Increase in threats against elected officials concerns RCMP Commissioner

(Ottawa) The Commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), Mike Duheme, advises the federal government to strengthen legislation to make it easier for police to lay charges against people who threaten elected officials.

The RCMP is observing an increase in invectives directed against politicians, often launched several times by the same people, Mr. Duheme explained in an interview.

These behaviors often do not lead to the filing of a threat charge under the Criminal Code.

“So it’s sometimes a challenge,” explained the RCMP commissioner.

“But are there other tools we can use? Is there anything else we could add to the Criminal Code to resolve the situation? “, openly questions Mike Duheme.

He hopes that the RCMP can work with the federal departments of Public Safety and Justice on a new provision to counter the phenomenon.

“It would be nice to see if we could look into that,” he said. People feel freer to express what they really think, which is a good thing, but it has to be done in a civil manner. Every elected official has the right to feel safe in their work. »

The RCMP commissioner’s comments come amid growing concerns about the safety of politicians.

Parliamentarians have been followed in the streets and threatened with death, prompting increased protection and security measures.

For example, Pam Damoff, the Liberal MP for the federal riding of Oakville North—Burlington, Ontario, recently announced that she would not run in the next election, saying the threats and misogyny she suffered made her fearful of going out in public.

Mr. Duheme maintains that the RCMP regularly communicates with other police forces about threats against politicians. The RCMP has a liaison team that communicates with federal ministers’ offices regarding day-to-day security needs. The RCMP also works closely with the Sergeant-at-Arms of the House of Commons regarding the protection of MPs.

RCMP behavioral science experts also review incoming cases. The RCMP has noticed that disturbing comments sometimes come from people known to the police following previous incidents, noted Commissioner Duheme.

An intelligence report released last March found that threats against politicians had become “increasingly normalized” due to extremist narratives driven by personal grievances and fueled by misinformation or deliberate lies.

The June 2023 report, prepared by a federal task force that aims to protect elections, noted that baseless theories and misinformation had spread to a wider audience, exposing online users to a vast network of narratives that undermine science, systems of government, and traditional figures of authority.

“Violent rhetoric is systematically focused on elected officials, with particular hostility toward high-ranking women,” the report said.

In recent years, countries such as Bolivia, Brazil and Tunisia have adopted laws aimed at combating violence against women in politics.

It’s important to ensure that social media platforms implement terms of service that will minimize the perception of violence, says Chris Tenove, deputy director of the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions at the University of British Columbia.

The recently introduced federal Online Harms Bill is one way to help set standards around what these platforms expect to address harassment, threats and hate speech, he adds.

Although much abuse occurs in cyberspace, it can also manifest itself in everyday life.

“So you receive threats online […] and you are shouted at during a municipal council meeting,” Mr. Tenove illustrates by way of example.

It is important, he said, that political leaders and staff make it clear to their activists that it is inappropriate and undemocratic to threaten or harass opposing political parties online.

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