A violent mood has disrupted politics in Canada


Quebec Liberal MP Marwah Rizqy is eight months pregnant and afraid to leave her home without a police escort.

Last month, a man started leaving disturbing Facebook messages for her. He left voicemails at a nearby MP’s constituency office and repeatedly phoned his local police detachment to tell them a murder had been committed on his street and they would find Rizqy’s body there. .

Police identified the man and charged him. Last Friday, however, a judge released him from custody on the condition that he not contact Rizqy.

The MP for Saint-Laurent, who is campaigning in the provincial election, was visibly shaken when she spoke to reporters.

She said she was surprised that someone clearly threatening an elected official with death was released – and that even the prosecutor and the police officer in charge of the investigation were surprised. She found it disappointing that the judge did not require the man to undergo a mental health assessment before his release.

Now Rizqy must decide what to do.

“I’m a pretty strong woman, but I was in my bathroom and my knees started bumping. That’s when I realized, it’s really not normal what is happening.

Police suggested Rizqy’s campaign from his home.

But knocking on the door really can’t be done from his living room. In addition, she has to go to medical appointments.

She asked the National Assembly for police protection and a panic button, like those the Ottawa MPs have received.

For now, however, she describes feeling like a sitting duck. Constantly thinking about the threat to her and how to protect herself without additional security.

Rizqy’s case is just the latest example of the increasingly violent threats facing elected officials and fears that the system is failing them.

This is not hyperbole. In 2012, after Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois won the provincial election, a man tried to shoot her during her victory speech. A stage technician died and several people were injured. Others could have been killed had the assailant’s gun not jammed.

Today, politicians at all levels of government and across all parties are signaling a mood swing across the country – violent, aggressive messaging and previously rare outbursts have become all too common.

Politicians should not live in bubbles. They should not be immune to criticism; they must be aware of it and listen to it.

But criticism is not violence, and violence is what we see too often.

Living with the fear of violence is what we ask politicians – and in some cases journalists – to do.

This has a direct impact on our democracy. Too often bullying is directed against women and Indigenous, racialized and gender diverse people. These people must decide whether their participation is worthwhile. Then they can guess what they’re saying, what they’re covering, where they’re going to minimize the likelihood of a backlash (which these days seems to be coming from the “free speech crowd” ). Targets are intimidated to exercise their own freedom of expression, to use their voice, muted in online social spaces or in public.

Living in fear, or with fear, is emotionally taxing. Some — like Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek — spoke this week about how they deal with it, choosing, like so many others, to compartmentalize their fear, to put it aside in their minds so they can focus on their work and family life. Constantly wondering about the threat lurking around the corner is exhausting.

Fear is not something politicians usually talk about. Discussing fear is associated with weakness, Gondek notes. As the saying goes, “Can’t stand the heat? Get out of the kitchen.” But not talking about it may have given audiences the impression it’s less prevalent.

Last Sunday, in a Twitter feed, Gondek spoke about the intimidation she faced during the election campaign and at home. In April, someone left a dead horse’s head costume on their driveway and black tire marks on their street as they were doing their 3:30 a.m. drop-off. The horse’s head, of course, refers to the horse’s head left in the bed of a character from The Godfather movie. It symbolizes how someone can infiltrate your home, destroy your most prized possession, do you, essentially, anything, at any time.

Gondek sincerely fears that the current climate could lead to someone’s death. In an interview with the Star, she hoped her vulnerability could spur change. Maybe it’s kind of a MeToo moment.

Too many people think they can sue journalists or politicians without fear of reprisal, she said. After the dead horse incident, charges were laid against the owner of the vehicle. But the Crown later decided to drop the charges because, according to Gondek, the identity of the individual wearing gloves and a balaclava could not be confirmed. Still, she believes the charges should have been pursued, that it would have served as a “deterrent”, sending an important message about what is acceptable and what is not.

“I feel like the system has let us down tragically,” she said. “If you press charges based on the evidence you have…and then you have to drop the charges because you think it’s not enough. It is a problem.”

While Gondek has argued that if the thresholds are too high they should be changed, others believe that lowering the lawsuit bar is not the answer.

Instead, they say, the solution is to encourage police and courts to take threats — online and in person — more seriously.

If a person’s identity cannot be confirmed, Ottawa criminal defense attorney Michal Spratt told the Star that the Crown “should definitely not proceed with the prosecution.” But often, he said, one of the reasons why “there is little evidence, a weak case or no prospect of conviction is that the police don’t seem to be devoting a lot of resources to the investigation and to collecting evidence”. They look at anonymous email accounts and say, “‘There’s nothing we can do about it,'” he said. Investigative work is difficult and often cops are unwilling to invest time in obtaining production orders and search warrants for social media sites that are not based in Canada, or engage in forensic analysis. -forensics of the phones, or look for links between the cases to establish a pattern, he says.

Spratt also says that, unfortunately, the police generally take complaints from politicians or journalists less seriously. They blame them, as public figures, for having created the situation in which they find themselves. Women journalists, including at the Star, have publicly complained about the treatment they received from police when they reported online threats. (The Toronto Police Service declined to provide details of the investigations citing confidentiality concerns and the integrity of its investigations. But spokeswoman Ashling Murphy told the Star that “hate crimes are a priority of the (police) service” and “will not be tolerated.” She noted police Chief James Ramer had pledged to investigate all reported incidents.)

Pam Hrick, executive director of LEAF, the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund, said women who complain are often asked by police: “What did you do to tick off” their abuser ? “The criminal justice system, and the actors within it, have not always been great at GBV crimes, and it is a form of GBV,” she said.

She suggested that the police must be “properly educated about the harm and violence that this conduct actually causes” and “the avenues available to investigate or bring charges”.

This is especially true for online threats, which, due to anonymous accounts, are often difficult to track, she added. “Law and the legal system do not always develop alongside advances in technology.”

Karen Eltis, a cyber law expert at the University of Ottawa, argued that the justice system must recognize that the online world is as real as the physical world. “What’s important is a change in mentality, where what happens online is taken seriously.”

The mental shift that seems to be happening – spurred in part by a video last week of Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland being verbally abused during her visit to Grande Prairie, Alta. — is an acknowledgment by the public that something alarming is happening.

Whether it’s the bulletproof vests worn by party leaders in Quebec or the growing calls for federal cabinet ministers to enjoy 24-hour protection, the notion of Canada as a peaceful place where politicians can stop by the local bar for a pint or restaurant dating with their spouse without fear for their safety is increasingly in dispute.

Yes, as Marwah Rizqy notes, politicians should not feed the anger felt across the country for their own personal ambition. They should condemn him and help calm the situation.

But we also have a duty to police ourselves and our neighbors, to shame unacceptable behavior, and to demand that the justice system guarantee a safe space for all of us.

Althia Raj is an Ottawa-based national politics columnist for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @althiaraj

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