Ontario municipal candidates face ‘organized hate’ as campaign winds down

Kojo Damptey’s campaign expected one of his advertisements at a Hamilton bus station to be defaced long before a sticker reading ‘whites first’ was found placed on the city council poster full of hope.

The first-time candidate often encountered racist anti-black messages and threats in his former role as executive director of the Hamilton Center For Civic Inclusion, he said in a phone interview.

His campaign planned to regularly check the ad in anticipation of a similar backlash.

“Now running for city council, I knew it would probably happen again, and lo and behold, it happened,” he said. « It didn’t surprise us. »

The racist sticker on Damptey’s ad is one of three incidents being investigated by the Hamilton Police Hate Crimes Unit linked to election candidates.

With voting day set for Monday for municipal and school board elections across Ontario, some candidates are facing intense and hostile rhetoric – some in person and others online – as they submit their names on ballots. local votes.

Candidates from diverse backgrounds and women appear to be targeted particularly harshly, forcing some to devote valuable time and resources to dealing with threats — and in some cases wondering whether political life is really worth it.

Nili Kaplan-Myrth is a first-time candidate for the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, but the family doctor had previously been in the public eye for her advocacy around COVID-19 safety and vaccinations.

Her campaign was immediately targeted, she said, with stolen lawn signs, violent threats and anti-vaccine and anti-Semitic messages that attacked her as a Jewish woman and doctor.

« I was bombarded, » she said in a phone interview. « It’s such organized hatred. »

Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth is running for school trustee with the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

In some cases, stickers were affixed to its signs with QR codes that directed people to anti-vaccine websites. Anti-Semitic and anti-vaccine pamphlets were dropped off at homes that had signs for his campaign.

In one instance, she said a man at a campaign event verbally harassed her about her decision to wear a face mask. She said she reported another online threat to police from a username that said « die Jewess. »

The number of complaints is not new: the police

Ottawa police said last Friday they had received 41 complaints related to campaign signs in the city, including one suspected of a hate crime.

The number of complaints is not unusual compared to past elections at all levels of government, Acting Superintendent. Heather Lachine said in an interview. But she said the police department was « more proactive » this time by informing applicants early about the process for reporting hate crimes and mischief.

In Hamilton, Damptey said his team had to take different approaches to security than their white counterparts, which wastes time on political campaigns. His campaign demands that people canvass in pairs because of the racism they often face at doors, although they could cover more ground if canvassed alone, he said.

Some people make comments like « I don’t like all that woke stuff » upon seeing him, he said, which requires quick thinking about de-escalation and leaves him with less time to talk politics.

Despite the harassment they faced, Damptey and Kaplan-Myrth said they have no regrets running for office. Damptey said the white supremacist sticker provided an opportunity to discuss anti-black racism during his campaign and bring the issue out into the open.

Still, he said dealing with bigotry on the track has harmful consequences.

« We really need to be careful and discuss ways to reduce the harm racialized people experience when they’re just trying to come forward to serve their community, » he said.

Hateful rhetoric can turn into a barrier: expert

Melanee Thomas, a political scientist at the University of Calgary, expressed concern about the increasingly intense rhetoric being used against politicians and candidates.

Harassment targeting women and people from diverse backgrounds is meant to keep them out of politics, she said, and it may stem from some people feeling threatened by growing diversity.

« People who think it’s a God-given right to be at the top of the pile because of their race, because of their gender, because of anything, they get really angry and start to push back, » she said.

Canada must assess the role of white supremacy in political institutions in order to make progress on the issue, she said, adding that the problem could « get worse before it gets better. »

Angelia Wagner, a political scientist at the University of Alberta, researched online harassment in politics between 2015 and 2017. She found that the women she interviewed were aware of the problem, even if it did not. had not yet been dissuaded from running for office.

« It’s not seen as an obstacle so far, but as a problem, » Wagner said. « But the potential is there for it to become a barrier. A really clear and significant barrier. »

She said the phenomenon is evolving and complex, and more research is needed on how various candidates are targeted and whether online harassment has caused people to leave politics.

Politicians at all levels are subject to aggressive harassment, but municipal candidates often have fewer resources to protect themselves from online harassment, Wagner added, making it harder to navigate.

Hostile messages leading some to resign

Some politicians say they have been worn down by intense and aggressive messaging.

In Peterborough, Mayor Diane Therrien said the volume of hostile messages she received online was « certainly one of the factors » behind her decision not to seek re-election this month.

She does not rule out running for office again in the future, but expressed concern that other progressive female councilors in the city are stepping down this time around and that other potential candidates to whom she spoke expressed wariness about running after seeing the level of vitriol politicians face.

« That’s definitely one of the reasons why people turn away from the political process, » she said in an interview.

In Waterloo Region, council recently approved a home security allowance for councilors to spend on home security systems, in light of concerns about threats being made against elected officials in the city.

Diane Freeman, who is running for re-election as a councilor in Waterloo, said she was sad that the measure was necessary.

diane freeman
Diane Freeman is running for re-election as Councilor for Ward 4 in Waterloo. (Diane Freeman/Twitter)

Freeman said he noticed emails from the public have become increasingly hostile since his first election in 2006, as « keyboard warriors » grew more confident in writing threats and harsh words, particularly aimed at female representatives. The messages have taken on a more angry tone during the pandemic, Freeman said.

This year, she took a break before deciding to run again.

« I took some time to think about this upcoming campaign and if I really wanted to go back to emails and answer some phone calls, » she said.

« It’s just sad. People just seem really angry these days. »


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