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I came across a seriously disturbing Facebook meme yesterday. Pictured above, a disturbed individual made a play on words with the Rob Ford campaign’s “Ford More Years” slogan- crossing out the word Ford, and replacing it to say “Tumor Years”. Most reasonable Canadians would find this message distasteful- people in our country have a reputation for being friendly, kind and compassionate. Yet, somehow, people were sharing this hateful picture about a man who was facing a potentially (now confirmed) life threatening disease.
I appreciated much of Rob Ford’s platform, and experienced first hand how he quickly responds to people’s calls for assistance. Though I was equally dismayed watching him lying to us about his addiction problem- too many bad things have occurred for me to consider supporting his campaign. But, as I would with anyone fighting a serious illness (including Harsha Walia during her battle earlier this year), my heart goes out to Rob and his family during this challenging moment in their lives.
I’d have ignored if it was an isolated incident, but I watched so many ugly attacks over the past week that I felt compelled to speak out. I figured posting my criticism on Twitter would be a no-brainer, who wouldn’t be horrified by the sheer nastiness of this message? Many people understood, some expressed dismay, others simply re-tweeted. But just as my faith in human goodness was being recharged, an unsavoury man responded with a lesson about the malicious depravity we see way too often from people in today’s union movement.
Today’s thug du jour is Kevin Wilson, a man I’d never heard of until a couple of days ago but certainly thinks he knows about me. Wilson responded to my criticism of the meme with a personal attack against my character. It was surprising on several levels. First, I’d never heard of the man, it always leaves me shaking my head when a complete stranger steps out of their troll cave with slanderous remarks. Next, after Googling his name, I learned that Wilson is a professional communicator- a communications staffer with the Canadian Union of Public Employees .
In the three years I’ve spent researching the dark side of the social justice movement I’ve written many stories about CUPE’s shenanigans. Most of CUPE’s rank and file members are good hard working people. Unfortunately it’s an entirely different story with some of the union’s leadership and staff- having lived in a few and travelled to scores of countries, I’ve never seen hate like I did from this union. It’s rarely a good idea to feed the trolls, but considering Wilson is one of the most public facing members of the country’s largest labour union, I figured I’d give him the opportunity to explain himself:
Wilson was silent for a while. I figured at first that he did what any smart representative of a national institution would do and quietly step away. Some other people joined the conversation, one called Kevin an “asshole” (I appreciate the support, but ask that people always try and be respectful in these situations). But, as his next tweet would demonstrate, they were right on the money about Kevin Wilson:
Wilson made a classic mistake, one that had already exposed Toronto Star columnist Antonia Zerbisias as worst kind of journalistic hack. The link he shared with what he called my “finer moments” is a hate website created about me by none other than Alex Hundert- a man who was once my stalker, and a convicted ringleader of the violence during the Toronto G20 (Alex spent much of his prison time in solidarity confinement after trying to agitate fellow prisoners).
It’s a poorly built website, mixing attacks against me with pictures of neo-Nazis. Many of the images are missing after being removed for violating my copyright. The site’s header graphic features crows, a popular anarchist symbol that Ryerson University professor Judy Rebick wore on a t-shirt designed by Alex Hundert (when she protested his arrest after the G20, calling him a ‘political prisoner’). It also includes another popular anarchist symbol- the Anti-Fascist Circle– a logo designed in the 1930’s to cover up Nazi swastikas.
The most pitiful part of Kevin Wilson’s response (besides how he utterly demolishes his own credibility) is that it in no way it back-up his accusations. The site calls me names, but when it comes to proving them, the explanation makes it clear that it’s an amateur attempt written to back accusations where there’s no evidence:
“we are not going to track down “evidence” of Renouf’s anti-native comments that he made repeatedly in Vancouver. and we’re not going to give you screenshots that are evidence of his white supremacist arguments about reverse racism, which are at the core of much of his targeting”
An Example Of Criminal Harassment?
One of the things I’ve learned observing and reporting on the (increasingly dodgy) case against “Twitter Troll” Gregory Allan Elliott is the definition of Criminal Harassment. The threshold used by the courts is to determine if the person being targeted genuinely feels that they’re being threatened. When people like Kevin Wilson, Alex Hundert and Antonia Zerbisias make false and vindictive public declarations about my character, their actions are a threat to my ability to expand (and keep) the career. It’s a no-brainer really, if potential clients/employers search about me online, the content these three have posted is a threat to my livelihood.
As a writer, and not a lawyer or judge, I’m unqualified to declare if their actions are criminal, but my perception is that there’s little doubt. Wilson is the spokesperson for the country’s largest union and Zerbisias is a columnist for the city’s largest newspaper- it stands to reason that the vindictive misinformation they’ve published is a genuine risk. Alex Hundert is a leader for a movement of violent thugs- his misinformation could result in one his associates directing that violence towards me (actually, that’s already happened).
