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More federal ministers could get security details as threats increase

OTTAWA — The federal government is looking to better protect cabinet ministers and MPs as the threats against them continue to grow, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday.
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino holds a news conference in the foyer of the House of Commons in Ottawa, Wednesday, May 31, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

OTTAWA — The federal government is looking to better protect cabinet ministers and MPs as the threats against them continue to grow, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday.

"We are looking into real measures to increase the safety of ministers and we're working with the sergeant-at-arms to ensure security for all parliamentarians," Trudeau said in French in the House of Commons.

He was responding to a question from Independent Quebec MP Alain Rayes, who said all provincial cabinet ministers in Quebec get a bodyguard, and all federal ministers and party leaders should as well. 

"We're all aware that the number of threats and aggressive speeches, whether in person or online, is increasing," Rayes said in French. 

"The risks are real. We shouldn't wait for an unfortunate event to happen before we all say, 'Oh, we should have done something.'"

Trudeau agreed, though he did not say if a bodyguard for every minister is in the cards.

"Over the last several years, we've seen an increase in polarization and the toxicity and the level of hate (in) discourse in Canada, especially hate directed toward parliamentarians," Trudeau said.

"We have to do everything necessary to keep those who serve democracy safe."

After a rise in security incidents during the 2021 election — including charges of assault being laid against one man after he threw gravel at Trudeau during a campaign stop — Trudeau instructed Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino to work on bolstering security of both ministers and MPs. Some changes have already been implemented.

Last year, members of Parliament were issued panic buttons and offered security assessments of their offices and their private homes. 

But direct protection is offered to few.

The RCMP has dedicated security details for the Governor General and the prime minister, but other cabinet ministers only receive protection on specific occasions or in response to specific concerns.

The RCMP's 2023-24 planning report listed "bolstering the security of ministers and Parliamentarians" among its priorities for this year.

A senior government source confirmed that a funding request has been made to Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland to help the RCMP dedicate additional officers to its VIP protection service.

Families Minister Karina Gould said she has needed RCMP protection a few times, and the threats are far worse now than they were when she was first elected eight years ago.

"There is definitely a change in threats and violence against politicians in Canada," she told reporters Wednesday morning.

The effect of that change on ministers is sometimes very visible. 

At a Liberal cabinet retreat in Hamilton in January, Gould was noticeably nervous about leaving the hotel by herself one evening after Trudeau and the cabinet were harassed and verbally assaulted during a dinner at a nearby restaurant and the walk back to the hotel.

Justice Minister David Lametti said Wednesday he took advantage of a security assessment for his home and constituency office in Montreal. Despite that, he said his office has been vandalized with a broken window and graffiti.

"It's quite serious the impact that it had on my local staff," he said. "So we have to work to rebuild that kind of confidence. It's serious."

The threats have also made it to personal residences.

On May 15, Niagara Regional Police arrested a 44-year-old man for allegedly taking a baseball bat to multiple windows of the home of Niagara Centre Liberal MP Vance Badawey. 

The man was charged with mischief over $5,000 and uttering threats after allegedly threatening two witnesses who saw the attack take place.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 31, 2023.

The Canadian Press

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