Politics

MPs getting panic buttons after minister reveals he received death threats

MPs are being given panic buttons to increase their personal security in response to a series of threats and rising concerns about harassment of Parliamentarians.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino says he's been targeted by threats on social media

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino says that he's been the subject of death threats on social media in recent weeks. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

MPs are being given panic buttons to increase their personal security in response to threats and rising concerns about harassment of Parliamentarians.

In an interview, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino revealed he has been the subject of death threats on social media in recent weeks after presenting a bill curbing gun ownership.

Mendicino said he, police and the Parliamentary Protective Service are reassessing the security of MPs after a series of threats and intimidating incidents.

That includes the verbal harassment of NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh during an Ontario election campaign visit last month.

A video shows that as Singh left a campaign office, he encountered protesters who could be heard shouting expletives at him and calling him a "traitor."

Singh has said the experience in Peterborough, Ont., was one of the worst incidents of aggressive behaviour he's experienced in his political career. 

A video posted to social media shows protesters shouting at NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and following him to a vehicle after a campaign event in Peterborough, Ont. (Freedom Through Unity - Peterborough/Kawartha/Facebook)

Among the measures being rolled out to boost protection for MPs are panic buttons, or "mobile duress alarms." MPs can carry them around to immediately alert the Parliamentary Protective Service or local police for a rapid response.

In a presentation to Liberal MPs about new security measures, the sergeant-at-arms strongly recommended that they keep their panic buttons with them "at all times."

The device can be used across Canada, including in MPs' home constituencies, the presentation said.

The sergeant-at-arms, who is in charge of House of Commons security, is offering training to MPs and staff on how to de-escalate potentially violent situations.

Rising number of threats

Parliament is also offering MPs security assessments of their constituency offices and homes and says it can install alarms, panic buttons, cameras and other security measures as necessary.

Mendicino said it's part of his mandate to "ensure that all parliamentarians have the security that they need." 

He said he's working closely with law enforcement, the sergeant-at-arms, the Parliamentary Protective Service and Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc to "constantly" reassess "the risk to parliamentarians." 

The security assessment follows a number of threats to MPs and incidents in the past year. At a campaign event during the last election, a handful of gravel was thrown at Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau outside a political rally. 

Mendicino said he received a number of death threats on Instagram after introducing a bill in Parliament last month bringing in gun controls to prevent gun violence. 

The posts from an account entitled "eliteterrorist" include: "Somebody's gonna shoot you to death," and another death threat containing a derogatory term for a person of Italian descent.

"Threats, including death threats, have no place in this debate," Mendicino said. "It is really important that we are able to have vigorous debates about this but to make sure that these debates are had in a way that is civil and free from any of the kind of threats, intimidation and downright criminal behaviour that we are seeing increasingly online." 

He said people who threaten and intimidate must to be held to account to avoid a chilling effect on free speech, which would be "a threat to our democracy."

"We will obviously continue to flag those criminal posts to the platforms," he said, adding that the authors of these posts should suffer serious consequences, such as being expelled from platforms.

Instagram was not immediately available for comment.

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