Candidates and volunteers dealing with vandalism, harassment, threats on the campaign trail

A candidate in the Nickel Belt riding is speaking out over vandalism of election signs, as well as harassment and threats against his staff and volunteers.

Liberal candidate Marc Serré says rates of vandalism and threats are unlike previous elections

Nickel Belt Liberal candidate Marc Serré is speaking out after repeated vandalism of his election signs. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

A candidate in the Nickel Belt riding is speaking out over vandalism of election signs, as well as harassment and threats against his staff and volunteers.

Liberal candidate Marc Serré said about a dozen of his large campaign signs have been defaced — spray painted with phallic drawings — and many more small lawn signs have gone missing. He said the cost of the missing and damaged signs totals about $5,000. 

"It's really disheartening" said Serré, standing beside one of his defaced election signs in Hanmer. 

This is Serré's third federal election, and before that he served as a school board trustee and municipal councillor. While he's dealt with some vandalism in the past, he said what he's seeing this time around is very different. 

"This is not at all comparable. I understand the anxiety people face, but this is not a way to vent your frustration." 

Multiple reports to police 

Serré said his campaign has been dealing with more than vandalism. He said members of his team — including a 14-year-old volunteer — have been on the receiving end of online threats. There was also an issue with someone causing a disturbance at his campaign office. 

"We need to push back on this behaviour. Protests are fine, protests are good. But when you cross over the line of intimidation and harassment and vandalism, you're crossing the line and hopefully the police will be able to catch these individuals," Serré said.

A spokesperson for the Greater Sudbury Police Service said police have received two mischief complaints and two theft complaints from various parties. 

Nickel Belt Conservative candidate Charles Humphrey says his campaign is dealing daily with signs being unlawfully removed.

Other candidates in the riding, meanwhile, said they haven't had the same problems. The campaign manager for NDP candidate Andréane Chénier said a few of her signs have gone missing, but it hasn't been a significant issue. Chénier tweeted a statement denouncing the vandalism of Serré's signs earlier on in the campaign. 

Green Party candidate Craig Gravelle and PPC candidate David Hobbs both said vandalism has not been an issue for their campaigns locally. 

Impact on political engagement 

Meanwhile in neighbouring riding Nipissing-Timiskaming, the campaign team for Liberal candidate Anthony Rota said vandalism has also been a big issue for him during this campaign. They said in an email that several signs have been spray painted with "profanities and offensive symbology of hatred and intolerance". They said some volunteers have also been harassed while putting up signs. 

We need to push back on this behaviour.— Marc Serré, Liberal candidate for Nickel Belt

Back in Nickel Belt, Serré said he knows "the vast majority of individuals" would oppose vandalism and harassment. But still he worries about how civic engagement could be impacted. He said he's had supporters who have asked not to receive new lawn signs, because they didn't want to deal with vandalism a second time. 

"Individuals are kind of retreating or afraid and don't want to get involved," Serré said, though he said he's also seen the opposite effect.

"I've had individuals remove signs, but I've also had people calling my office, my campaign office, to say 'Marc, this is unacceptable, please put a sign. I want to do a statement.'"