Politics can be scary. “If your country, your safety and your family are threatened, who would make me do this?” It is natural to think that. Catherine McKenna speaks from personal experience. A former Canadian environment minister in Justin Trudeau’s first government, she experienced online threats and verbal abuse during the last legislature. In Ottawa, abuse of people from all walks of life, either physically or online, is common. So many fear for their safety.
During the campaign for the last federal election, Trudeau was hit by some pebbles thrown by no-wax protesters. Earlier this year, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh was verbally abused at an event. The latest case involved current Deputy Premier Chrystia Freeland, who was insulted and called a “traitor” by someone during a visit to Alberta.
An increase in episodes of anger and violence is a concern for anyone who visits the palaces of politics or the corporate classrooms of Canada. Former minister Lisa Wright strongly condemned the verbal attack on Freeland, tweeting, “Physical intimidation is not a form of democratic expression.” Conservative Gerard Tellel, for his part, explained to ministers that a security guarantee “worthy of a G7 country” should be guaranteed.
Canadian ministers are not automatically granted immunity, but they can request it based on specific threats. McKenna admitted to the BBC that she feared what had happened in England in 2016 when Labor MP Jo Cox was killed by a terrorist. Last June, after receiving death threats, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino announced that Canadian lawmakers would receive mobile alert devices.
Audrey Champoux, who is part of Mendicino’s press office, said authorities are taking the threats “very seriously” and are constantly considering “other options” to keep members of parliament safe. “This is not a partisan issue, but a public security issue that directly affects the security of our democracy,” he stressed. Canadian observers noted that verbal harassment often disproportionately affects women, members of the LGBT community, and ethnic minorities.
Freeland declared that she couldn’t resist returning to Alberta, full of “sweet and welcoming people.” McKenna, on the other hand, said she fears the increasingly crude tone of Canadian politics and the inability of parties and institutions to adequately protect representatives could deter future leaders, especially young women, from public service: “That would be terrible for democracy.”
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