Seth, and Kathryn Borel, many of the women behind the case against Ghomeshi – as well as those at Dalhousie University, UQÀM, and on Parliament Hill – have remained anonymous. But it was Lucy and Reva, in particular, whose public profile and credibility rivalled Ghomeshi’s and gave Canadians a sense that they knew the victims, gave them a sense that women can and should be believed. Lucy was a beloved character on Trailer Park Boys, whereas Reva is a well-known and highly respected figure on Toronto’s legal scene. No such courtesy was extended to Kathryn Borel, who was painted as a disgruntled former employee with an axe to grind, whereas Ghomeshi’s anonymous victims were rapacious women ‘colluding’ with a ‘jilted ex.’ In the end, while we entered into a national conversation, perhaps not much has changed: #WeDontBelieveWomen. Canadian Feminist Blog

Kathryn Borel. Source:

But by going public – whether anonymously or by lending their faces and names to the case against Ghomeshi – Lucy DeCoutere, Reva Seth, and Kathryn Borel stood on the shoulders of women who courageously came forward before them to talk about their assaults. By speaking out, they contributed to the slow and methodical dismantling of a culture that presumes innocence on the part of perpetrators, and devious motives on the part of survivors. It is now our turn to climb atop the shoulders of women like Lucy, Reva, Kathryn and those who came forward anonymously. It is our turn to muster up the courage and say: #IBelieveHer.

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