NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh’s recent encounter with protesters at an Ontario election campaign stop, where he was verbally harassed, is casting a renewed spotlight on politicians’ security, with Singh telling CTV News that he’s witnessing a level of anger he hasn’t seen before.
“What I’m noticing is true is that there is more of a polarization and an aggression and an anger that I haven’t seen before,” he said while visiting a pro-choice counter protest to the March for Life demonstrations on Parliament Hill on Thursday.
Singh received a barrage of insults earlier in the week as he exited a rally for Ontario NDP candidate Jen Deck, who’s running in the Peterborough – Kawartha riding.
Several protesters yelled expletives at the NDP leader and called him a “traitor” as he made his way to his car.
Singh called it an “isolated” incident, but acknowledged no person – elected or not – should be made to feel unsafe.
“People should be able to be angry about policies that they feel strongly about. People should be able to express that, I think that’s a fundamental part of democracy, but no one should feel physically threatened or menaced when they’re a leader,” he said.
Peterborough police are now investigating the event.
On his way to Thursday’s pro-choice demonstration, Singh was once again met by what appeared to be a few “Freedom Convoy” protesters. While the encounter was not as aggressive as what he faced days prior, police did intervene.
With a security detail nearby, the NDP leader took a moment to reflect on the incidents and more broadly what it means for federal politics.
“I think about the message that’s being sent to a lot of people out there that might consider politics and may not now, seeing that level of tension and aggression. And that’s going to be a lot of the people that want to participate in politics, that are going to be discouraged and I think that’s very dangerous,” he said.
Asked whether additional security has been assigned to accompany Singh, a party spokesperson told CTVNews.ca it’s not something they can discuss publicly.
Several politicians have spoken out about the harassment levied against them while in office.
After being pelted with gravel during the 2021 federal election campaign, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said it’s “unacceptable” that people endanger others at a political rally.
Following that, Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner talked about her experience with both online and in-person harassment and death threats.
“It’s unfortunately an all-too-frequent occurrence for me and many of my colleagues, particularly women, of all political stripes. And this increase in violent language, threats, and abuse certainly isn’t confined to politics,” she wrote.
Ahead of the arrival of the “Freedom Convoy” protest in Ottawa in January, a top official who oversees security for the House of Commons, Sergeant-at-Arms Patrick McDonell, issued a warning to MPs that they had intel suggesting protesters were planning to dox the homes of MPs who live in the Ottawa-Gatineau region.
While the threat did not appear to materialize, McDonell had advised that if MPs saw a demonstration take place at their personal residence or constituency office they should not get involved and to “go somewhere safe.”
Then, as the anti-mandate and anti-government protesters became encamped in the streets surrounding Parliament Hill, security was ramped up for MPs coming through the precinct, including seeing the RCMP provide an escort service due to the heightened threat level.
“When things started to get tense, we determined that the threat was higher for parliamentarians walking to and from Parliament. We provided a staging area that allowed for parliamentarians to meet, if they so wished, to get driven to Parliament. We also provided additional security for the Senate,” RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki told the Special Joint Committee on the Declaration of Emergency, on April 26.
During a House of Commons public safety committee meeting on Thursday, Liberal MP Pam Damoff asked the RCMP’s Deputy Commissioner Michael Duheme whether more could be done to protect the safety of elected officials.
Duheme said it can be a “challenge” navigating these threats, as some don’t meet the threshold of an RCMP investigation.
“When we do have a file with regards to potential threats, be it online or via phone or directly, we do engage with Public Prosecution Service of Canada to discuss the file and see if we’ve met the threshold for these threats. It is a challenge, I can say from an RCMP perspective,” he said.
The deputy commissioner nevertheless called the Singh incident “unacceptable” and said that the RCMP is “following up.”