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In ‘peaceful’ Canada, government ministers are considering US-style security

In ‘peaceful’ Canada, government ministers are considering US-style security


“At the same time, we have to admit that political conversations and debates are becoming more bitter and aggressive. … And it’s something that should deeply concern us as a democracy.”

Aside from the prime minister, Canadian politicians — including cabinet ministers and opposition leaders — are not automatically assigned security details. But amid a wave of harassment and violent threats reported against politicians and journalists in recent weeks, the government is facing increased pressure to respond.

On Friday, Deputy Premier Chrystia Freeland was met at city hall in Grande Prairie, Alberta, as she entered an elevator. In a video widely shared on social networks, a large man approached her, calling her a “f-ing traitor f-ing bh” and told her to leave the province. Freeland appeared to be accompanied only by female employees.

At a news conference Wednesday in Calgary, Freeland dismissed questions about whether she needs the added security, saying only that she “will always follow the advice” of police. She said she still feels welcome in Alberta, the province where she was born and raised and where she still has family.

Freeland has recently spoken of wanting political leaders to remain accessible to voters, in contrast to the United States. When US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen visited Toronto in June, Freeland later recalled, she asked how Freeland’s security detail felt about the deputy prime minister cycling to the Royal Ontario Museum to meet him. Freeland said he had to explain to Yellen that she had no such details.

“A real strength of Canada is that I feel safe being out there alone,” she said. “I hope this can continue.”

Other politicians apparently disagree. “It’s time for ministers to have security … worthy of a G-7 seat,” Conservative MP Gérard Deltell said Monday on Twitter. Provincial ministers in Quebec, Deltell’s home province, are accompanied by armed chauffeurs who act as bodyguards.

Trudeau acknowledged Wednesday that there is disagreement among his cabinet members about whether every minister needs a bodyguard. “I think it’s a very personal decision for many ministers,” he said.

Earlier in the week, Public Security Minister Marco Mendicino told reporters that the government is looking at options to improve security for politicians, but did not offer specifics. Members of the Canadian Parliament are now issued panic buttons that they can use to immediately notify local police.

The Freeland incident came amid a broader discussion of harassment and abuse directed at public figures in Canada, including journalists. In recent weeks, a number of female journalists, including several black journalists, have reported receiving violent, misogynistic and racist threats online.

Trudeau and other leaders have publicly denounced the pattern of threats. Canadian Association of Journalists calls the police to improve their processes for responding to hate speech and harassment complaints.

On Wednesday, Procurement Minister Helena Jaczek told reporters that she believes the impact of Covid-19 on social interaction is partly to blame for the increase in toxicity. “It’s not Canadian behavior,” she said. “It’s amazing.” Jaczek said she was subject to “verbal abuse and somewhat intimidating behavior” during Canada’s 2021 federal election.

The Liberal government has promised to tackle the rise in hate with new “online safety” legislation that will aim to make social media companies more accountable for harmful content on their platforms. But the government’s initial proposals, which included forcing tech giants to remove flagged content within 24 hours, were met with major opposition and concerns about censorship.

There is no time frame for passing the legislation.

The bill is sure to be controversial, however, especially if Canada’s opposition Conservatives elect front-runner Pierre Poilievre as their leader next month. Poilievre has accused the Liberals of the “attack[ing] freedom of speech at all costs,” and has pledged to protect Canadians’ “freedom of expression online.”




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