‘It’s not just about me’: McKenna cites need to protect politicians from threats

OTTAWA — Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna said Thursday that new measures must be taken to protect Canadian politicians from threatening behaviour.

Her comments come after police launched an investigation this week into an incident at her constituency office, as well as reports that two other Ottawa-area politicians also faced threats recently.

McKenna, who has spoken out in the past about being a target, said she's heard from many politicians who have experienced similar incidents, some never reported publicly.

"It's not just about me. There's been some attention to incidents involving me, but I've heard from so many women, from so many men, and it's really worrying," she said after a funding announcement in Ottawa.

"We need to reflect on this and take action so we can all do our jobs."

Earlier this week, a police investigation was launched after someone yelled obscenities at a member of McKenna's staff, with the footage posted to social media.

After being told the constituency office in downtown Ottawa was closed due to COVID-19, the individual yells expletives and insults at the employee about McKenna and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

In the aftermath of the 2019 election, vulgar and sexist graffiti had been spray-painted across the front of her campaign office.

During that campaign, she had also spoken to The Canadian Press about how what had started as anonymous online abuse had escalated into in-person verbal assaults, sometimes requiring her to have a security detail. That level of protection is not usually provided to cabinet ministers.

According to data from the RCMP, first reported by the Toronto Star, there has been an increase in the number of threats made against the prime minister and cabinet when compared to last year.

The RCMP say from January to July 2019, protective policing opened 100 investigations into threats, while from January to July 2020 there have been approximately 130 launched.

Following the incident at McKenna's office, Lisa MacLeod, a member of the Ontario legislature for an Ottawa riding and provincial cabinet minister, gave an interview on local radio condemning the abuse.

She then received threats of her own, her spokesman confirmed Thursday.

"Minister MacLeod is once again receiving police protection due to both threatening emails and an unexplained mischievous incident to her personal vehicle in Ottawa," Derek Rowland said in an email.

In March of 2019, a woman was charged with making threats against MacLeod, and she was given a police detail, during controversy around changes to the province's autism strategy. She was in charge of that file at the time.

Last week, Laura Dudas, an Ottawa city councillor, had a rock hurled through a window of her home while her family was asleep.

"While I cannot speak to the motivations of the person behind this disturbing act, it comes as the latest in a string of acts targeting my role as a woman in politics," she said in a statement posted to social media Thursday.

"There are too many reports of women politicians being the recipients of vicious online abuse, derogatory comments about their gender, and when online vitriol spills into the real world, violent physical attacks. This has to stop."

Federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau, the first woman to ever hold that post, said while she's never received threats at the same level as McKenna, she has been subject to negative comments online.

She said while she doesn't physically fear for her own safety, she thinks a light has to be shone on how much abuse is heaped upon politicians.

What's happening to McKenna though, she said, is both inexplicable and unacceptable. 

"How can we still have this type of behaviour in 2020? I don't get it," she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 13, 2020.

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press