I’ll be forwarding this article to all three of the people mentioned in this article (and to Wilson & Zerbisias’ supervisors). Enough is enough; it’s time for them to take responsibility for their actions, remove the false and malicious materials they’ve posted online, and respond with a public apology. There’s a personalized message for each of them below:
- Kevin Wilson: I’m flabbergasted watching a complete stranger in a position of privilege using the social media influence you’ve gained at CUPE in an attempt to smear me. Considering we don’t know each other, it’s my perception is that your motivation comes from the fact that my research has been highly critical and embarrassing to CUPE. Equally, you posted clearly on your Twitter account that you work for the union.
If you wish to close this matter like a gentleman, and avoid my pursuing criminal and/or civil remedy against you and/or your employer, I expect two things from you. First, you must immediately delete the malicious statements you made about me on Twitter. Next, I expect you to write an official retraction. Optionally, if you’re an honourable man, it would be a great show of character for you to publish an apology.
- Alex Hundert: The damage from the maliciously written website you helped create has gone too far- it’s time for you to take it down now. Additionally, you have tweets posted that make similar accusations- they too should be removed. I know that, considering you refused to take responsibility for the crimes you committed in 2010, it’s laughable to think you’d write a retraction or apology, but I’m always hopeful you’ll grow-up and realize you’ve been less than honourable. Somewhere, mixed-up with all of your anger and hurt, I know there’s a good person inside there.
- Antonia Zerbisias: My first request is that you go through your Twitter feed and remove the maliciously posted misinformation you used to threaten me with. Next, as you’re a journalist, I expect no less than a full retraction. As with Kevin & Alex, there’s no way I can force youtomakeanapology- your unprofessional pattern of threats and maliciously posted smears (remember,youwere threatened me twice) leaves me doubtful your ego would allow you to. That said, if you wish to surprise and prove me wrong, I’ll welcome your response with open arms and hold no animosity towards you.
Perhaps, one day, we can both shake hands and learn to respect each other- but your behaviour in this incident was not that of a journalist, but of a thug who’s using her privilege working for a major newspaper to bully and hurt. I shouldn’t be telling you this, as it will probably make you happy, but your threat to smear me in the Toronto Star had a deeply profound effect- I locked myself in my room for the good part of 10 days waiting anxiously for you to act on your threat. The fact you collaborated with anarchists who promote/enact violence still blows my mind today.
I really wish I didn’t have to say this, in a perfect world you’d all be good enough people to realize your mistake and take these simple (and reasonable) requests to fix the damage you’ve done. It’s not my intention to take this situation any further, but if you refuse to take the proper steps to remedy the situation, I will have no choice but to file a complaint with the police. In the interest of fairness, I’ll withhold taking action until Tuesday, September 23rd.
If you choose to take the honourable path and remove your maliciously posted attacks, I will return the favour by relieving you of any civil damages caused by your actions. I have no intention to escalate the situation, it’s gone too far already, the next steps are entirely up to you. If all three of you do the right thing, I’ll show my appreciation by erasing this article.
Some Closing Thoughts On Union Privilege:
It’s probably inevitable this article will result in an increase in troll activity. People considering the idea of adding to the above actor’s pattern of abusive behaviour should take note that I view this as a sensitive situation, and won’t be taking the time to send out friendly requests.
One of the common attacks I’ve been subjected to when writing about union violence and corruption is the accusation that I’m “against unions”. It’s a tactic often used to try and discredit my research (weasels always try to shoot the messenger), but couldn’t be further from the truth.
I’m a child of union privilege. Both of my parents worked hard to find themselves quality work when we moved to Canada, both were lucky enough to have landed stable and well-paying union jobs. If it wasn’t for the above average pay and benefits they received I wouldn’t be the person who I am today. Union privilege enabled me to grow-up in a safe and affluent neighbourhood, travel to many countries around the world, and attend one of the highest ranked schools in BC.
My criticism of unions is not with the intention of causing harm to their members- rather, to help bring transparency to a disturbing trend where some unions are led by ideological extremists. When a prominent union employee like Kevin Wilson behaves how he did this week, the damage he causes reflects on the union’s members. That’s simply not fair- not to the people in the union movement who worked hard to get workers the privileges they have today, not to the members who must live with the stigma he creates, and not to the workers of the future.
If you’ve read this far, and you’re feeling angry at the messenger, I beg of you to please take a deep breath and take time realizing how damaging this kind of behaviour can be. If we are to save unions from the single-minded people who want to kill them, we must first fix the abundance of ugliness we’re seeing today.
On that note, I’ll leave you with a video from the night Alex Hundret brought thugs to Occupy Toronto who used violence and intimidation against a man with a disability, two women, and a trans person.