It is a part of public life few people like to think about: the threat posed to politicians by people who are angry, disenchanted or obsessed with someone in the public eye.
Such threats can be part of the discussion when governments discuss what information should be released to the public.
That much is clear from a Threat Risk Evaluation Report posted recently on the British Columbia government's Open Information Web site. The 13-page report was commissioned from the B.C. Sheriff's Integrated Threat Assessment Unit to evaluate the risks of routinely releasing the calendars of ministers and deputy ministers under B.C.'s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. Much of the 2011 report, including its recommendations, was withheld under FOIPPA provisions relating to, among other matters, public safety and cabinet confidence. Parts of the report that were released included references to a threat-assessment approach that categorizes threatening individuals as either "howlers" or "hunters".
The premise, outlined in the report, is that "hunters hunt and rarely howl" and "howlers howl and rarely hunt."
Other information in the report:
Those who are truly intent on doing harm and do not typically make their intentions known. These hunters use research, planning and preparation prior to approaching their target but do not necessarily threaten. They may reveal themselves through "leakage" or expressing their intent to individuals other than the target.
Those who threaten, harass or annoy, generally cause concern or fear due to their often overt behaviour and therefore receive the focus of security and police.
The Path to Violence
The notion, outlined in a 2003 book Contemporary Threat Management, that the path to targeted or intended violence – as opposed to violence for gain such as robbery or an impulsive attack – often follows observable stages or steps leading up to an attack, including an initial grievance, research and planning.
"The recent incident in Tucson, Arizona, wherein [U.S.] Representative Gabrielle Giffords was shot, further validates the findings of research into public official attacks," the report says, referring to a January 2011 shooting. "Evidence indicates that the attacker ... conducted research on Giffords; he did not threaten her previously but did have contact with her; and she had posted the scheduled event on the internet."
By the numbers:
U.S. officials studied nearly 4,000 "inappropriate communications" toward the federal judiciary over a 13-year period between 1980 and 1993. Three per cent resulted in violence. "Suspicious activity" was 40 times more likely to result in violence than any other form of communications with the victim.