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Death threats against community leaders?

Councilllor John Fillion's car and house was riddled with bullets last week, the second violent attack in the past 3 weeks on one of Toronto Council's most senior members. He was first elected in 1990. He believes both incidents were the result of his work as a city councillor. The matter is under police investigation.

Toronto's Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong called the incident “unsettling.” In a story reported in he stated: “It's really unsettling that elected officials could actually contemplate having the lives of their families threatened. One worries for one's family.”

It seems unlikely, almost impossible for Canadians to imagine local government leaders face serious threats to their safety and security in the course of their work. This is the daily reality in places far away, like in the Philippines where over a dozen Mayors have been murdered in the past two years or Mexico where 100 politicians (many of them local) were killed in the lead up to the 2018 election.

Sadly, in Canada more and more politicians and municipal staff are reporting threats of violence and other criminally harassing behaviour towards themselves and their families. In the last round of municipal elections in Canada, there were politicians who openly stated they would not be running again because of death threats and/or extreme social harassment.

City halls everywhere are having to "armour up" to protect the safety of employees and security of facilities. For instance, the City of Brampton is spending $2.5 million to install safety shields on buses to protect drivers from a 67% increase in assaults in the past 5 years. The City of Kingston committed to spend $200,000 in the next couple of years to establish the type of security they need to deal with an increase in "incidents". In some U.S. cities, municipal leaders have paid security details.

Besides being tragic for the individuals involved and incredibly costly for communities, this spike in social violence, has a deeply chilling effect on the functioning of our local governments and the health of our local democracies.

There is no simple solution. But one thing we know forsure, if we do not address the rising culture of divisiveness and bullying we are seeing in our communities, we should expect more chaos and less community.




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