Bullying and intimidation of elected officials on the rise

Bullying and intimidation of elected officials on the rise

As chair of the Alberta Municipal Council and mayor of the city of Wetaskiwin, Tyler Gandam has been in the spotlight for more than a decade.

“There’s definitely been a change,” he said. “I think there’s been a lot more abuse of elected officials.”

Gandam has noticed an increase in incidents of harassment and bullying since the pandemic, especially on social media platforms.

“They can post anonymously, they can post through a fake account and think what they’re saying is perfectly okay,” Gandam said.

He said he has been the target of at least 100 incidents in recent years.

“Last week there was a threat that someone would bring a weapon to city hall, so we have increased our security,” Gandam said.

“And even when we did that, we got criticized. Again, if you do your job well, you don’t have to worry about that,” he added.

Gandam said no one, including elected officials, should feel threatened when going to work.

“It is absolutely unacceptable,” he said.

Gandam said the attacks have increasingly become not just about policies or issues, but have also become personal.

“It’s not just the individual who is chosen, but also their families. Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, husbands, wives and children,” Gandam said.

“I’m sure men face threats of violence, and women face threats of violence as well. But I’m much more concerned with what kind of violence that might be or could be, or even the sexual nature of that threat,” he said.

Edmonton Councillor Anne Stevenson stays off social media and has her staff screen her posts to protect herself from abuse.

“Very offensive language, misogynistic language, but also, frankly, sometimes we get some criticism,” Stevenson said.

Polarization, misinformation and increasing abuse were among the reasons Shannon Phillips stepped down after nine years as NDP MLA.

“People in my field don’t know how to deal with it yet, I think. Our party structures don’t know how to deal with it. Our legislative assemblies don’t know how to deal with it to keep us safe. Our legal environment doesn’t know how to deal with it,” Phillips said at the time.

“The far right is responsible for stoking disinformation, anger and hatred,” she said at the time.

“People who are in positions of power or running for public office are actually courting or even encouraging these people, and that’s really concerning,” said Jared Wesley, a political scientist at the University of Alberta.

According to Wesley, research shows that local politicians face the most hate, but this extends to all levels of government.

In May, a federal commission heard that incidents of intimidation against MPs had increased by almost 800 percent over the past five years.

There is growing concern that the intimidation and harassment faced by elected officials will lead to more resignations or people entering politics.

“There are very deliberate media strategies and political strategies being used to keep people from getting involved,” Stevenson said.

“There is a cost to people’s bad behavior and we need to be more vocal about it. We need to take it seriously and, where appropriate, ensure that law enforcement is involved,” Gandam said.

Wesley agreed, saying voters must be part of the solution.

“When you speak up and say enough is enough, enough is enough,” Wesley said.

“And to hold politicians accountable for courting, encouraging and condoning this kind of behavior because it helps them win elections,” he added.

With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Chelan Skulski