Federal Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino says the government is reviewing new safety protocols for cabinet ministers and other members of Parliament, after Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland was aggressively harassed last week in Alberta.
Shortly after Mr. Mendicino made his comments Monday, the RCMP confirmed that Mounties are investigating the Alberta incident. The force “takes threats against public officials seriously,” spokesperson Robin Percival said in a statement.
A video of the incident that circulated online over the weekend showed an unidentified man at the front desk of the city hall in Grande Prairie, Alta. Ms. Freeland was in the building on Friday to meet with the city’s mayor. When she appeared in the lobby, the man approached her and launched into an expletive-filled rant, at one point calling her a traitor who should leave the province.
At a news conference Monday on another matter, Mr. Mendicino was asked if, as a result of that confrontation, Ottawa is considering requiring cabinet ministers and other parliamentarians to be accompanied by drivers who also act as bodyguards, the way Quebec does for its provincial ministers.
“We’ll continue to explore all options,” he said, adding that the government reviews security with the RCMP, local and regional police services, as well as the House of Commons sergeant-at-arms.
The Minister said threats to politicians don’t impact only them, their families and their staff members.
“It represents a threat to our democracy,” he said.
“We are seeing more incidents, particularly involving women, involving racialized Canadians, involving Indigenous peoples,” he added. “I don’t believe that that is a coincidence. And we need to be sure that people can contribute – that they can, you know, lend their voices to our politics.”
Two female cabinet ministers who were also present at the news conference spoke candidly about threats they have received, and called for the temperature to be lowered in Canada’s political discourse.
Marci Ien, who is Minister for Women, Gender Equality and Youth and a former television journalist, said she has experienced harassment as a Black woman in public life. Threats, she said, were the “number one” thing her family was worried about when she decided to run for office. “When I look at what happened to the Deputy Prime Minister, I’m saddened, but not surprised,” she added.
And Karina Gould, the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, said she has needed RCMP protection in the past because of threats. “I’m grateful for the fact that that protection is available to us as cabinet ministers, but I’m sad that it’s something that we need,” she said.
Conservative public safety critic Raquel Dancho said in a statement on Monday that her party condemns all instances of intimidation and harassment targeting public officials.
“We expect the RCMP to constantly evaluate the threat environment and provide security that they deem appropriate, and if they determine security is necessary for cabinet ministers Conservatives would fully support that,” she said.
Speaking for the NDP, British Columbia MP Rachel Blaney said it’s time for a conversation about enhanced security for cabinet ministers and MPs.
“We know that the history of the House of Commons has been to protect parliamentarians when we are in Parliament,” she said in an interview. “What we are seeing now is more people in these political roles going out to communities doing the work they are supposed to do, and they are having these types of experiences. And if we see those continuing to increase, I think we absolutely have to look at how we are going to protect people.”
Former Mountie Pierre-Yves Bourduas, who served as a deputy commissioner with the force, said in an interview that the Quebec approach to ministers’ security makes sense in today’s political environment, which he noted is characterized by the presence of groups with extreme beliefs, online and off.
“Mainstream Canada needs to be alive to the fact that we have elected officials that need a level of protection so we can ensure we have democratically elected people that are allowed to make, sometimes, unpopular decisions,” he said.
“People can express their opinion, but when it becomes confrontational the way we’ve all witnessed with this video, then, for me, it’s another red flag. How many red flags will we need before we actually do something about our elected officials to ensure the appropriate level of protection?”
Mr. Bourduas acknowledged that increasing protection for cabinet ministers would come with costs.
“If you’re looking at personal protection, and especially looking at 24-7 potentially, it would certainly be a draw” on policing resources, he said.
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