Coun. Brenda Locke, who is running for mayor in the upcoming October election, described the threats as violent and sexual in nature, delivered over the course of multiple emails.
She said Surrey RCMP deemed the incident a “credible threat,” and has since made an arrest.
“This can never be tolerated. This is not civil. You can disagree with me, you can have peaceful protest, that’s all fair,” Locke told Global News.
“But to bully, intimidate, discriminate, and then also talk about physical violence? Completely, completely not tolerable.”
Surrey RCMP confirmed officers made an arrest in connection with a threat, but will only say they are investigating and cannot name any of the people involved.
Locke said the incident was concerning on a personal level, but was representative of a growing problem of threats and harassment against politicians, media and other public figures.
She said more often than not women are on the receiving end of abuse, and that the harassment is having a corrosive effect on democracy.
“In the past 18 hours since people are kind of alive to what has happened, what concerned me the most is the number of people who have reached out to me with exactly this kind of issue, where people have actually said they are going to do violence against them,” Locke said.
“I think that’s why I hear from women who say, ‘There’s no way I would ever go into politics.’ But it’s not just women. Men too.”
There have been a number of high-profile incidents involving threats to politicians and other public figures in recent years, ranging from the B.C. premier and several cabinet ministers being hanged in effigy at the legislature, to threats against provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, to an armed man crashing through the gates at Rideau Hall in Ottawa in 2020.
Jesse Miller, founder of the social media awareness campaign Mediated Reality, said incidents of online abuse have escalated over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have a lot more people who are not only focusing on politics and the perceived limitations that politicians are putting onto individuals, but also the ease of access,” he said.
“We have a lot of politicians active on social media, the more overt they are in terms of using pictures, video, that will get the ire of some individuals.”
The online environment, he said, offers people who may feel powerless a way to easily leverage their anger, generating an outsized reaction.
Miller, too, said women face more attacks online, often steeped in misogyny with the abusers targeting their appearance, capabilities, intelligence or making sexualized threats.
The growing volume of online threats have challenged police, who he said do not have either the resources or, sometimes, the legal tools, to respond effectively, he said.
“When you have an individual who is dead set on conducting not only targeted attacks but (you also have) the perception of attacks, you are going to have more and more individuals who are not comfortable getting into those spaces, they won’t want to bring their family into those spaces, they won’t want to bring aspects of their personal lives into who they are in the political realm,” he said.
Amid the growing prevalence of online abuse, Miller said it was more important than ever for political leaders — including those who are political opponents of people facing threats — to stand up and denounce them as unacceptable.
Back in Surrey, Locke said the incident has only strengthened her resolve to stay in politics.
“In some ways it makes me more dogged, determined. Because we have to expose this kind of nasty behaviour. We have to more forward to build great communities, great societies,” she said.
“People have to stand up to the bully every single time.”