Threats against PM and cabinet ministers increasing: RCMP

Threats against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his colleagues in the federal cabinet increased significantly between 2019 and 2020, according to RCMP data.

130 threats reported between January and July, up from 100 during same time last year

A police officer stands by a fence outside Rideau Hall in Ottawa on July 2. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Threats against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his colleagues in the federal cabinet increased significantly between 2019 and 2020, according to RCMP data.

The force's protective policing unit opened 130 threat files targeting Trudeau and his ministers between this January and July, up from 100 during the same time last year. RCMP recorded 215 such threats throughout all of 2019.

The numbers were first reported by the Toronto Star.

RCMP wouldn't share the nature of the threats but their release follows several incidents in which members of the public targeted high-profile politicians for harassment and potential violence.

A spokesperson for Ontario's Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport Lisa MacLeod said in a statement on Thursday she is under police protection for the second time in as many years.

"Following an interview with CFRA on harassment faced by female politicians, I can confirm that Minister MacLeod is once again receiving police protection due to both threatening emails and an unexplained mischievous incident to her personal vehicle in Ottawa," the statement said.

MacLeod was last under police protection after becoming the target of public backlash for her role in changing the province's funding model for autism support in 2019. A 41-year-old woman was arrested and charged with criminal harassment and uttering threats against her.

Earlier in the week, the Ottawa Police Service launched a hate crime investigation after a video surfaced showing a man screaming obscenities at a staff member at the constituency office of Infrastructure and Communities Minister Catherine McKenna last Thursday.

WATCH | McKenna speaks out against harassment of politicians:

‘We need to make sure that we stand up against this’

3 years ago
Duration 0:58
Minister Catherine McKenna reacts to an incident outside her constituency office, in which a man launched into an obscenity-laden tirade and posted the video online.

The 90-second video posted to social media showed a man approaching the door of the Ottawa Centre MP's office and ringing the bell. When a female employee opened the door and informed him that the office was closed, the man launched into a profane tirade, at one point calling McKenna a "c--t" before the woman shut the door.

McKenna called the tirade "unacceptable" and suggested such behaviour is more common than generally reported.

"This isn't an isolated incident. It's not just involving me, my staff members, my family. Too often there are incidents against politicians, often female politicians," she said.

The same profanity was spray-painted across an image of McKenna's face on the window of her campaign office days following her re-election last fall.

Rideau Hall intruder

In July, Corey Hurren of Bowsman, Man., was arrested after allegedly ramming his pickup truck through the gates of Rideau Hall, where the Governor General's residence is located and where the prime minister's family is currently living.

The Canadian Forces reservist was heavily armed with a semi-automatic rifle, two shotguns, a revolver and four knives at the time, according to police. CBC News reported he was also carrying a significant amount of ammunition.

Hurren faces 22 criminal charges, including uttering a threat against the prime minister. The RCMP's national security team was called in to investigate. 

The incident was foreshadowed by Michael Wernick, former clerk of the Privy Council, when he warned last year while speaking before a House of Commons committee that he feared the political discourse in Canada had sunk to such lows that it could lead to an assassination attempt.

"I worry about the rising tide of incitements to violence when people use terms like 'treason' and 'traitor' in open discourse," Wernick told MPs in February of last year. "Those are the words that lead to assassination. I'm worried that somebody is going to be shot in this country, this year, during the political campaign."

In a recent interview with CBC's The House, Wernick said Canadians would be shocked and "dismayed" to learn the true level of abuse and violent threats politicians face during their time in office.

In an interview on Thursday with CBC's Power and Politics, McKenna said she wasn't prepared for the abuse she now faces before she entered politics.

"I'm certainly not a shrinking violet. I'm up for vigorous debate," said McKenna. "I don't think, though, I expected the level of hate and vitriol and abuse."

McKenna said practical measures must be taken to protect people, from increasing security to holding social media companies to account for the content on their platforms.

"We just need to reflect on what kind of society we want," said McKenna. "I got into politics to make a difference ... not be talking about how there's this vitriol and abuse.

"But until we deal with that, it's going to be very hard to focus on the real issues."