MPs say they are getting used to the option of carrying panic buttons that can summon help, even when away from Parliament Hill, amid rising threats against parliamentarians.
On Tuesday, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said the process of distributing the buttons, which can alert the Parliamentary Protective Service or local police, is under way after it began at the end of last year.
“I think that certainly in the online space that we have seen a degree of vitriol and toxicity and extremist expression that incites violence and that, frankly, clearly crosses the Rubicon into criminal content where people receive death threats,” Mr. Mendicino said.
The minister said on Monday that he has received death threats over the government’s gun-control legislation.
There have been concerns about the safety of MPs in the wake of such events as the trucker convoy protests against COVID-19 restrictions in Ottawa earlier this year, which saw chaos in the capital’s core. In addition, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh faced verbal abuse last month while he was campaigning during the Ontario election and gravel was thrown at Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau during the past federal campaign.
Referring to the panic-button devices, Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan said Tuesday: “We just started with it.”
“I would say you feel somewhat sad you need it. But, on the other hand, if this is some way that will allow me to continue to do my job and be with people? Okay. I’m resigned,” he told journalists on Parliament Hill.
Mr. O’Regan, speaking after a cabinet meeting, declined a request to show the device he is using. “I think that might compromise things,” the Newfoundland and Labrador MP said.
Mental Health Minister Carolyn Bennett said she feels that the protective service – created in 2015 to provide security on Parliament Hill – looks after MPs in Ottawa and there are local police elsewhere, but if 911 is not an option, then there is the panic button. “I think it’s supposed to be the last resort.”
The minister said there have been concerns about MPs’ residences, threats to release addresses, more protests at MPs’ offices and people’s families being at risk. She said she has had protests at her cottage and home, largely around her previous cabinet-level work in Indigenous Affairs.
In an article in Policy Magazine this month, NDP MP Charlie Angus wrote of tense, challenging times for MPs given a “conspiratorial mindset” fed by disinformation.
“Parliament Hill security is advising elected officials to scope out public events before entering, to be briefed in advance on potential threats, and have an escape plan in case things go wrong,” Mr. Angus wrote. “The security experts admitted that the toxicity, rage and threats faced by elected officials have become so amped up it’s difficult to come up with workable solutions.”
In a tweet posted on Tuesday, John Brassard, Conservative opposition House leader, suggested that Mr. Mendicino is “misleading and spreading disinformation” on the issue because the option of “mobile duress service” was actually approved in 2020.
The green light came from the Board of Internal Economy, Mr. Brassard tweeted, which makes decisions on Commons administrative matters. Funding for the program is set at a $203,320 one-time cost and $313,021 a year by the board, whose members include the Speaker.
Earlier this week, Mr. Brassard responded to a question about Mr. Angus’s article by saying that people in the country are angry and anxious, and feel hopeless.
“They feel like they are not being listened to here in Ottawa,” he said, adding that all MPs need to do more work to unify the country.
Asked about the issue, NDP Whip Rachel Blaney said in a statement: “We encourage all caucus members to take care and ensure they take measures to keep their staff and themselves safe.”
Mr. Mendicino said the sergeant-at-arms, whose office is responsible for security in the House of Commons and the protective service, will work to get the devices as quickly as possible to MPs who need them.
“It’s a practical technology that helps to alert authorities so that there can be an appropriate response,” he said.
Asked Tuesday if anyone has used the panic buttons, Mr. Mendicino said the question is best addressed to law enforcement.
The Prime Minister, heading into Question Period, was asked if he is worried about the level of threats facing MPs and the use of panic buttons.
“Listen, we know unfortunately that there’s a significant amount of anger and frustration out there directed at government, directed at officials,” Mr. Trudeau said. “We need to make sure that anyone who steps up to serve their community at any level of politics is safe and that’s what we’re taking very seriously.”
Families Minister Karina Gould said threats against her and her family have increased over seven years and she has “unfortunately” had to have protection because of “viable threats.”
“This is something that MPs, ministers, colleagues frankly from all parties are experiencing,” she added.
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