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Catherine McKenna’s attackers go too far
I was tucking my then-tiny youngster (he’s in his mid-20s now) into the seat in the grocery cart when an older man came up to me.
“Are you that guy from the news?” he asked.
Yes, I answered, pleased to be recognized.
“You’re an asshole,” he said bluntly, before turning and walking away.
I looked at my son, whose cherubic face was wreathed in golden curls. He smiled. I smiled.
Later, at the checkout, the clerk looked at that glowing boy and said, “Aren’t you gorgeous?”
“Asshole,” my son responded. The shock was obvious on the clerk’s face.
Pleased with the result, when he got home, my youngster tried out his new word on his mother.
Later the same day, on his grandfather, too.
I’m telling this story to make a simple point: if you’re ever in a job where you end up getting recognized by strangers, you find yourself immediately at a disadvantage. They know you, you don’t know them. They know how it’s going to go, you don’t.
When someone comes up to me, especially when I see them pointedly angling towards me through a crowd — you quickly learn what that looks like — I don’t know how it’s going to go. Do they like what I do? Do they hate it? Are they coming to give me the telling-off they’ve always said they’d deliver if they met me? You just don’t know. (You also know that, whatever happens, you don’t get to respond in kind.)
I thought about that when I heard about federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, who now requires a security detail because threats against her have moved from online attacks to in-person abuse, even when she’s doing something as simple as leaving a movie with her kids.
Let me be clear, I’m not equating whatever’s been thrown my way with the absolutely hateful attacks that many female politicians face on a regular basis. What I’m trying to point out is that even the mildest of rebukes, suddenly delivered by a stranger, leave you remarkably on guard, scanning pretty much any public event for signs of an imminent confrontation.
And being on guard all the time takes a toll. When you’re watching the small circle of personal space you have around you while you’re picking out tomatoes at the grocery store, you begin to wonder if it’s all worth the strain.
Now, multiply that by 1,000 times, and ask yourself what kind of constant threat radar you have to have running if you’re a federal politician, especially a female federal politician in a prominent cabinet position. I’m sure absolutely no one goes into politics for the joy of being subjected to personal abuse, especially personal abuse that verges on threats of violence.
McKenna’s been called scores of things; imagine trying to do your job and being told, “You’re a stain on this country and I hope you rot in hell,” as McKenna was. Or hearing “Tick Tock, Barbie Bitch.”
...even the mildest of rebukes, suddenly delivered by a stranger, leave you remarkably on guard, scanning pretty much any public event for signs of an imminent confrontation.
You might say that the track record for violent attacks on politicians in Canada is relatively small, despite the virulence of online threats and abuse — the equivalent of “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”
You’d be right about the limited violent follow-through, at least until this point. (Because, frankly, the threats and abuse are getting more pointed, direct and violent every year.)
But that doesn’t mean the verbal attacks don’t leave a mark, nor that they don’t leave you profoundly unsettled.
It sure as heck doesn’t make people want to stay in what’s already a challenging line of work that steals time from every other part of life. Because you can’t even relax when you’re relaxing.
Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 36 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org — Twitter: @wangersky.
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