With the exception of a handful of irredeemable ghouls, politicians across the spectrum recoiled at the news of the recent attack on Paul Pelosi, husband of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Mr. Pelosi was attacked in the couple’s San Francisco home last month, where a man named David DePape allegedly struck him with a hammer, fracturing Mr. Pelosi’s skull and forcing him to undergo surgery.
Ms. Pelosi’s around-the-clock security detail was with her in Washington at the time, leaving her home and husband somewhat more vulnerable to attack (though U.S. Capitol Police were supposed to be monitoring live cameras on the property). Republicans who were capable of seeing past the end of their noses reacted sombrely to the news; after all, that sort of thing could happen – and indeed does happen – to any one of them.
For the level of visibility politicians have, and the type of vitriol they increasingly appear to inspire, the level of access the public is allowed to maintain is remarkable, especially here in Canada. Earlier this year, U.S. lawmakers signed a bill extending full-time security details to the immediate family members of Supreme Court justices after protests were staged outside of some justices’ homes following the leak of the draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade.
In Canada, protests outside of politicians’ private homes – which have included those of Ontario premiers Doug Ford and Kathleen Wynne, former Alberta premier Ralph Klein, Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping, B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth, and plenty of others – are generally frowned upon, and often have involved police, but don’t tend to provoke swift legislative action.
U.S. lawmakers often receive enhanced security details in response to specific threats, though many still fork over their own personal or campaign cash – tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in some cases – for personal security. The New York Times recently calculated that members of Congress have spent more than US$6-million since the start of last year to keep themselves and their families safe.
That’s far less common in Canada, where politicians generally rely on publicly provided services. Federal ministers will receive RCMP protection when and if a threat assessment deems them necessary. However, the RCMP is already struggling to keep up with the demand for federal protective services, and that demand is only likely to grow as harassment and threats against politicians continue to intensify. For now, MPs have all received panic buttons, which they can use to immediately summon help in the case of an emergency.
Though politicians in Canada have been sounding the alarm on security threats for years (Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner has been particularly vocal on the matter) and though no party or political leader is immune from harassment or threats (Ms. Rempel says she has received death threats, NDP MP Charlie Angus has been a victim of stalking, and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland was verbally harassed in the summer in an incident caught on video), the push for better security for public officials – and by extension, the funds that come with it – remains a tough sell.
Calgary’s city council only narrowly passed a vote in January approving reimbursement of up to $8,000 for members to install security systems in their homes after protesters staged demonstrations outside the houses of the mayor and a cabinet member. Councillor Dan McLean, who voted against the proposal, said that he and his colleagues are paid well and suggested that if they want home security, they should pay for it themselves. “At the end of the day, part of my platform was always just to be a custodian of the taxpayer’s dollars and to make sure they’re spent wisely,” he said. (He does have a point on the dollar amount; $8,000 spent on security cameras would be exorbitant.) Ms. Freeland has previously implied that her lack of a constant security detail should be a point of pride for Canadians. “I’m the Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister of Canada. I almost never have any security,” she said at a conference in June. “I think that is a great thing about our country.”
Yet it would only take one terrible incident for that pride to seem deeply myopic, and for the reticence to spend on security for public officials to seem pound-foolish in hindsight. And arguably, Canada has already seen enough terrible incidents in recent years to justify enhanced security measures – incidents that include the attempted murder of former Quebec Premier Pauline Marois on election night in 2012, for example, and the breaching of the security gates around the Prime Minister’s residence back in July, 2020. (Though politicians’ lives were spared in those cases, a stage technician was killed at the Marois event.)
If security threats are a consequence of the job, it isn’t unreasonable to expect that the job would provide adequate security protections, especially in this ever-worsening political climate. Good people will not raise their hands to serve if they feel as though they could be risking their lives to do so.