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Online Threats Against Rachel Notley Are Part Of A Disturbing Trend

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Jason Franson/CP

A disgusting image was distributed on Twitter late last week and over the weekend, part of a disturbing trend that is increasingly all too common in its open targeting of women in positions of power.

This one featured a photo of Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley, as seen through a rifle's scope.

This image and any that threaten violence against any woman are completely unacceptable. A picture is worth a thousand words and has consequences on all of us but in particular women. To target women in leadership this way sends a signal to all women and girls not to aspire to positions of power. It sends a signal that they too could face violence for their leadership.

Before anyone tries to claim that I, or anyone else, is over-reacting, keep in mind that this sort of attack has become increasingly common as women take their rightful place in the halls of power.

And it's not the first time Notley herself has been the target of such attacks.

Last June, organizers of a golf tournament for oil executives set up a big photo of Notley as a target for participants to hit with their golf balls. The best the organizer of the tournament could muster by way of apology was to say he was "sorry if anyone was offended."

Then it got worse. A video soon emerged of two oil men gleefully running over the Notley photo target in their golf cart.

The message couldn't have been clearer. Notley was literally a target, and deserving to be run down. A disgusting misogynistic display by anyone, let alone from leaders of the province's largest industry toward an elected political leader. As the CBC reported at the time, Notley and many of her female colleagues have been targets of hate and threats online since the NDP was elected in May 2015.

This sort of behaviour is not at all acceptable in a modern and tolerant society.

The target and the video were roundly condemned, including by Wildrose MLA Derek Fildebrandt, who was tagged in a post about the target. Fildebrandt was caught up in another controversy only weeks before when Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne visited the Alberta Legislature.

As Wynne sat in the Legislature's gallery, Fildebrandt -- his party's finance critic -- unleashed a series of verbal attacks on Wynne, her party and Ontario itself -- at one point saying the Notley government was following Ontario's march toward a green economy that now meant Ontario had the "largest debt on the planet" and was "receiving equalization payments."

Later the same day, Fildebrandt, no stranger to embarrassing himself on social media, added the line "Proud of having constituents like you!" when a voter posted a message on his Facebook page that contained the line: "the truth about Mr. Wynne or whatever the hell she identifies as needs to be put out there for everyone to see..."

Homophobia on top of sexism. This sort of behaviour is not at all acceptable in a modern and tolerant society. Further, this type of sexist behaviour and critical review is also never seen to the same violent extent towards male politicians.

It was, in fact, unparliamentary behaviour that was condemned by both the Liberals and the NDP in Alberta, the Calgary mayor and its Chamber of Commerce, and which Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid called "Trumpism."

That reference to Donald Trump has become even more relevant in the weeks since. Never shy about making unsavoury comments about women, the Republican presidential candidate recently appeared to call for violence to stop his Democratic Party rival, Hillary Clinton.

Too often violence and sexism silence women who struggle alone and are unsure where to turn for help.

"Hillary wants to abolish -- essentially abolish the Second Amendment (on gun rights). By the way, if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks," Trump told a North Carolina rally last week. "Although the Second Amendment people -- maybe there is, I don't know."

That veiled threat, his denials notwithstanding, was a low point, even for Trump -- and all too typical of the abuse women in positions of leadership face.

None of these incredible women need me, or any man, to come to their defense. But as a man, and as an ally that is committed to stopping violence against women, it is my duty to tell other men that this sort of behaviour is completely unacceptable and must end.

The threats and abuse women in power face are the public side of the threats, intimidation and violence that too many women face throughout society. Too often violence and sexism silence women who struggle alone and are unsure where to turn for help.

By speaking out and showing women in power the respect that they are due, maybe it's just one more small thing we can do to show all women that abuse demonstrated in any form will not be tolerated. In this way, it is my hope that we can support women to find the support they need and build a future generation of more women leaders.

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