The House of Commons is getting ready to boost security measures for MPs outside of the parliamentary precinct in response to growing concerns about the risk of political violence, sources tell Radio-Canada.
The move comes after a series of incidents raised red flags with federal elected officials — including an attempt at a sidewalk “citizen’s arrest” of NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh in Ottawa in late September and the case of Corey Hurren, a Manitoba man who faces 21 weapons charges and one charge of threatening the prime minister related to an incident in July at Rideau Hall.
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MPs on both sides of the aisle are reporting growing numbers of online threats. Sources said that many security threats directed at MPs have never been made public.
Sources said new security measures are being discussed by the RCMP, the Parliamentary Protective Service and the House of Commons’ Board of Internal Economy, which has representatives of all recognized parties in the Commons.
The new measures are intended to extend protection to MPs when they’re not on Parliament Hill — in their private residences or during public appearances. A source said the measures would be offered to all MPs, with an opting-out provision.
The current plan is to offer MPs home security systems and some sort of “panic button” service that would allow them to summon help wherever they are.
Enhanced security for ministers, party leaders
As it stands, MPs typically have to make a request for security to the RCMP, which then evaluates the threat level. The new measures likely will fall under the authority of the Parliamentary Protective Service, which was created after gunman Michael Zehaf-Bibeau killed a soldier at the Canadian National War Memorial in Ottawa before dying in a gun battle with security personnel at Parliament’s Centre Block building on Oct. 22, 2014.
Heather Bradley, a spokesperson for the Speaker of the House, confirmed that “additional security support for members [of Parliament] focusing on their safety outside of the precinct” has been approved by the Board of Internal Economy. She added that the measures are based on “industry best practices and consultation with our security partners” but didn’t offer details.
Sources also said discussions are ongoing at the federal level about improved protective services for ministers and opposition party leaders, which likely would fall to the RCMP.
Prime ministers and their families receive constant RCMP protection, while opposition party leaders only receive protective services during election campaigns.
Federal ministers don’t receive RCMP protection on a regular basis and are usually accompanied only by political staffers during public appearances. Provincial ministers in Quebec, on the other hand, are always accompanied by armed drivers who act as bodyguards.
A rising threat level
Sources from a number of federal parties said the new measures are a response to a growing threat level for MPs — fuelled by public anxiety over the pandemic and an increasingly tense and polarized political climate.
Women in politics are frequent targets for online threats and insults. Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna’s riding office was vandalized last year, while Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner has reported receiving threats of violence online.
Disagree with my policy, call me names. I draw the line at threats of violence, and report anything that falls into that category to the RCMP, which I have done in this case.
Bloc Québécois MPs reported receiving a large number of threats in June during a debate over systemic racism in the RCMP — especially after Singh accused a senior Bloc MP of being racist by opposing a motion on the issue.
On July 2, an armed intruder smashed his truck through one of the gates at Rideau Hall and subsequently made his way close to the official residences of Gov. Gen. Julie Payette and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. While both individuals benefit from existing protective services — and neither they nor their families were on the grounds at the time — the incident showed how easy it is for an armed person to get close to top government officials.
In September, an individual approached a Radio-Canada reporter in downtown Ottawa and spoke of performing a “citizen’s arrest”. The following day, the same individual approached Singh on the street near the parliamentary precinct.
Source said these incidents were top-of-mind when the Board of Internal Economy discussed security issues during two in-camera meetings in October.
Last year, when he was still clerk of the Privy Council, Michael Wernick told a parliamentary committee that he was growing more and more alarmed about the threat of political violence in Canada, pointing to the growing use of words like “treason” and “traitor” in political discourse.
“Those are the words that lead to assassination,” Wernick said. “I’m worried that somebody’s going to get shot this year during the political campaign.”