It's Time To Hold Hecklers Accountable

A Halifax reporter pursues charges against man who yelled sexist slurs at her

A photograph of a Halifax police cruiser during a traffic stop. (flickr/Richard Purcell)

Words are more powerful than many realize. The right words can be used to empower one another, raise the goosebumps on our arms, and enrich our lives.

On the other hand, words can also be used to demean and destroy a person’s feeling of security.

Heather Butts, a CTV Atlantic reporter, was broadcasting live outside a local pub in Halifax when a man approached her during the broadcast. He appeared to make a sexual gesture and then called out a sexually explicit phrase at Butts.

Butts ignored the heckler during the broadcast, but filed a complaint with the police. Now, Nash John Gracie has been charged with public mischief and causing a disturbance. He is due in court for March

What this reporter experienced is not unique. Any person that is in the public eye is subject to heckling. It happens so often that it feels like part of the job description.

In 2014, filmmaker John Cain began making fake news videos that where an unknown hooded man appeared to be hijacking the broadcast by saying explicit sexual phrases. These hoax videos became viral and inspired many individuals to interrupt real-life broadcasts with the same phrase.

In a perfect world, people would be able to show basic human decency and not disrespect one another. Unfortunately, this not a perfect world. There will always be hecklers. That will never change.

In many cases, people being heckled or harassed in work, public, or in their personal environments do not seek any legal action. Many people just shrug it off.

Taking legal action against Gracie was a bold move by both Butts and the Halifax police. This case breaks new ground by going after the perpetrator instead of simply ignoring his misbehaviour.

Some may argue that getting the police involved is an extreme response, especially when it is expected of a person to look the other way or to get over being heckled. It’s true that there is nothing wrong with shrugging a heckler off, as long you feel that doing so is the right decision.

But there is also nothing wrong with Butts taking legal action because that is what she felt was right. In doing so, she was able to stand up for herself and start a conversation about hecklers.

This issue goes beyond simply pressing charges. There is no place in today’s society for people to speak to one another in a derogatory manner. We need to respect each other.

People should always be held accountable for their words. Humans need to understand the effect we have on other humans, and realize that what we say can have serious ramifications.

Butts was able to handle her situation in a professional manner, but what about other journalists in the same predicament? What about people who are heckled in public for their race, gender, or sexual orientation? What about children who are being bullied at school or on the internet every day?

Everyone has their breaking point. Your words could cause someone to reach theirs.


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