Canadian politicians warn of political violence after UK MP stabbed to death
Shocked and saddened by the murder of a longtime British MP on Friday, Canadian politicians say the threat of a similar incident in Canada appears to be increasing.
David Amess, 69, was fatally stabbed around noon on Friday as he met voters in Leigh-on-Sea, a town about 62 kilometers east of London.
The Conservative legislator had been a member for 38 years.
âThe MP who was assassinated was doing something that we all do as MPs,â said Lisa Raitt, former Conservative MP and cabinet minister.
“When it’s part of your job, and a fundamental part of your job, it really shook me.”
For Canadian politicians who have faced harassment and threats of violence, Amess’ death was a stark reminder of the danger that being elected can present.
âNews like thisâ¦ I saw this and it really hit my stomach,â said Michelle Rempel Garner, Conservative MP for Calgary Nose Hill.
British police have arrested a 25-year-old man in connection with Amess’s death. He has not been identified.
Rempel Garner said she had been the victim of several instances of public harassment and received death threats in her office during the summer election campaign. She said the political climate in Canada is experiencing an escalation of vitriol unlike any she has seen before in her 10 years as an MP.
âThis latest campaign, for me, I’ve never felt so unsafe,â Rempel Garner told CBC News. She said the next parliament should do more to ensure the safety of its members.
“Something has changed and it hasn’t changed for the good.”
The “intensity” of violence is increasing
The summer election campaign was marred by repeated incidents of violence and vandalism targeting candidates from all political backgrounds. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was pelted with gravel during an election stopover in London, Ontario. as anti-mask and anti-vaccine protesters stubbornly followed his campaign.
Far-right groups are also said to be more active than in any previous campaign.
“I’m pretty sure the same groups of people who attacked the Prime Minister during the election campaign were the same people who pursued me during the election campaign,” said Rempel Garner.
Barbara Perry, a criminology professor who studies extremism at Ontario Tech University, said the campaign made it clear that the threat of political violence has become very real in Canada.
âThe model is not new. I think the intensity and magnitude of the problem is different and changing,â Perry said.
She said that while women and people of color have long faced serious threats of violence in the political sphere, this danger now appears to be more widespread.
âIt looks like it has widened to pose a risk to pretty much everyone who comes in or is currently in office,â Perry said.
âI don’t know if it’s social media, I don’t know what it is,â Raitt said. She described the change in tone as an “undercurrent of anger and a lack of respect for the job that is being done.”
Former MP says better security is needed at local offices
Raitt said she began taking additional security precautions around the middle of her tenure, which ran from 2008 to 2019. Those precautions included installing a panic button in her constituency office and rearranging the space to create obstacles that would make an attack more difficult.
She said the measures were aimed at protecting her staff during visits from “very angry people who wanted immediate action.”
I am no longer a sitting MP, but tragedies like this still chill my spine. https://t.co/mVo8zuL57f
Raitt said current MPs would be wise to focus on security in their local offices rather than on Parliament Hill, where security is much more robust.
Perry also blamed political parties and politicians. She said adopting an attack-type policy could fuel some of the anger now threatening politicians themselves.
“The parties themselves have stepped up the personalization of issues, blaming individual politicians rather than parties or processes,” she said.
“Even politicians themselves have to be very careful in their language so as not to reinforce the kind of polarization that can lead to this kind of hostility and violence.”