Pushing boundaries

Rising security concerns reality for Manitoba MPs

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OTTAWA — Winnipeg MPs say increasingly heated rhetoric and misinformation is creating a more hostile environment that has their peers carrying panic buttons.

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OTTAWA — Winnipeg MPs say increasingly heated rhetoric and misinformation is creating a more hostile environment that has their peers carrying panic buttons.

“Definitely, people are much more crankier than they were years ago,” said Dan Vandal, the sole Manitoba minister in Trudeau’s cabinet.

Last month, his government revealed a recent uptick in members of Parliament requesting devices that alert local police to a perceived threat. A multi-party committee approved funding for these “mobile duress alarms” in 2020, along with security upgrades to MPs’ homes and constituency offices.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES St. Boniface MP Dan Vandal says has never used the panic button he was given as a cabinet minister and he is ‘more concerned about my staff in the office here and my family.

Previously, Winnipeg North MP Kevin Lamoureux said that he had begun carrying a panic button earlier this year, because of an increasing number of intimidating encounters with the public, more than the Liberal MP has seen in his decades as an elected official.

The Free Press also reported a second MP, who had asked to have their name withheld for safety reasons, has been subject to threats in recent months, while Liberal MP Jim Carr counted himself lucky to not face the intimidation his peers are grappling with.

In an interview Friday, Vandal said he similarly hasn’t had to using the panic button he was given as a cabinet minister.

“I’ve never come close to using it, and I hope I never do,” the MP for St. Boniface-St. Vital said.

Yet he’s worried about a hostility that he said hasn’t existed since he first took public office in 1995 at the municipal level.

“I’m more concerned about my staff in the office here and my family, who are all over the city of Winnipeg,” said Vandal, who is minister of northern affairs.

In 2019, Vandal’s constituency manager was attacked while working alone in his office, while he was out door-knocking ahead of that year’s election. “She was assaulted in the office, and police were called and they dealt with,” he said.

In the 2021 election, Vandal’s office window was smashed, leading to one of his electoral opponents being charged with mischief. During that campaign, someone pelted rocks at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whose campaign started concealing the precise location of events to avoid large mobs of anti-vaccination protesters.

In recent months, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has been swarmed by angry mobs and aggressively heckled. Vandal said he’s received hostile messages that have made him beef up security measures.

“There are currently some threats through social media and police are involved, and that’s all I’m going to say about that,” said Vandal.

Winnipeg Centre MP Leah Gazan was similarly tight-lipped, saying she didn’t want to give specifics about security arrangements in order to not compromise her safety and that of her staff.

“It’s no secret the being a member of Parliament now is changing, because of the increase in misinformation,” said the NDP MP.

“This is the new reality for elected officials.”

Gazan warned that demonizing mainstream journalists, and going beyond media criticism to malign reporters as “fake news,” ultimately endangers everybody.

SHANNON VANRAES / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES In 2019, Vandal’s constituency manager was attacked while working alone in his office.

“Media is being attacked, and we know the foundation for any functioning democracy is freedom of the press,” she said Friday.

“When that freedom, which is critical in any democracy, is being attacked, I think it puts everybody at risk, including members of Parliament.”

While Gazan did not cite a specific incident, Conservative leadership frontrunner Pierre Poilievre drew criticism Thursday for refusing to answer questions about his support for a far-right activist, and instead calling a Global News journalist “a Liberal mouthpiece.”

Gazan added that it’s crucial everyone entering politics feel safe, in order to have Parliament better represent society. “Being Indigenous and a woman, people know there’s a greater tendency to be the target of harassment,” she said.

Meanwhile, Conservative interim leader Candice Bergen said in a statement that parliamentary officials have been responsive to the security needs of MPs and their staff.

“I’ve had a panic button on my desk for as long as I’ve been elected, and thankfully I’ve never had to use it,” wrote Bergen, the MP for Portage-Lisgar since 2008.

“Everyone must take their own situation into account, but I’ve always set strong boundaries and have never found myself in a situation where I feel I would be in danger.”

Conservative MP Ted Falk, who represents Provencher, declined to comment.

The Free Press asked all 14 Manitoba MPs for an interview about whether they carry a panic button; seven did not respond.

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca

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