Politics is rough but shouldn’t be unsafe
How naive were we ever to believe the adage “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”? That childhood retort for verbal bullying rings a particularly anachronistic tone in the age of Internet trolling, fissured politics, ebbing social decorum and mounting antagonism for others whose views don’t echo ours.
Victims of online torment, social-media mobs and in-your-face shouting know too well that words cut grievous wounds too.
So an Edmonton Journal investigation that confirms a disturbing escalation in threats of harm to Premier Rachel Notley is troubling to anyone who cares for political debate and democracy itself.
The statistics, gleaned after a lengthy access to information request, show that from 2003 to 2015, sheriffs recorded 55 security incidents involving six premiers. Nineteen of those came in the last half of 2015 — Notley’s first months in office. At least three required police intervention.
Things got worse in 2016, when the protection services unit started to keep a closer watch on social media. That year, an astonishing 412 incidents were reported involving Notley — 26 deemed potentially menacing enough to be forwarded to police.
The authorities now taking online abuse of our leaders seriously should encourage all of us to take more responsibility for what we tap out on our keyboards.
Notley may be the most popular target, perhaps because of social media’s exploding growth and increasingly polarized politics, but she is not the only premier who received threats.
In 2003, then-premier Ralph Klein was hit in the face with a cream pie. Some observers laughed it off, but Klein recalled the shock and alarm he felt that moment.
Under Ed Stelmach, incidents spiked in 2008, then quieted down until 2012 under then-premier Alison Redford.
Alberta’s first female premier grew so concerned about security that the province paid the Calgary police nearly $640,000 over a 16-month period to provide added protection for her and her family when she was in that city.
That two female premiers are, and have been, subject to higher levels of abuse than many of their male peers is particularly alarming. Democracy is beggared if threats of violence keep half the population from serving in public office.
Politics are a rough-and-tumble pursuit and its practitioners are supposed to sport thick skins, but fear for personal safety shouldn’t be part of the job.