Canadian politicians warn of political violence after U.K. MP is stabbed to death

·4 min read
A man prays as people attend a mass in memory of Conservative British lawmaker David Amess, who was fatally stabbed in southeast England on Friday. (Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images - image credit)
A man prays as people attend a mass in memory of Conservative British lawmaker David Amess, who was fatally stabbed in southeast England on Friday. (Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images - image credit)

Shocked and saddened by the killing of a long-serving British MP on Friday, Canadian politicians say the threat of a similar incident in Canada appears to be growing.

David Amess, 69, was fatally stabbed at about noon on Friday while meeting with constituents in Leigh-on-Sea, a town about 62 kilometres east of London.

The Conservative lawmaker had been a member of Parliament for 38 years.

"The MP who was murdered was doing something that we all do as members of Parliament," said Lisa Raitt, a former Canadian Conservative MP and cabinet minister.

"When it's part of your job, and a fundamental part of your job, it really shook me up."

For Canadian politicians who have faced harassment and threats of violence, Amess's death was a startling reminder of the danger that can come with serving as an elected official.

"News like this ... I saw this and it just really hit me in the gut," said Michelle Rempel Garner, the Conservative MP for Calgary Nose Hill.

Police in the U.K. have arrested a 25-year-old man in connection with Amess's death. He has not been identified. In a statement Saturday, the Metropolitan Police in London described the attack as terrorism and said the early investigation "has revealed a potential motivation linked to Islamist extremism." Counterterrorism officers were leading the investigation.

Rempel Garner said she's experienced multiple instances of public harassment and received a death threat at her office during the summer election campaign. She said the political climate in Canada is experiencing an escalation of vitriol unlike anything she's seen before in her 10 years as an MP.

Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press
Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press

"This last campaign, for me, I have never felt so unsafe," 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 has not changed for the good."

'Intensity' of violence growing

The summer election campaign was marred by repeated incidents of violence and vandalism targeting candidates from across the political spectrum. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was pelted with gravel at a campaign stop in London, Ont. as anti-mask and anti-vaccine protesters doggedly followed his campaign.

Far-right extremist groups were also said to be more active than in any prior campaign.

"I'm pretty sure that the same groups of people that were attacking the prime minister on the campaign trail were the same people that were after me on the campaign trail," Rempel Garner said.

Barbara Perry, a criminology professor who studies extremism at Ontario Tech University in Oshawa, Ont., said the campaign made it clear that the threat of political violence has become very real in Canada.

"The pattern is not new. I think the intensity and the breadth of the problem is different and changing," Perry said.

She said that while women and people of colour have long faced serious threats of violence in the political sphere, that danger appears to be more widespread now.

Instagram/Dominic LeBlanc
Instagram/Dominic LeBlanc

"It seems as if that has broadened out to represent a risk to virtually anyone who runs for office or holds office now," Perry said.

"I don't know if it's social media, I don't know what it is," Raitt said. She described the shift in tone as an "undercurrent of anger and a lack of respect for the job that's being done."

Former MP says better security needed at local offices

Raitt said she began taking extra safety precautions about halfway through her time in office, which ran from from 2008 to 2019. Those precautions included installing a panic button at her constituency office and rearranging the space to create obstacles that would make an attack more difficult.

She said those measures were meant to help protect her staff during visits from "very angry people who wanted action immediately."

Raitt said current MPs would be wise to focus on security at their local offices rather than on Parliament Hill, where security is much more robust.

Perry also laid some blame at the feet of political parties and politicians. She said the embrace of attack-style politics may be fuelling some of the anger that is now threatening politicians themselves.

"The parties themselves have escalated 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 enhance the kind of polarization that can lead to this sort of hostility and violence."

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