The RCMP say they’re “following up” on an incident in Peterborough, Ont., Tuesday, in which NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was harassed by protesters who called him a “traitor” and followed him to his car.
Deputy Commissioner Michael Duheme called the incident “unacceptable” and said the national police force has been in contact with party leaders and cabinet ministers about security threats.
“It’s unacceptable, it’s not the first time (it has happened) … We’re following up on it to determine what can be done,” Duheme told the House of Commons’ public safety committee Thursday.
“When we do have a file with regards to potential threats, be it online or via phone or directly, we do engage with (federal prosecutors) to discuss the file and see if we’ve met the threshold (for criminal charges). It is a challenge, I can say from the RCMP perspective.”
Singh was in Peterborough Tuesday to stump for Jen Deck, the Ontario NDP candidate for Peterborough-Kawartha. Protesters gathered outside the event, calling Singh a “traitor” and “liar” as he left, hounding him to his waiting vehicle. Singh was able to get into the truck, which sped off.
Speaking to reporters in Ottawa Thursday, Singh said the experience was one of the most “intense, threatening (and) insulting” experiences he’s had as a public figure.
“I’ve experienced worse in my life and experienced it regularly. So it’s not something for me; it doesn’t faze me or shake me in any way. But I am worried about what that means for politics, generally,” Singh said.
Duheme told MPs the RCMP have been meeting with cabinet ministers every month to discuss threats, which have risen over the course of the global pandemic, as well as with the party leaders.
While the threats against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet have been increasing in recent years, they have not been limited to the Liberals — or to federal politicians.
“When we do have a file with regards to potential threats, be it online or via phone or directly, we do engage with (federal prosecutors) to discuss the file and see if we’ve met the threshold,” said Duheme, who is responsible for federal policing and the Mounties’ national security investigations.
Duheme said that when politicians receive credible threats, the RCMP collaborates with local police through the force’s regional integrated national security teams.
Threats against politicians have seen an uptick in recent years, with some high-profile incidents — like when a former Canadian Armed Forces reservist drove his truck through a barrier near Trudeau’s official residence, armed with multiple firearms — breaking through to make headlines.
Singh has faced multiple incidents of harassment, including an attempted “citizen’s arrest” just steps from Parliament Hill in 2020.
“This is the exact same kind of behaviour that we saw littered throughout the occupation of Ottawa,” said NDP MP Alistair McGregor on Thursday.
“And it’s time for us to wake up to the fact this kind of behaviour has real physical manifestations and real threats.”
Duheme told the committee that the RCMP has developed a “comprehensive” three-year plan to revamp how the national police force deals with “ideologically-motivated violent extremism” (IMVE) — the Canadian intelligence community’s catch-all term for a wide array of grievance-based violence, including far-right extremism and anti-government sentiment.
“We know that the IMVE threat environment is rapidly evolving and complex, and is increasingly fuelled by misinformation and hostile rhetoric surrounding a host of grievances, many of which focus on the government’s response to COVID-19 and other matters,” Duheme said.
“This has sown distrust in government institutions, including law enforcement, and has augmented the ability for extremist groups to both recruit new members and increasingly foster hostility.”
Duheme said the Mounties are trying “get (their) own house in order” on investigating ideological extremism.