Whether it coincided with the universal adoption of social media or not, there has been an increase in the number and severity of physical threats to politicians at all three levels. Federal and Provincial constituency offices that used to be like drop-in centres are now secure locations where it is necessary for a visitor to be buzzed in. It has been well over a decade since the offices of Hamilton city Councillors were removed from public access to a secure location.
Not surprisingly then, staff are recommending that the city invest in both safety training for councillors and senior staff as well as monitoring equipment.
The staff report says between COVID and the last two federal election campaigns there has been an increase in threats towards public officials. “In Canada since 2020, the urgent need by elected officials and Public Health officials to enact unprecedented public health measures has fueled the use of social media to spread misinformation including the notion of premeditated governmental takeover of social freedoms. The 2019 federal election campaign brought to light many local Hamilton groups that openly vocalized support for intimidation-based ideologies and methods intended to influence political associations and decisions. Between 2019 and 2021, there was a noticeable increase in disruptive protesting and vandalism observed on City property and in some cases on the private property belonging to Elected Officials.”
Several councillors described their own experience with incidents where they did not feel safe, including Mayor Fred Eisenberger who had a coffin dumped in front of his house by unruly protestors a few years ago.
Between training, risk assessment, and hardware the enhanced safety measures will cost about $400,000 to set up. The measures will not apply to social media activity directed against councillors, several of whom have stopped using social media because of the vitriol it attracts.