Death threat, sexism won’t stop Coun. Santos from ‘owning our space’ on Brampton City Council

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Published March 6, 2024 at 11:23 am

Rowena Santos is Brampton's Regional Councillor for Wards 1 and 5.

It’s been a busy two months for Brampton City Councillor Rowena Santos between council meetings and community events, all while dealing with what she calls incidents of sexism, threats and “people who try very hard to pull the seat from under us.”

The “us” Santos refers to are women in politics, like former Mississauga Coun. Karen Ras who stepped aside in 2022 following allegations of harassment by fellow Coun. Ron Starr, or Gatineau Mayor France Belisle. resigning just last month due to what she called a toxic political climate, including death threats from members of the public.

And with this Friday marking International Women’s Day, Santos has shared just a few of the troubling encounters she’s had in recent months to show her determination to keep doing the job she loves for the people of Brampton despite what she calls growing hostility towards women in government.

“The emotional and mental toll of dealing with the sexism, misogyny, prying, unwarranted attacks, harassment, hostile accusations, misinformation, judgement, rumours, lies and more,” the Brampton councillor said in a post on her website. “For women like us, elected women in particular, it’s getting worse.”

In the last two months alone Santos says she was followed to her car and harassed with “personal attacks, lies and misinformation,” received a threatening letter specifically referencing her son, and messages alleging sexual promiscuity to further her political career.

And then there are the online attacks she says have targeted Santos and her staff, body-shamed the councillor, or made attacks on her character.

There was even a hand-written letter saying Santos should be raped and killed, she says.

Santos says these incidents are “just a sample” of the flak she’s received since winning her seat on Brampton City Council. Her office gets so much hate mail that staff have started a separate folder for emails dealing with harassment, and Santos says she’s reported at least some of the incidents to police.

“This is why women do not choose to run,” she wrote. “This is how they try to pull our seat away.”

But despite all the efforts to silence or intimidate Santos, the councillor says she’s determined to “pull our seat back to the table” by raising her voice along with those of other women in politics like fellow Brampton Coun. Navjit Kaur Brar, and working with allies on council like Mayor Patrick Brown.

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is “Inspire Inclusion,” and Santos said she and other women in government will be embracing that message by “being ourselves and sitting here anyway.”

“Despite the harassment, the lies, unwarranted smears, backstabbing, we continue to inspire inclusion by taking our place,” she wrote. “Owning our space, and doing it with style, humour, smarts and grace.”

International Women’s Day is celebrated annually on March 8, and this year Brampton will celebrate on Saturday with a panel of influential speakers, a women-owned vendor marketplace and a concert.

The event celebrates the achievements and contributions of women and individuals who identify as women who, throughout history, have done so much to make Brampton the livable, compassionate and prosperous city it is today, according to a press release from the City of Brampton.

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