[Content Warning: mention of sexual abuse of children]
On April 19th, Solidarity Across Borders organized an online press conference to launch the #FreeThemAll #StatusForAll caravan mobilization taking place from coast to coast. We invited journalists to hear from those on the frontlines of the struggle to free everyone still locked up in Canada’s prisons and migrant detention centres during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The conference, held on Zoom, was disrupted by people who played graphic videos of horrific sexual abuse of young children. They were removed from the conference as soon as possible but participants were extremely shaken by this experience.
We would like to express our deep apologies to everyone who attended the conference and was subjected to these deeply disturbing images. We have felt haunted by this experience and imagine that many who witnessed it have been feeling similarly.
This was our second online press conference on Zoom disrupted since the start of the pandemic. The first, less severe, incident took place last month before the event began and involved young white men interrupting the set-up of the event with racist and sexist comments and sexual exhibitionism, before they were removed.
While we have been working at improving the security of these events, for Sunday’s press conference we overlooked one of Zoom’s default settings, screen sharing by participants, which allowed the interruption to happen. Other security measures that we have been and will be taking include the use of waiting rooms, muting audio and video upon joining, disabling links with ‘embedded’ passwords and stopping participants from being able to share their screen, transfer files, message each other directly and annotate screens. To date, the most secure option for online press conferences that we have found is Zoom’s ‘webinar’ feature, which allows participants only audio (and not video) access to events. Its high cost, however, is a barrier to grassroots networks like SAB.
Given the extremely disturbing footage of sexual violence against children used in this disruption, we have spent time discussing how to best respond. Participants who informed officials about the incident were told by the police to file a complaint with Zoom. Because we do not have any information about who the perpetrators were or about a specific child being harmed, child welfare agencies are not able to investigate. We have filed a complaint with Zoom, and joined others in urging them to make secure features a default option and provide others at an affordable price. As participants emphasized during the press conference, SAB believes that police and prisons will not protect our communities or provide safety or justice.