Calgary

UCP leadership candidates subject to death threats during campaign

Two candidates running to lead Alberta’s United Conservative Party say they’ve received death threats over the course of the campaign. 

'There were also some extremely ugly online threats directed at me and my family,' one candidate says

Travis Toews, centre, makes a comment as Leela Aheer, left, and Brian Jean listen during the UCP leadership candidates' debate in July. All three have been targeted during the campaign. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Two candidates running to lead Alberta's United Conservative Party say they've received death threats over the course of the campaign. 

Travis Toews, the former finance minister, and Brian Jean, the MLA for Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche, told CBC News they've each been the subject of at least one death threat. 

Both have also received additional threats online and via social media. 

"Mr. Toews has received a significant amount of abuse on his social media platforms, including at least one death threat, which has been shared with the RCMP and the Alberta Sheriffs," Christine Myatt, spokesperson for Toews, said in a statement.

Posts to a social media group discussing the UCP leadership race also suggested Toews be hanged for his role in government during COVID-19.

Jean said he received a phone call with a death threat earlier in the campaign, and that situation was not deemed high risk but has continued to be monitored. 

"There were also some extremely ugly online threats directed at me and my family on social media," he added. 

"Some people seek publicity, and giving them publicity just encourages them and others to also behave poorly. As a general rule, we need to increase civility in public life."

The revelation of these threats come a week after another candidate, Leela Aheer, allegedly had her Facebook accounts hacked and then used to distribute sexually exploitative material of children. 

"Extra precautions have been taken to keep Ms. Aheer safe. And we will continue to do so," wrote Sarah Biggs, her campaign manager. 

Harassment and threats against politicians, media personalities and other public figures have escalated in recent weeks — including an incident where Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland was confronted by a man yelling profanities at her on a visit to Alberta.

"This obviously raises the level of concern yet again about the hostility and the venom that's being targeted against elected officials or those that are running for office," said Lori Williams, a political scientist at Mount Royal University. 

"This isn't going to be an easy thing to try to curtail, but I think it is absolutely essential that a number of leaders recognize that some of the activities they're engaging in is fueling this."

'Albertans are angry and frustrated'

CBC News reached out to each of the other four candidates to ask what harassment their campaigns may have faced. 

Danielle Smith, perceived to be the front runner in the race to replace Premier Jason Kenney, said while she has not personally received any direct threats, her staff have received online abuse. 

"We will not engage or participate in this kind of cancel culture tactic.… We will not be commenting further on internal campaign volunteers and staff on our campaign or others going forward," reads a statement from spokesperson Matthew Altheim.

Rebecca Schulz has also not received death threats, but her campaign says it's "upsetting and concerning that other candidates have received these types of attacks, and they have our full support in speaking out against this unacceptable behaviour."

Rajan Sawhney's campaign team declined to comment about harassment it may have received.

Both Toews and Jean's teams say the threats, however serious, won't derail the race. 

"Mr. Toews remains committed to running a positive, future-focused campaign based on ideas, not personal attacks. He has a great deal of respect for all his colleagues in this race and is saddened to learn that others have also experienced hate and abuse," the statement said. 

And Jean nodded to the fraught period Canadian politics is in right now. 

"This race is happening at a time when Albertans are angry and frustrated, and some individuals are having a particularly hard time coping with everything that has happened in the last two years."

The UCP will announce its new leader on Oct. 6. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elise von Scheel is CBC Calgary's politics reporter and the producer of the West of Centre podcast. You can get in touch with her at elise.von.scheel@cbc.ca.

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