The verbal harassment of Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland at a city hall in Alberta speaks to the failure of the current model of protecting Canadian cabinet ministers and the need to upgrade it, says a former minister.
“We need to take security way more seriously than we have,” said Catherine McKenna, who received protection herself after being targeted by misogynistic harassment during her years in cabinet between 2015 and 2021, which included holding the environment and infrastructure portfolios in the Liberal government.
“Having security and close protection is not fun. It’s not fun having some guy sitting at your house all the time or having to be driven around by them,” she said in an interview on Sunday. “No one wants that. Unfortunately, we’re getting to a situation where many folks need it.”
The former Ottawa Centre MP said there’s a lack of clarity about who gets protected as well as shortcomings in ministers being able to access assessments done of security threats against them.
Ms. Freeland did not have security on Friday when she was harassed by a man while visiting the city hall in Grande Prairie. A widely circulated video of the incident shows the man approach Ms. Freeland, who is also Finance Minister, and shout and swear at her.
“I actually felt ill looking at [Ms. Freeland’s] situation. I’ve been in similar situations,” said Ms. McKenna.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said such incidents are unfortunately more common as part of a trend that has seen more people in positions of responsibility in public life targeted, particularly women, racialized Canadians and people in minority groups.
“We need more women and racialized Canadians and diverse communities to be strong voices in politics, in media, where we’re seeing reporters increasingly getting attacked for calling out hatred and indifference and discrimination,” Mr. Trudeau told a news conference in Ottawa. “We have to ask ourselves what kind of country we are, what kind of country we want to be.”
Mr. Trudeau did not detail specific measures to deal with the situation.
Audrey Champoux, press secretary for federal Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, said in a statement on Sunday that a variety of security forces work together to ensure that appropriate measures are in place to protect parliamentarians. These include the RCMP; Parliament’s Sergeant-at-Arms, who is responsible for security in the House of Commons; the Parliamentary Protective Service; and local law enforcement.
She also noted that tools provided to MPs include mobile duress alarms and she said that other options are being considered to ensure the safety of parliamentarians.
While many MPs are expressing concerns about their security, Ms. McKenna said the situation is more acute for cabinet ministers. “They play particular roles in government. They’re not just any politician. That’s a particular role.”
Former Conservative cabinet minister Lisa Raitt said in a statement that training for select members of ministerial staff might also be helpful.
Political leaders across Canada, including a number of conservatives, denounced the harassment of Ms. Freeland.
“It’s absolutely unacceptable,” MP Pierre Poilievre, who is seeking the leadership of the federal Conservatives, told CHEK News on Vancouver Island while campaigning on Sunday. “I’ve been the subject of so much online harassment and abuse.”
Mr. Poilievre said his wife has received so much “horrific material” directly to her social-media account that a private security firm has been hired to ensure the safety of his family.
“Unfortunately, this is all too common, and all too long-standing. We have to put an end to it, and demand that everybody treat all Canadians with respect when we debate political ideas.”
Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek tweeted her own story of harassment on Sunday, including face-to-face threats, protesters showing up at her home to air grievances over pandemic measures, a costume horse’s head placed on her driveway and a “balaclava-clad man trying to get into Council Chambers to see me.”
“I am sharing all of this now because you need to know that there are people who feel that their freedoms involve being able to intimidate others,” Ms. Gondek wrote.
“The cold reality is that we all know the Deputy Prime Minister will be targeted again. We know I will be targeted again. All the stories that are being shared by journalists & politicians should show you it will happen again. And the next time may result in injury or death.”
She wrote that the condemnation of “hateful verbal assaults” has to be accompanied by action that includes identifying groups and individuals who are perpetuating organized hate, and stopping them through legislation as part of an effort to protect those who are targeted.
Others speaking out on the weekend included Ontario Premier Doug Ford, a Progressive Conservative, who said in a tweet that his “friend” Ms. Freeland didn’t deserve the harassment. “No one in public office does. This needs to stop. Canada is better than this.”
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, who has been sharply critical of the federal Liberal government, tweeted that Ms. Freeland always takes the time to listen to Canadians. “One can respectfully disagree with people that are elected, but this is not the way to do it.”
On Sunday, a spokesperson for Ms. Freeland ruled out discussion of the minister’s personal security arrangements.
“As is our usual practice with questions related to security, we will respectfully decline to comment,” Cameron McNeill said in a statement.
In her own tweeted response to the situation, Ms. Freeland noted that she is proud to be from Alberta and will not be deterred from future visits. She said “one unpleasant incident” doesn’t diminish the warm welcome in her home province.
In June, she spoke with pride about being able to move about without security.
“I’m the Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister of Canada. I almost never have any security,” Ms. Freeland told a news conference in Newmarket, Ont., comparing her situation with the security around U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, who had visited Canada. “I think that is a great thing about our country.”
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