Abusive activists must be held responsible for their actions

On February 6, 2017, Igor Sadikov, former Daily editor and former Arts Representative to the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) tweeted “punch a zionist [sic] today” on his personal account. This tweet was widely disseminated, receiving international news coverage. In response, two camps formed at McGill: one calling for Sadikov’s resignation from student politics, and one supporting Sadikov in the face of this backlash. Sadikov’s anti-Zionist beliefs and involvement in anti-oppressive groups on campus became reasons to hail him as a radical martyr. After two weeks, however, much of this public support dwindled as allegations of Sadikov’s past abusive behaviour were brought forth. Sadikov’s glorification in leftist circles, including our own editorial board, despite various degrees of knowledge of his previous abusive behaviour, is the latest example of misogyny and the willful disregard of abuse in activism.

In the days following the tweet, a Facebook group chat containing over two hundred McGill and Montreal activists was created to mobilize students in support of Sadikov. The debate surrounding Sadikov’s resignation quickly turned from one about a tweet to one on the safety of anti-Zionists on campus, especially after several members of McGill’s senior administration published statements in condemning Sadikov. The Administration even threatened to withhold funding from SSMU if the executive did not request Sadikov’s resignation. Both within the aforementioned chat, on social media, and within the pages of this newspaper, Sadikov was painted as a victim being lambasted by the administration, various Members of Parliament, and countless organizations outside of McGill. In our coverage of the calls for his resignation The Daily defended Sadikov, and members of The Daily’s editorial board attended events in support of Sadikov. We regret our complicity in uncritically portraying Sadikov as a victim. The actions of the administration, and the harassment faced by anti-Zionist students every day are reprehensible, but so is Sadikov’s rise to glory despite his previous abusive behaviour.

Being a male feminist allows abusive men access to activist spaces and the trust of the women in the community, as well as a buffer against allegations of abuse or misogyny. The common belief is that a self-proclaimed feminist couldn’t possibly be abusive. This is true of former SSMU VP External David Aird and former President Ben Ger who, immersed in leftist circles, both faced claims of past gendered and sexual violence. In activist spaces, women are often pressured to downplay or ignore their experience of abuse and misogyny in order not to deflect from the ‘real’ issues. This tendency is particularly pervasive in movements seen as more ‘serious,’ such activism against capitalism or state violence, movements which Sadikov and Aird engaged in.

Members of the community often share information about abusive men’s behaviours in private, but refuse or are unable to publicly denounce these men. There are valid reasons why some community members may not call out abusive men: if one is are triggered by discussions of abuse, in order to protect one’s personal or emotional safety, or to respect the wishes of the survivor. Even so, there are usually others in the community who are capable of denouncing abusive men but are resistant to holding their colleagues and friends accountable. As a result, many women and femmes end up leaving the community to preserve their mental health or safety, and other women are put at risk when abusive behaviour is kept quiet.

Activist spaces are a microcosm of society and are not free of misogynistic and abusive behaviour. In fact, activist spaces are often hunting grounds of choice for abusive men; the inherent dynamics of these groups protects perpetrators of abuse. The public adoration of abusive men can often be intensely triggering and traumatic to people they – or other men – have abused. Instead of dismissing women’s concerns as gossip, those of us who come to organize out of a genuine desire for a more just world ought to listen to women’s voices, hold abusive men accountable, and make their actions known to the public.