ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — A 27-year-old Newfoundland man has been charged for allegedly yelling a sexually explicit phrase at a TV journalist, who went to police with the complaint because she said she has had enough of being harassed with the vulgar comments.
NTV reporter Heather Gillis was interviewing a city councillor at a St. John’s landfill on Monday when a grey truck drove by and one of two men inside allegedly called out a phrase — often abbreviated to “FHRITP” — that has repeatedly been directed at female television reporters and videographers.
“I’m fed up — I’m tired of it,” she said from her office Tuesday. “No one should have to endure that while they’re working. I’m a professional and I was humiliated interviewing a politician. It’s time for it to stop.”
Gillis managed to snap a picture of the truck, capturing the licence plate, which she posted on Twitter with the comment that she was “publicly shaming” the driver. By midday Tuesday, it had been retweeted 380 times and was trending across Canada.
Police saw the post and encouraged Gillis to contact them, responding with the tweet: “Being a loser may not be criminal, but Causing a Disturbance, (section) 175 of the Criminal Code is.”
Sgt. Paul Didham of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary said Tuesday that officers tracked down the truck’s driver and charged him with causing a disturbance in a public place. He is due in court in June 1.
“The comments are senseless and degrading,” Didham said. “They were made in a public place and they were made in such a way that they disturbed the public.”
The phenomenon has plagued journalists in the United States and Canada since 2015, with one of the more high-profile cases involving a heckler screaming it at a Toronto reporter as she was covering a Toronto FC soccer game.
Toronto’s CityNews reporter Shauna Hunt confronted several men about their use of the sexually explicit remarks while doing fan interviews. One of the men was fired by Hydro One after CityNews aired the video. In Calgary, police charged a man with a traffic offence in May 2015 after he hurled the same vulgarity at a CBC journalist.
Gillis said it was the third time she has been targeted with the expression since she started working at the broadcaster in December 2011. The 29-year-old reporter said about a year ago, she was on the street waiting to go live on air when someone yelled it at her. Prior to that, she said she was out getting visuals when a car full of teenagers drove by and some of them screamed it at her.
Gillis said she was motivated to publicize the incident since every one of her female colleagues in the city has had the same experience.
“(I’m) glad that I’m standing up for myself and the other women who work in this business,” she said. “Hopefully this will set an example that this kind of behaviour needs to stop.”
Coun. Danny Breen, who Gillis was interviewing at the time, also said it wasn’t the first time it has happened as he was being interviewed by female reporters. He said on one or two occasions, men have heckled them as they did interviews.
“There’s just no need for this,” he said. ”This was just a very vulgar, rude act that just has no place today so hopefully this will put an end to it.”
Breen said police contacted him Monday and he gave them his account of what took place.