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Ujjal Dosanjh, shown in September, 2010, argues that the best security for Canadian politicians is the least visible and obtrusive. (CHARLA JONES FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
Ujjal Dosanjh, shown in September, 2010, argues that the best security for Canadian politicians is the least visible and obtrusive. (CHARLA JONES FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

Ujjal Dosanjh

Keep party leaders safe, but an RCMP detail is a step too far Add to ...

Ujjal Dosanjh is a former premier of British Columbia, federal minister of health and Liberal member of Parliament.

Thankfully, serious threats to the safety of Canadian politicians and their families are rare. Visible security around them is even rarer. Our politicians, with the exception of prime ministers, do not require full-time bodyguards. Under normal circumstances even our prime minister does not require the sort of suffocating and stringent security bubble applied to the president of the United States.

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It ought to be thus, and we must work hard to keep it so, for it speaks volumes about the civility of our political discourse and our approach to disagreements. Politicians ought to be touchable and accessible. Canada is a vibrant, egalitarian democracy without the feudal trappings of the past. In some parts of the world, even today, a security detail comprising of few dozen police officers is a status symbol for some politicians. It sets the “serfs” apart from the elected “lords.”

The break-in at Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s home was a serious violation of his family’s privacy, and it may portend a serious threat. In such situations the sense of violation of one’s secure and private space lingers, and sometimes forever. In 1985 I was attacked with an iron bar by an assailant. Before the bar fell on my skull several times in quick succession, I had heard human footsteps running toward me. I survived, but retained a sense of threat.

Upon hearing footsteps behind me I never used to turn to see who it was. Now I do so instinctively. Human footsteps, normally music to a lonely soul, are now a reminder of the past and of the potential threat of harm. No Canadian, rich or poor, politician or member of the public, should have to put up with that.

Based on my experience of numerous threats and incidents, I know the RCMP does a very good job of both assessing risks and providing for the security needs of public figures. We should keep the government out of the RCMP and its process of threat assessment. The RCMP will provide Justin Trudeau security if needed, covert or overt as appropriate.

There should be no permanent security detail for anyone, including the prime minister. The RCMP is constantly performing threat assessments based on available information and intelligence. Security should be provided based on those assessments. If we do otherwise, not only would we be spending money unnecessarily; more worrying would be the visible chasm that we would create between our elected representatives and the people.

The best security is the least visible and obtrusive. It allows public figures, their families and the public to interact as normal and equal citizens. It reduces the distance the people feel from their politicians. That distance, perceived or real, is lethal to democracy. When I came to Canada in May, 1968, that distance was minimal if at all there. That year, I watched Justin’s father, Pierre Trudeau, campaign for prime minister in British Columbia. His security cover, whatever it was, did not add to that distance. One day in the 1970s I had the pleasure of watching him walk with a briefcase in hand through Vancouver International Airport. He seemed to be alone, changing flights. He may have had security with him, but none was to be seen.

For a kid from India where prime ministers and premiers travelled like lords, it was a sight to behold: an embodiment of real equality and democracy in an open society, a just society.

So, in a nutshell: Security, covert or overt, if necessary, but not necessarily security just because a politician thinks it is needed.

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