Politics

Security tightened for eight cabinet ministers and Theresa Tam before convoy protest arrived

The RCMP increased security for eight cabinet ministers and Canada's chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam in the days leading up to the convoy protest, according to documents tabled by the inquiry examining the government's handling of the protest.

Briefing note cited strong expressions of resentment directed at Trudeau, Alghabra on social media

An RCMP vehicle passes in front of a blockade of trucks in downtown Ottawa on Feb. 17, 2022 as a protest against COVID-19 restrictions continued. (Robert Bumsted/Associated Press)

The RCMP increased security for eight cabinet ministers and Canada's chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam in the days leading up to the convoy protest's arrival in Ottawa, according to documents tabled by the inquiry examining the government's handling of the protest.

It's not clear from the documents what exactly prompted the heightened security or whether it had anything to do with the convoy protest that arrived in Ottawa several days later.

While the prime minister and the Governor General receive RCMP protection, federal cabinet ministers typically don't — unless the RCMP has reason to believe they face a threat.

A ministerial briefing document dated Jan. 26, 2022 indicates an increase in the protection level for Tam and multiple cabinet ministers: Transport Minister Omar Alghabra, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault, Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair and Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller.

A man wearing a blue suit stands at a podium delivering a speech
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra was given a bodyguard driver in response to a threat to his security. (Jason Viau/CBC)

Alghabra appears to have faced a heightened risk at the time, although the documents do not say why he may have been targeted.

Tensions were mounting at the time over vaccine mandates for travellers and cross-border truckers. Alghabra also spoke out about being targeted over his Muslim faith in January after then-Ontario MPP Randy Hillier called him a "terrorist" in a tweet.

A week before the briefing note was issued, Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet raised questions about Alghabra's previous role with the Canadian Arab Federation prior to being elected to Parliament.

While details were redacted from the briefing note, it indicates that something happened on Jan. 21 that led the RCMP's ministerial liaison team to speak with Alghabra's chief of staff Mike Maka on Jan. 19, and then again on Jan. 24. Maka agreed to share a copy of Alghabra's schedule with the RCMP's Protective Operations Coordination Centre.

"The PoJ [police of jurisdiction] (Peel Regional) has been informed of the situation and are engaged," says the briefing note. "The minister will try to do most meetings from home, but should he have any events, they will ensure to notify the RCMP. They were very appreciative of our efforts."

The briefing note also says that there had been a recent increase in online support for the convoy protest.

"In particular, the RCMP Protective Operations Coordination Centre (POCC) has reported a strong resentment on multiple social media platforms, targeting Prime Minister Trudeau, Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra and politicians in general," says the briefing note. "On January 22, 2022, a total of 15 files were opened in 16 hours."

A January 28 readout of a call written by Mike Jones, chief of staff to Mendicino, and tabled during the convoy inquiry mentions Alghabra: "Level 3. Body guard driver while in Ottawa."

Alghabra's office declined to comment on the documents.

The Jan. 26 briefing note says that while there hadn't been a significant change in the threat environment, there had been an increase during "this extended COVID-19 period" in online posts and e-mails "expressing significant dissatisfaction or threatening in nature."

The note also reported "a number of recent incidents involving constituency offices or private dwellings."

The briefing note says the POCC reached out to "the identified ministers."

"The intent was to provide a level of comfort to the ministers and to err on the side of caution while further analysis is done over time to determine how the environment is changing," it reads.

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam was among the public officials singled out for enhanced security measures in early 2022. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The briefing note indicates measures were put in place, effective Jan. 11, related to public announcements and public functions for seven cabinet ministers and Tam. While the details of those measures were redacted, the note says the POCC "will be reaching out to the minister's offices on a weekly basis to obtain schedules and assess the need for the deployment of protective measures."

January 11 was more than two weeks before the truck convoy protest arrived in Ottawa.

It's not known how long ministers received the extra protection or whether it is still in place. When Freeland was verbally accosted in Grande Prairie, Alta. in August while walking into a building for a meeting, she did not appear to be accompanied by a bodyguard.

Freeland's office refused to comment on the reference to her security in the briefing note.

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In June, Mendicino reported that he had received death threats on social media after presenting a bill on gun ownership. News reports also confirmed at that time that MPs were being given panic buttons to increase their personal security.

The Jan. 26 briefing note says Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc told Mendicino that MPs were concerned for their safety after demonstrators turned up at their homes.

Alexander Cohen, spokesperson for Mendicino, said the minister's mandate letter included instructions to "bolster the security of ministers and Parliamentarians," work that he said is still underway.

"There has been an alarming rise in hateful rhetoric in recent years, which has resulted in an increasing number of threats and intimidation against elected officials," he told CBC News in an e-mail.

"This is not a partisan issue — it affects people across the political spectrum and has particularly targeted women, LGBTQ individuals, Indigenous peoples and other marginalized groups."

Cohen said he could not discuss security arrangements for cabinet ministers or other public officials.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elizabeth Thompson

Senior reporter

Award-winning reporter Elizabeth Thompson covers Parliament Hill. A veteran of the Montreal Gazette, Sun Media and iPolitics, she currently works with the CBC's Ottawa bureau, specializing in investigative reporting and data journalism. She can be reached at: elizabeth.thompson@cbc.ca.

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