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  • Harassment of public officials unacceptable

    The recent harassment of Health Minister Tyler Shandro and his family at a public event in Calgary should give all of us pause.  Behavior like this against any public official of any political stripe, is, bluntly, wholly unacceptable.

    Being a public official can be a challenging job – and it is called “public service” for a reason. The stakes for all are high in both the best and worst of times.  

    Steve Jobs once said “If you want to make everyone happy, don’t be leader, sell ice cream!”  While this is true, we need leaders in our democracy.  The job comes – and justifiably so – with criticism.  Indeed, no matter what party of which you are a member or position that you take, there will be opposition and any official will face challenges.  This is the essence of our free democracy and criticism in and of itself should be encouraged in a society as robust as ours.

    The right to peaceful assembly is also enshrined in our constitution, and without question is essential to our democracy.  But all rights in Canada are subject to “reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society” as stated in section 1 of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

    But there is a clear line between debate, criticism, and peaceful protest that should never be crossed -and that is when harassment and threats are involved.

    All Premiers in Alberta for at least 30 years have full-time security.  Other MLA’s who face harassment have security available to them if a threat risk assessment is completed and finds a credible issue to their safety.  (I have had this happen to me and can tell you that it is a harrowing experience that no one in office should ever have to face.)

    It is also unfortunate that the advent of social media has been used to organize and amplify the harassment and threats of public officials.  These platforms can be a useful tool in our democracy but can also be abused Often as a catalyst to organize fringe groups to engage in such unacceptable activities that we saw last week.

    If this type of harassment continues unabated, it is entirely foreseeable that quality people who would otherwise put their names forward to serve in public office will be dissuaded from doing so.  Worse yet, is the very real possibility that a person makes good on a threat to a politician.  (This is not just an American phenomenon and has happened in Canada, with the murder of Quebec cabinet minister Pierre Laporte coming to mind.)  Any of these potential outcomes present a negative and ongoing factor to our democracy.

    Respectful criticism, debate, and opposing views should be encouraged as all of these make our democracy stronger.  But regardless of whether your politics are left, right, centre, or anything in between, it is time for all of us to take a stand against threats and harassment against those who serve us in public office.

    • Jonathan Denis, Q.C. served two terms as an MLA (Calgary-Acadia) and as Alberta’s 23rd Minister of Justice, Solicitor General, and Attorney General.  He is the President of the Alberta Association of Former MLA’s.

    On behalf of:

    • Bob Wanner served one term as an MLA (Medicine Hat) and as Speaker of the Alberta Legislature.
    • Greg Clark served one term as MLA (Calgary-Elbow) and as leader of the Alberta Party.