Commentary on Hockey Canada and Philippe Bond brings rape culture into focus

Recent coverup revelations and assault allegations have revealed the sheer number of abuse-apologists and victim-shamers on social and tabloid media.

The month of July started with that nice Quebec judge who decided that a sexual aggressor deserved a break and shouldn’t be penalized by having his vile behaviour interfere with his travel plans or future career prospects. After all, he was a nice young man with a promising future; a “person of good character.” Before our collective outrage even had the chance to make the rounds, that “nice guy” had already taken his cue from that “nice judge” and decided that no consequences were to be had for his behaviour, emboldening him to attempt similar aggressive behaviour while on vacation — he groped another woman, only days after his conditional discharge. 

Then, new revelations broke about the Canadian World Junior hockey team, allegations of a gang rape and the Hockey Canada coverup. This, after we had already heard back in May about how Hockey Canada and the Canadian Hockey League had settled a lawsuit over an alleged sexual assault involving World Junior players in 2018. Halifax police have now opened a criminal investigation into these sexual assault allegations related to Canada’s 2003 World Junior team. I’ll spare you the details of the allegations but they are deeply disturbing and difficult to read. We’re talking here about the gang rape of a barely responsive young woman. 

“There have always been stories. Backroom, side-of-the-mouth, smirking stories,” writes Montreal Gazette sports columnist Jack Todd, about hockey’s toxic culture. “Rude, crude, third-hand, fifth-hand stories. Unproven and unprovable, but still bouncing around in the echo chamber that is hockey culture.” 

Unfortunately, this behaviour isn’t limited to hockey culture alone. 

Philippe Bond allegations

I was away on vacation when I first heard the allegations about Quebec comedian Philippe Bond. Within a few days, a full-on investigative piece by La Presse was out and eight victims came forward to corroborate those accusations. Again, the conversations about how “everyone knew” or had “heard something that couldn’t be substantiated” were eerily reminiscent of other allegations.

While that initial story of that smug-looking lawyer and his look-alike judge that gave him all the breaks aggravated me, I barely batted an eye by the time the Bond allegations came around. It’s all become so routine, so commonplace, the denials so predictable; one giant collective shrug coming from our overall society. 

People say that social media isn’t “real life” and in many ways it’s true. Twitter tends to amplify the ugly and Instagram tends to magnify the beautiful. Reality is somewhere in the middle. But, when it comes to social media comments, sometimes what people say — as vile, as grotesque, as disturbing as it all may be — reveals something essential about the culture we live in and what it consistently allows to happen. 

A culture of impunity 

Because it’s this culture of impunity that enables powerful men to think they can get away with terrible behaviour, victims are afraid of coming forward because they know they’ll be blamed and vilified. It allows mainstream columnists to write ridiculous pieces defending a man accused by no less than eight women. It allows politicians to use the word “rape” when they’re complaining about vaccine mandates, like Conservative candidate Maxym Perron-Tellier just did, deeply diminishing the severity of that act. And it allows many of us to just shrug, look away, normalize or minimize it. 

The reactions I saw online to the allegations were garden-variety predictable.

“Why are they only coming forward now?” 

“Was the woman who received cash as payment to settle the case really abused by the system?”

“He’s always been nice to me.” 

“Jealous people will always try to take down the successful.”

Philippe Bond was allowed to exist for years as a predator because we have a system of complicity that allows it. 

People “knew” and warned others to avoid Bond, producers knew enough to avoid working with him, but no one ever came out to call him out. 

The inconvenience of exposing an aggressor 

I understand that it’s sometimes hard to denounce someone without hard evidence. I am not remotely blaming his victims. We have a system in place that victim-blames, calls women who report abuse every name in the book, police who dissuade them from filing charges, friends and family who will try to minimize what happened to them. That’s what “rape culture” is, after all. A culture that makes it easier to sweep all this uncomfortable stuff under the rug. 

Everyone condemns rape, but no one wants to call the rapists out. 

The boys’ network, all-powerful, oblivious and as self-serving as ever, will rally around the public figures being accused and deny the gravity of their actions, question the integrity of the victim or victims, mock those concerned as feminazis or #MeToo fanatics who, with “no concern for the legal process,” will jump to sentence him in the court of public opinion. 

“Isn’t there a presumption of innocence until proven guilty?” many will ask loudly, still unable to understand that it’s a legal term that has absolutely nothing to do with the media’s right to investigate allegations or the public’s right to discuss accusations. 

Even when someone like Bond is accused by no less than eight women (eight!) there will be no shortage of people (and, tragically, far too many women) who will come forward to protect him, sing his praises, worry about his feelings and his future and accuse his accusers of malicious intent and spreading lies. 

Believe women

It’s 2022 and we still don’t believe women. Not even when eight of them come forward with eerily similar stories, as if we don’t have anything better to do than make up stories about these men. As if these women really have something to gain from speaking up, other than further vilification, social shame and the possibility of missed career opportunities. Let’s keep it real; Philippe Bond may be a well-known comedian in some Quebec circles, but he neither has the money nor the clout that would make “gold diggers” looking for a quick payout go out of their way to invent stories about him. 

And yet, time after time, I see people dismiss disturbing accusations of sexual violence and aggression and entitlement over other people’s bodies as fake stories, as a sexual encounter gone wrong, as too much alcohol consumed, as someone regretting their night of consensual sex, as vindictive, vile, jealous women out to “destroy” a good, hard-working man. 

It’s utterly gross how the excuses start flowing for the young athletes who might have their futures ruined over “one accusation” or the famous, bright-smiled vedettes on the cover of magazines who might have their careers destroyed over “one indiscretion.” 

What happens to victims is consistently minimized and what these abusers commit is consistently denied. Rape culture is ultimately a system that consistently allows men to ‘get away with’ bad behaviour. It’s a culture that rushes to protect the abusers, silence the abused and a network of average, normal, nice people who shrug their shoulders and utter, “We weren’t there… who knows what happened?” 

The comments reveal rape culture

“Haven’t you pushed down on a woman’s head a little too hard when she was down on you?” I saw one middle-aged man on Twitter ask. “By those standards we’ve all committed sexual assault.” No shame, no hesitation, no introspection. Nothing. Just a question and a conclusion launched on the internet for all to see.

So, yes. Social media, while not real, is also very real. These people making these disturbing, enabling comments are average folks. Your neighbours, your friends, your brothers, your boyfriends, your fathers. They’re not random trolls on the internet. They’re real people with real lives and real beliefs about what they think sexual aggression is or isn’t and how it’s defined. And according to the man above, Bond was just a sexually active single young man out to “get some” and those women were out to “get him.” 

A decade of #MeToo denouncements, after Harvey Weinstein and Jian Ghomeshi and Bill Cosby, after the Canadian Armed Forces revelations, the little progress we’ve made as a society has been hard-earned and exasperating. Victims are still banging their bloody fists up against a wall of excuses, impunity and indifference, begging to be believed. ■

Read more weekly editorial columns by Toula Drimonis here.