Federal elected officials concerned about threats, insults and click hunting

“Burn in hell, bitch.” » “I pray that you die in excruciating pain, and so does your family. » “Fuck you, you spineless cunt. »

These are just a few excerpts from messages sent to MP Pam Damoff since last fall. The Liberal elected official for Oakville North—Burlington says she has seen some tough times since her election in 2015, but today the climate in Ottawa has become too “toxic” for her to consider continuing her career. policy.

Met in her office a few steps from Parliament, the Ontario MP confides that she had to create a specific folder in her email box to sort through the mass of hateful messages she receives every week.

The duty was able to read 30 emails, various messages on social networks, as well as 2 messages left on the MP’s voicemail. In one of them, a man threatens to attack her (“ I’m coming after you guys “). And this is only a “small part” of all the existing messages, says his team.

“I have been a target for years because I am active on gun issues. But it has gotten worse since the gun lobby was able to [mobiliser] its base on social networks,” she testifies in English.

Pam Damoff already announced at the beginning of the month that she will not seek a new mandate in the next federal election. His decision comes amid growing concerns about the safety of elected officials in Ottawa.

Unlike ministers in Quebec, federal ministers are not accompanied by bodyguards, with a few exceptions. Federal MPs must cover the costs of obtaining security services themselves — which Mr.me Damoff had to do it, twice.

She also adds that the threats and aggressive behavior do not only target Liberal ministers, who are generally better known to the public. “Colleagues have come to see me since [mon annonce] to tell me their stories. They tell me that they look over their shoulder when they take the bus, that they sit near the emergency exit, just in case,” she says, visibly disconcerted.

Proof of the alarming climate, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police acknowledges being concerned by the increase in invective directed against politicians. Its commissioner, Mike Duheme, recently advised the federal government to strengthen the law to make it easier for the police to lay charges against people who threaten elected officials.

“Close and lock all doors”

In interview with The duty, NDP MP Charlie Angus states it unequivocally: the current climate in Ottawa is the worst he has experienced since his arrival in Parliament in 2004. “Never, in 20 years, have I received threats,” testifies -he. “Now we have a long list. I’m going soon to court following death threats. »

Mr. Angus does not hesitate to point the finger at the Conservatives and their current leader, Pierre Poilievre, as guilty of the current climate.

The NDP MP gives the example of a recent email from the Office of the Sergeant at Arms sent on May 3 to the 338 federal MPs. The message warned elected officials against protests against the carbon tax taking place “in a coordinated manner at MPs’ constituency offices across the country.” MPs were asked to trigger their “mobile duress alarm” to alert local police if they feared for their safety, as well as to close and lock all exterior doors in the event of a demonstration.

The Sergeant-at-Arms of Parliament did not wish to give more details to the Duty on the reasons for sending this email, stating that it does not comment on security issues.

The Conservative Party of Canada did not want to grant an interview on this subject. “Canadians have the right to express their opinions in the public sphere and with elected officials. However, this does not authorize anyone to threaten, intimidate or harass MPs, their staff, their families or their neighbors,” said Conservative MP Pierre Paul-Hus in a written statement.

Discourage the next generation

MP Charlie Angus has also announced that he will not stand in the next election. While he says the current political climate is not to blame, it has certainly “taken the joy out of what was once a great adventure in public service.” “I have always loved people and meeting them in public. I told them where I was going, which café to come see me in… Now, I don’t do that anymore,” he confides.

For her part, Pam Damoff does not regret turning her back on politics, even if she considers that it was “the best job » that she had. However, she fears that she will not be the last to make such a decision due to growing threats.

In the Bloc Québécois, MP Kristina Michaud also admits to fearing a phenomenon similar to the movement that began on the municipal scene in Quebec. Since 2021, nearly one in ten elected officials have resigned. “Whether on the federal or Quebec scene, people say that it is no longer what it used to be. […] I fear that people of my generation will decide not to go into politics because it is too difficult to deal with all that,” she testifies in an interview with Duty.

Mme Michaud attests to having never received threats since her election in 2019, but she has not managed to escape her “share of negative comments”. “I consider myself quite lucky. I hope that doesn’t change, but we are never safe. I have dozens, even hundreds of colleagues who have received worrying threats,” she laments.

Virality before the debate

In addition to the growing threats against elected officials, the three deputies met by The duty observe a deterioration in the tone between parliamentarians, often motivated by the quest for virality on social networks.

Liberal MP Pam Damoff gives the example of the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Protection of Personal Information and Ethics, where she sits. “When people speak, they no longer look at the witnesses, they look at the camera. It became a monologue to get a clip to then share on social media and drive engagement. It really changed the way we interact with each other,” she observes.

The interactions were not the same under the last Conservative leaders, not even former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, believes New Democrat Charlie Angus. “Mr. Harper and Mr. [Thomas] Mulcair, there were really intense confrontations in the House. But they never reached the level of personal malice. »

Last month, the Conservative leader was expelled from the House of Commons after calling Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “crazy” (“Crazy”) wacko “) and refused to retract his comments four times.

The phenomenon of viral clips is closely linked to the discontent of the population against elected officials, recalls the Bloc member Kristina Michaud. “When we go to meet our citizens, what they saw of us during the week was the clip of a few seconds on TV where it practically looks like a circus. After that, it’s difficult to have the respect of the population,” she emphasizes.

RCMP Commissioner Mike Duheme recently reported that harassment of elected officials does not lead to the filing of a threat charge under the Criminal Code.

NDP MP Charlie Angus explains that many MPs do not want to speak out about the threats they receive to avoid attracting more attention. “I decided to speak, because someone has to say something. I think we’re at a point where someone is going to get hurt. »

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