An Alberta legislature member and candidate for the leadership of the United Conservative Party says there’s no doubt hacks on her social media accounts were targeted and she’s promising not to back down.
Leela Aheer, who was on the edge of tears, told a news conference Wednesday that both her personal and public Facebook accounts were compromised over the past few days.
She didn’t specify what was posted to her account, but said she had been notified by Facebook that the account was being used “for sexual exploitation.”
“Over the past few weeks, I have outlined my principles and the fact that I will never tolerate bigotry in government. I believe the attacks on my account were driven by people who want to silence my voice and derail our campaign,” Aheer said.
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“I am running to be premier of this province and to lead the people of Alberta, so to whomever perpetrated this attack on myself and my family: You will not win. I will not back down.”
Aheer said she has reported the breach to the RCMP. She said the attack was meant to spread fear and she’ll be looking at increased security measures.
“How much fear do you think is created by this? I’m standing here telling you I’m not going to back down.”
She said she did not suspect the hack was perpetrated by anyone from another campaign.
Aheer was elected in the riding of Chestermere-Strathmore in 2019 as a member of the UCP and served as a cabinet minister until she was removed from caucus for criticizing Premier Jason Kenney.
The incident comes after a Calgary woman reported she had received multiple abusive phone calls from callers claiming to work with Danielle Smith’s leadership campaign. Smith said the calls did not come from her campaign and called it a malicious prank.
Lori Williams, a political scientist from Calgary’s Mount Royal University, said there are some disturbing similarities.
“There’s no question it’s sabotage. And with Danielle Smith as well, I think it’s interesting in both cases that it’s women and a woman of colour in the case of Aheer,” Williams said.
Williams said the Aheer hack seems personal.
“What’s bizarre is it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with her chances of winning but rather just the fact she’s standing up against racism and some of the more extreme elements of conservatism,” Williams said.
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“She’s not one of the top contenders in the race. She might be hurting other candidates. That might stimulate some sort of response.”
Aheer said she was likely targeted because she is running for the leadership, and that the timing can’t be a coincidence with the Oct. 6 vote looming.
She said it has strengthened her resolve.
“It just makes us more committed and strong to the positions that we hold,” she said.
“We will not back down.”
Williams said the adverse publicity is likely to hurt the UCP leadership campaign because it reinforces stereotypes.
“It reinforces the image of Alberta that is less tolerance, more bigoted… redneck — whatever you want to call it. Those types of stereotypes are reinforced to the extent it’s getting national attention.”