CALGARY—Two of Calgary’s three female city councillors say they will no longer speak to writers from one of the city’s newspapers after it ran a column suggesting the women accusing U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault are part of a smear campaign.
Ward 3 Councillor Jyoti Gondek wrote on Twitter on Thursday that she will no longer respond to interview requests from Calgary Herald journalists after the publication of a Wednesday column by writer Naomi Lakritz on Kavanaugh headlined: “Kavanaugh doesn’t deserve this. What happened in high school stays in high school.”
The column says the #MeToo movement “has run off the rails and is out of control,” and questions why the women who say Kavanaugh assaulted them never previously reported to police.
The Herald followed the column with an editorial titled, “Free speech for all, including victims of sexual misconduct.”
Gondek said she won’t speak to the newspaper’s writers until the editorial board “recognizes the impact of their decision to minimize the gravity of high school sexual assault.”
Ward 7 Councillor Druh Farrell also added her support for the decision, saying she “can’t stand by while sexual assault is trivialized.”
The column ran ahead of Thursday’s testimony from psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where she said Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers.
“That piece felt like a gut punch,” Gondek said in a Facebook post about the Herald column.
Gondek declined an interview to speak further about her statements, saying she had already posted her comments online.
She wrote on Facebook that she had been having conversations with colleagues about sexual assault in the wake of the column’s publication.
“However, anyone I have spoken with is clear on one thing: it is NEVER okay to normalize sexual assault in high school (or anywhere) by stating that it was a point in time where a young person made a bad choice,” she said.
“That’s what set me off about the Herald’s choice to run that particular opinion piece. It has much less to do with U.S. politics and much more to do with a group of influencers who did not see that printing such words creates distress and harm in an already volatile world.”
In a statement Thursday, Herald editor-in-chief Lorne Motley said the paper had heard the disagreement with the column “loud and clear.” He said Lakritz’s column “is not the official position of the paper. That view was published in our editorial today.”
“The Editorial pages are designed to be a hub of community opinion and debate, and sometimes they involve unpopular views,” he said.
“Tomorrow we will be carrying views from others who also strongly disagree with the column, and why that viewpoint is wrong.”
An article by Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse CEO Danielle Aubry and Association of Alberta Sexual Assault Services CEO Deb Tomlinson appeared on the Herald website Thursday, headlined: “Our belief in survivors is unwavering.”
Farrell emphasized that Gondek spoke out about the Lakritz column first, and she felt it was important to lend support.
“Right now, when so many women are grappling with their own histories, these are moments we never forget. So we’re living these, and then we read this from our local paper. And that’s why the response is so strong,” Farrell said.
“Both of us have identified what we want to see. But this isn’t about Jyoti and Druh,” she said. “If the Herald is listening to all the women and men who are upset by this, hopefully they will take some action. That’s what we’re asking.”
Gondek said on Facebook that she understands reporters at the Herald “had no role in what was published and penalizing you is not a fair form of retribution.”
She said she is willing to talk with those journalists about how to address the issue differently.
“I’ll speak with you about how we move forward, just not in a manner that allows your employer to benefit from my words at this point in time.”
Madeline Smith is a reporter/photographer with StarMetro Calgary. Follow her on Twitter: @meksmith