Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has called on all political leaders to condemn toxic political language and has confirmed that the government is considering extra funding to boost security for parliamentarians in the wake of an incident involving his Deputy Prime Minister.
Mr. Trudeau said Wednesday that while it has been a point of pride for Canadians to see their politicians out and about without security details, the growing bitterness of political debate is changing the landscape.
“Part of the strength of our democracy is being able to see the Minister of Defence going shopping on the weekend at a local IGA,” he said. “But the aggressive, bullying, hate-filled tactics of a small number of people is causing us to have to rethink the freedoms that we’ve had as parliamentarians.”
Mr. Trudeau made the remarks after announcing a minor cabinet shuffle that saw two ministers trade posts, prompted by health issues in the family of one minister.
Security for parliamentarians has been hotly debated in the past few days, after Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland was verbally harassed by a man in Grande Prairie, Alta., last week. The incident also prompted widespread discussion about the vitriol being directed specifically at female parliamentarians and journalists, which Mr. Trudeau referenced Wednesday.
In a video of the incident, Ms. Freeland is seen walking toward an elevator, trailed by several other women, when a man calls her name. She pauses to respond, and the man quickly steps toward her yelling, “What the [expletive] you doing in Alberta? You [expletive] traitor, you [expletive] bitch!”
At an unrelated news conference Wednesday, Ms. Freeland said that while the incident was “wrong,” it did not overshadow the warm welcome she had received in Alberta. She did not directly answer a question about whether she plans to increase her security, saying instead that she always follows the RCMP’s advice.
Asked if he thinks each minister should have a bodyguard, Mr. Trudeau said that is a “very personal” decision, but added that the Public Safety Department is considering the question.
“We’re examining how we might be able to offer more security [in a] more structured fashion. These are expenses we’d like to not have. There are a lot of other needs that need to be satisfied,” he said.
Conservative public safety critic Raquel Dancho said in a statement Monday that if the RCMP determine that a security detail is necessary for cabinet ministers, her party would fully support that measure.
Mr. Trudeau was joined by ministers Filomena Tassi and Helena Jaczek. Ms. Tassi is leaving her post as the minister of public services and procurement, to which she was appointed last October, to become the minister responsible for the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario. Ms. Jaczek, the MP for Markham-Stouffville, is leaving that post to take over the procurement portfolio from Ms. Tassi.
In a statement, Ms. Tassi said she wanted to remain closer to her riding because her husband suffered two strokes early last year. The MP for Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas said she met with the Prime Minister last month to discuss balancing her family needs with the demands of the procurement portfolio, which has operations across the country.
“I want to thank the Prime Minister for approaching my situation as a challenge to be addressed and solved, rather than as a choice to be made between family or public service,” she said in her statement.
The two ministers also spoke to the media Wednesday about the vitriol they’ve faced, with Ms. Tassi noting that politicians themselves – and the language they use – are an important part of the solution.
“We can change the decorum in the House by ensuring that every response that we have is a positive one, [with] no room for insults, for low blows, for aggressive behaviour, so I think it starts with us,” she said.
She also said there is a grave risk that people will not step up to enter political life or work as journalists because they fear for their safety and that of their families.
Ms. Jaczek, who noted that she has faced verbal abuse, said she thinks parliamentarians are facing more intimidation as a result of the toll of the pandemic.
She noted that devices issued to MPs, which can be used to summon police in an emergency, provide a “certain amount of reassurance.”
Those “panic buttons” were the subject of discussion earlier this summer, amid another wave of concern for the safety of parliamentarians. In one incident, federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was verbally harassed in Peterborough, Ont., and death threats were sent to Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino.
The Canadian Press
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