Pol­i­tics is rough but shouldn’t be un­safe

The Peterborough Examiner - - OPINION -

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.

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