Polarized debate over public health measures sees politicians facing angry protesters at their homes
As intimidating incidents rise, calls grow for increased security budgets, social media crackdown
Protesters opposed to public health measures such as wearing a mask, adhering to lockdowns and vaccine mandates have increasingly turned to holding intimidating and aggressive protests at the homes of politicians, prompting calls for action to be taken to better protect democratically elected officials.
The RCMP told CBC News it has noticed a growing number of "incidents" singling out politicians at their homes and offices.
As the pandemic nears its two-year mark, politicians are but one target of the aggressive protests; front-line health-care workers and patients seeking care have also been intimidated by sometimes violent anti-vaxxers and anti-lockdown advocates.
But when it comes to these workers, the federal government co-operated with the opposition to pass Bill C-3, which makes it an offence punishable by up to 10 years in prison for those found guilty of intimidating health-care workers and patients trying to access medical care.
Even with the aggressive targeting of politicians, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says that, despite having gravel and threats thrown at him during the last federal election, he has no plans to expand Bill C-3 to cover politicians across the country, for now.
"Nobody in the course of doing their job should be faced with threats of violence, threats to their family. That applies for health-care workers or for politicians or anyone else," Trudeau said Wednesday.
"We continue to engage with public security, with police services to ensure that we're doing everything we can to protect Canadians, but we haven't, at this point, looked at similar legislation."
An RCMP spokesperson told CBC News in an email that Mounties have "seen an increase in the number of incidents that either occurred or were planned" at politicians' "residences or constituency offices."
Those incidents seem to be targeting people at all levels of government. Earlier this month, protesters enraged by pandemic public health measures and vaccine mandates gathered outside Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek's home.
"It is an incredibly unnerving and unsettling experience to look out your window and see people holding signs calling you a Nazi," Gondek told CBC News.
"We have provided these public places for people to do these types of protests or rallies. You can't do it at someone's home. It's simply wrong. It's inappropriate. It's an intimidation tactic, and you will not have good people running for public service if we allow this to continue."
'Harassing innocent neighbours'
On Tuesday, Calgary city council approved a plan to pay for home security systems for council members.
Three provincial politicians in Ontario — Premier Doug Ford, Education Minister Stephen Lecce and Health Minister Christine Elliott — have been visited at home by protesters infuriated by lockdowns, school closures and vaccination programs.
When asked by CBC News whether the Ford government would consider a new law to protect public office holders, the premier's office sidestepped the question.
"These petty tactics have no impact on this government's resolve to do the right thing in order to protect the people of Ontario," the premier's office told CBC News.
"The only thing these people are doing is targeting and harassing innocent neighbours and family members who have nothing to do with the government's decision-making."
Holding social media companies accountable
Former Liberal environment minister Catherine McKenna was the target of abuse and intimidation while in office. She said she wants to see the security budget for members of Parliament increased to ensure they are safe and that public life continues to attract good people.
"People yelling and screaming … at your home, or when you're just out, I think it is next-level. That's not why I got into politics," she told CBC News. "I will say it was a very unappealing feature of politics, and that's why I still speak out about it because I want good people to go into politics."
McKenna said she would like to see social media companies held accountable for the way they're sometimes used to organize aggressive protests.
"I've been very vocal about the need for social media companies to step up and take responsibility," she said. "They have ... created a vehicle that is now being used to foster hate and in some ways expands the network of people that normally would be, I guess, in their basement."
Gondek said she agrees with that suggestion.
"Democracy will not survive if people feel threatened or intimidated to run for office," she said.
"Those platforms should be held responsible for what is happening. They should be held accountable and responsible for the communication method that they have encouraged and put out there to embolden groups like this."
Stephanie Carvin is an associate professor of International Relations at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs. She said that while politicians may be reluctant to pass laws limiting public expressions of opposition to government policy, they could take action against social media platforms.
"Social media organizations … are pumping out a lot of disinformation, a lot of hate, a lot of anger, encouraging bounties, to follow people around and try to catch them breaking the rules," she said.
"We have seen the minister write to social media companies in December of last year to try and encourage them to take a more ambitious approach to trying to curtail this rhetoric. But beyond this, it's not clear that that much is going to be done."
Carvin said she hopes that the intimidation tactics being directed against public health measures will wind down as pandemic restrictions ease.