Advertisement

Winnipeg politicians are getting hammered by toxic messages, research says

Click to play video: 'Winnipeg politicians are getting hammered by toxic messages, research says'
Winnipeg politicians are getting hammered by toxic messages, research says
The City of Winnipeg is looking to make some changes when it comes to security. This after a shooting inside Edmonton City Hall last week and after some Winnipeg city councillors went public with their own safety concerns. Marney Blunt reports – Jan 30, 2024

A non-partisan group aimed at preserving and improving civic engagement across Canada says the safety concerns some Winnipeg city councillors are voicing are common.

In light of a shooting at Edmonton’s city hall, Winnipeg councillors Sherri Rollins (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry) and Janice Lukes (Waverley West) have raised alarms about threats they’ve received over the phone, online, and even in person.

Beatrice Wayne, research director of the Samara Centre for Democracy, told 680 CJOB’s The Start that elected officials and even candidates for office — at all levels — unfortunately face a lot of abuse.

In the 35 days of the 2022 Winnipeg election alone, Wayne said, there were a whopping 3,000 abusive tweets sent to municipal candidates.

“(The abusive tweets) were about 15 per cent of the total tweets sent to candidates — which is significant when we’re thinking this is just a small snippet of the political conversation happening. That’s quite a bit of abuse.”

Story continues below advertisement

Those numbers are only from a single social media platform, Wayne said, and don’t account for any messages candidates would have received on other forms of social media, direct messages or emails, or anything happening offline.

“Among the 3.7 million tweets we’ve monitored across federal, provincial and municipal elections, we’ve identified over 620,000 abusive or toxic tweets.

“Just to give a sense of scale, in the 2021 federal election, we tracked an average of 511 toxic tweets per hour.”

Wayne said one aspect that makes the situation more difficult in an era of social media is that says candidates and politicians actively want to connect with their constituents.

“That opens them up to a high level of abuse, as we’ve seen. We have another ongoing initiative called the MP Exit Interview Project, where we interview former MPs after they finish serving in office, and one thing that they said is they would like clearer policies and support around social media.”

The act of blocking users is another issue that’s up for debate, with considerations as to whether it would impact democracy and civic duty.

Click to play video: 'City councillor calls for improved safety measures at City Hall'
City councillor calls for improved safety measures at City Hall

Rollins said Monday she’s not only experienced toxic tweets, but everything from lewd voicemails to death threats to a stalker — the latter of which has required her to appear in court three times in order to maintain a protection order.

Story continues below advertisement

For her part, Lukes has gone to length of keeping a bat and a hammer in her office in case there’s an incident that would require her to break a window to escape.

City officials, including mayor Scott Gillingham, have promised there will be changes, including hiring a director of campus security for the City Hall property.

Michael Jack, the city’s CAO, told reporters Tuesday that security improvements have been in the works for a while already, even before the incident in Alberta.

“It’s not specifically in response to Edmonton. That’s obviously very concerning, but we’ve had some changes we’ve been working towards for some time now,” Jack said.

“Likely the biggest one is the hiring of someone to be focused exclusively on security, both on campus and across the organization.”

The new hire, he said, would be tasked with taking an “organization-wide look” to find gaps in the current system and to determine where additional resources are needed as part of a comprehensive security program.

Click to play video: 'City of Winnipeg to upgrade security infrastructure, staffing, following Edmonton incident'
City of Winnipeg to upgrade security infrastructure, staffing, following Edmonton incident

One suggestion — adding metal detectors to the municipal building — is something the new security hire would have to determine, but Jack said the city would likely want to get all members of council on board before taking that step.

Story continues below advertisement

“Historically, there has been a real desire to keep City Hall open, … (for) the building of the people to be accessible, and so obviously (metal detectors) would be a restriction on that.

“As best we can, we’d like all of council to be supportive and in favour of what we’re going to do.”

Click to play video: 'Edmonton City Hall shooting: The balance of security vs. democratic access'
Edmonton City Hall shooting: The balance of security vs. democratic access

Sponsored content

AdChoices