Playing it safe MPs take precautions as agitated minority grows angrier
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 07/07/2022 (330 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA — Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux has started taking a panic button to his weekly chats with constituents in his northwest Winnipeg riding.
“Without the panic button, I don’t know to what degree I’d be as open,” the government backbencher said.
MPs are becoming increasingly worried about their safety because of the growing divide between people on opposite sides of the political spectrum, and increasingly heated and angry debate over topics like gun control. Against this backdrop, House of Commons security officials have decided to beef up security for MPs.
“There’s a certain percentage of the population that has really taken the issues to the heart and they’re very vocal — and (with) a smaller (subset) of them, it can be very threatening and intimidating.”
“Without the panic button, I don’t know to what degree I’d be as open.” – Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino recently revealed that Parliament Hill security, known as the Parliamentary Protective Service, has increasingly offered members of Parliament what it calls “mobile duress alarms.” The discreet devices, which work at any location in Canada, alert their officers or local police to an imminent security risk.
Mendicino’s office says during the pandemic, the devices weren’t snapped up because people were staying at home.
An all-party committee approved the devices in October 2020, at a one-time cost of $203,220, plus an annual $313,021 to maintain the service.
The committee also approved “a web-monitoring service,” as well as security assessments for MPs’ homes and constituency offices. Last month, it agreed to launch a pilot program “for the provision of security” for MPs while they undertake duties outside the parliamentary precinct.
“These include providing security assessments, security equipment and advice, security awareness and training, and outreach with local police forces,” Commons administration spokeswoman Miriam Fleury wrote Thursday.
“For security reasons, detailed information about these programs is not shared publicly.”
Lamoureux said anger and outrage towards public figures has become nastier since he entered politics in 1989, particularly since the pandemic.
He’s held a weekly availability for constituents at the McDonald’s on Keewatin Street, first when he was an MLA, and then when he was elected an MP in 2010.
Since then, the Manitoba legislature and Parliament Hill have both curtailed public access to buildings, following the 2014 shooting on the Hill by an ISIS sympathizer, a 2017 bomb threat at the legislature and the 2020 storming of Rideau Hall in Ottawa by a rural Manitoba reservist.
Lamoureux said he doesn’t stick out as an MP in Ottawa, but he’s often recognized in Winnipeg. While he welcomes strong feedback from disgruntled citizens, he said a small but growing minority is getting radicalized.
He saw that during last fall’s election, when constituents shouted at him and canvassers about COVID-19 restrictions. Often, they espoused conspiracy theories.
“If you’re not prepared to be engaged with the public, you shouldn’t be a politician,” he said, and yet “you’d get some very vocal insulting, like I’d never experienced,” he said about last fall’s election campaign, in which the Liberal party was blasted for vaccine mandates.
“If you’re not prepared to be engaged with the public, you shouldn’t be a politician.” – Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux
Lamoureux noticed the abuse almost always came from “a middle-aged white male” with a pickup truck in the driveway. “It was truly amazing how we could ultimately profile it.”
So, earlier this year, he decided to carry a panic button. It’s his trusty sidekick when he goes to his weekly McDonald’s meeting.
“The last thing I would want to do is discourage people from getting into public life. There are many rewards, but things have changed.”
One other Winnipeg MP started carrying a panic button after the ‘freedom convoy’ protests this winter and threatening calls to their riding office. The Free Press agreed not to identify the MP or their party, as they feared more threats to their staff.
Winnipeg Liberal MP Jim Carr said he has noticed a sharper tone in Canadian politics, but he hasn’t felt the need to get a panic button.
“I have never felt insecure or unsafe as a member of Parliament,” said Carr, who was elected in late 2015.
Carr said he once had to briefly hire a commissionaire when climate activists occupied his constituency office in 2016; he said the group was extremely disruptive to his staff, but didn’t seem dangerous.
“I haven’t had to deal with (threats) directly, but I know colleagues who have, from all parties, and it’s real.”
Carr said some of his colleagues were particularly shaken by the ‘freedom convoy’ that occupied downtown Ottawa for weeks in the winter. While the large occupation had a carnival-like atmosphere in some areas; other participants harassed locals who wore masks and yelled at anyone wearing a suit.
“Politicians have become targets. In a way, they have always been targets, because we live our lives out in the open; most of us are accessible, in person, by phone or in our offices. And it’s important we remain so,” said Carr.
He’d be open to more security measures if, like some of his colleagues, he felt they were necessary to continue to attend public events in his riding.
“I haven’t had to deal with (threats) directly, but I know colleagues who have, from all parties, and it’s real.” – Winnipeg Liberal MP Jim Carr
“Unfortunately, that’s a sign of times, but it should not be ignored.”
The Free Press surveyed all 14 Manitoba MPs about panic buttons; some agreed to be interviewed later this week.
Interim Conservative Leader Candice Bergen, who represents Portage-Lisgar, did not respond to an interview request this week. She told the Toronto Star last month that she’s had a panic button for at least a decade, and has never felt the need to use it.
MPs outside Manitoba have told the media they were shaken by the slayings of two British MPs, in October 2021 and June 2016, and American lawmakers being threatened by angry mobs.