Police likely to investigate death threats against Rachel Notley, security expert says
'They are being assessed as to the likelihood that they’ll carry out an attack,' says former RCMP officer
People who made death threats recently against Premier Rachel Notley or members of her government are likely being investigated by police, says a security expert who once worked for Alberta Justice's executive protection unit.
In recent days, online comments pages, and Facebook and Twitter feeds have been filled with threats apparently made by people angered about Bill 6, government legislation passed this week that extends occupational health and safety rules and workers compensation coverage to paid farm workers.
One post on the CTV Lethbridge Facebook page suggested "someone's gotta man up and kill her," while another suggested someone should "put a pitchfork through [Notley's] neck" and a third said "just shoot her already."
People who posted such threats may think they're anonymous, but they're actually fairly easy to track down, said Neil Lemay, who was deputy chief of the security unit that protected former premier Alison Redford.
"I'm sure by now [police] have pictures of some of these individuals who have been posting some of these death threats against her," Lemay said. "I can tell you that they are being assessed as to the likelihood that they'll carry out an attack."
Some of those people will likely be interviewed by police, he said, and in some cases investigators may also talk to their neighbours.
Lemay said security teams who protect public officials constantly deal with threats, though the number always increases when a contentious issue arises.
'Howlers' and 'hunters'
"In the security industry we view most people who make threats as what we call 'howlers,' " he said. "Individuals who have no intention of carrying out their threats. The problem for law enforcement, though, is that among all these 'howlers' are what we call 'hunters.' Individuals who can pose a very real and significant danger to a public official."
The challenge, in part, is to separate the latter from the former, Lemay said. But even that isn't enough, since FBI research shows that "hunters" who pose serious danger often keep low profiles and make no threats at all.
Lemay said security experts have noticed in recent years that some people have become bolder in comments they're willing to post on public websites. Social media has led them to believe they can say whatever they want and hide behind anonymity. But tracking a specific threat to a specific computer is not difficult.
"There are consequences now, in the information age, for making comments like that online," he said.
The Alberta RCMP said it a Twitter post Friday that police "have received a number of posts regarding comments posted online about public figures. Thank you for your concern."
Lemay said the angriest comments about Bill 6 were likely posted by people who have problems of their own.
"Threatening people is not normal behaviour," he said. "Normal people do not threaten other people with death."
Those comments may well have been made by people with substance abuse problems or people who are mentally ill, he said.
Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd wept in the legislature on Thursday as she described threats and intimidation she said she experienced from people angered by Bill 6.
For her part, Notley described the threats against her as the "regrettable actions" of "a very small group of people opposed to Bill 6, who took their opposition too far."