The Toronto Star
Monday, March 22, 1999

Internet can target women, forum told

by Tanya Ho

Flick on your computer, click your mouse, and you'll find that Web sites promoting violence against women abound.

"The Web sites out there will teach you how to stalk a woman, research her social security number, how to track down her home address, her licence number . . . teach you to make date-rape drugs", said Gail Stern, one of 11 speakers at a City Hall public forum yesterday, as part of an international symposium to discuss hate on the Internet.

The speakers and members of the public gathered to debate how racist acts are handled by government legislation, the education system, and the media.

"We cannot fail to look at gender as a critical issue when it comes to hate on the Internet", said Stern, who was the director of the University of Illinois Chicago Campus Advocacy Network, an advocacy program for victims of hate crime, domestic violence, stalking, and sexual assault, for seven years, from 1991.

`Hate groups come to town in the click of a mouse'
- speaker Zubeda Vahed
Stern also consults with law enforcement and universities on issues relating to gender, violence, and leadership, and has served as the co-chair of the Chicago Task Force on date-rape drugs.

The impact that hate on the Internet can have on the minds and actions of youth is far too pervasive, said speaker Zubeda Vahed, whose duties include working with youth and families in distress, as an equity officer of race relations on the Peel District School Board.

"Hate groups come to town in the click of a mouse."

"If one of those sites reaches one child and if one of those children is recruited and one of these children commits a crime like desecrating a Jewish cemetery or vandalizing a mosque or burning a cross or beating up a child, then it will be one too many", Vahed said.

Speaker Ken McVay, a member of the Vancouver police department for 19 years, said advocacy groups are also guilty of apathy in response to cyber-hate.

In 1995, McVay came across an Edmonton man's Web site that targeted homosexuals. After contacting a Toronto advocacy group in July, 1997, and a gay advocacy group in the fall of 1997, McVay said he's still waiting for a response.

Silence welcomes hate crimes, he said.

"Unfortunately, hate is a marginalized issue", said McVay, stressing that a collective powerful voice of millions opposing Internet hate is absent.

The public forum was one of many to celebrate the United Nations' International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination yesterday.

Copyright © 1999 by The Toronto Star. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.