On the eve of what promises to be a gruelling, six-week federal election campaign, the online venom the climate community has faced from assorted social media trolls is picking up momentum and translating into real-life threats, prompting some of Canada’s leading climate advocates to fear for their safety.
The death threats aren’t entirely new. There’s no prospect of them dialling down when a Dragon’s Den panelist calls for Trans Mountain pipeline opponents to be hanged for treason. When Alberta Premier Jason Kenney funds a C$30-million “war room” to go after the fossil industry’s adversaries, real or imagined. Or when a former governor of the Bank of Canada can blithely accept his own notion that “people will die” in public protests if that’s what it takes to get a pipeline built.
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And now, federal Environment and Climate Minister Catherine McKenna is revealing that she sometimes requires a security detail to be able to do her job. She recounted one incident where she and her children were verbally abused by someone in a car while they walked outside a movie theatre.
“There are places, yes, that I have to have security now, and I don’t think that’s a great situation,” she told The Canadian Press. “I’m someone who is trying to do my job, live my life, and talk and engage with people, and it makes it harder. I’m not going to let this stop me, but I wish it would stop.”
“Much has been written about the online abuse and threatening behaviour politicians—especially female politicians—and others in the public eye face every day,” CP states. “But McKenna says as the heat around climate change continues to grow, that abuse is going from anonymous online vitriol to terrifying in-person verbal assaults.”
The incident at the movie theatre “is just one of several times her kids have been with her when someone in public began to yell at her,” the news agency adds. “Her family’s safety has been threatened more than once. Some people have wished she and her children will get fatal diseases. She has received sexualized messages so hateful they could be enough to make even the hardest of hearts skip a beat.”
Tzeporah Berman, international program co-ordinator for Stand.Earth, described the death threats she’s received, as well as a physical assault by a man at Edmonton International Airport. “Since Kenney announced his $30-million war room to attack environmental advocates & this poster of me was held up at his press conference I have had death threats, misogynist & sexual attacks on social media,” she tweeted in June. “This is what that kind of fear mongering & hate does.”
Her tweet included an attached image of her speaking into a bullhorn in front of a banner reading “NO TARSANDS PIPELINE”, CP explains. “Below the photo are the words ‘Tzeporah Berman: Enemy of the oilsands.’ Kenney didn’t hold it up, but a supporter introducing him at a pro-oilsands news conference in June did.”
After that, “Berman’s tweet was itself met with a torrent of abuse, much of which called her a liar or said she deserved everything she got,” CP recounts. “A handful of people said while they disagreed vehemently with Berman’s activities, the threats and abuse were not acceptable. They, too, were then attacked.”
A spokesperson for Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage told CP that “in no way does our government condone any form of abuse, verbal or otherwise, towards private citizens or elected officials.” But Alberta’s United Conservative Party has circulated at least one fundraising pitch that identifies an Edmonton-based climate justice advocate by name as a “radical anti-oil and gas activist”.Climate Action Network-Canada Executive Director Catherine Abreu said the attacks are a constant source of frustration and fear across the community. “We talk about it every single day,” she told CP. “There are many people in my community who feel they are under threat.”
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