Legault asks Quebec police to support candidates after death threats, violent incidents

·5 min read
Quebec Liberal candidate Marwah Rizqy, right, says she almost decided to stop campaigning after receiving death threats last week.  (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Quebec Liberal candidate Marwah Rizqy, right, says she almost decided to stop campaigning after receiving death threats last week. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Faced with an increase in violent threats, incumbent Premier François Legault has asked Quebec's provincial police to make themselves available to candidates who feel unsafe during the election campaign.

The Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) leader spoke at a campaign stop in Trois-Rivières Thursday morning, following recent violent incidents involving two Liberal candidates, as well as threats against Conservative party volunteers.

"What I'm saying is be careful. If you have some fears, call the [Sûreté du Québec]. Discuss with the SQ and I hope the SQ will be able to find solutions where people don't have to stay home," he said.

Marwah Rizqy, the Quebec Liberal Party candidate who is running for re-election in Montreal's Saint-Laurent riding, said she's already had to think twice about whether to continue campaigning.

Speaking on Wednesday, Rizqy described how a man called her local police station last week and told them to go to her street, saying they would find her dead body there. Police told her not to leave her house.

"I was really scared ... I was in my bathroom and my knees started shaking," she said.

CBC
CBC

Rizqy, who is eight months pregnant, said the harassment began on Aug. 19, when the man posted a threat on her Facebook page. She called police, but the threats only escalated.

Rizqy said the man then called her colleague, Liberal candidate Enrico Ciccone, telling him she was dead.

The man from Sorel-Tracey, Que., was arrested last Thursday and appeared in court Friday. He is accused of criminal harassment and making harassing calls.

He was then released with conditions, including to not contact or approach Rizqy.

"At some point I'm like, I don't know if I want to keep going," she said.

On Thursday, Rizqy urged the National Assembly of Quebec to set up a "panic button" to ensure the safety of elected officials on the campaign trail.

"Not only for me but everyone who has a real threat should have protection," she said.

Rizqy's experience echoes other recent incidents involving women in politics, including an incident involving verbal harassment against Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland in Alberta.

Other candidates suffer threats, vandalism

Rizqy isn't the only candidate raising concerns. On Tuesday night, the constituency office of Ciccone, the Liberal candidate running for re-election in Montreal's Marquette riding, was vandalized.

Ciccone said when employees arrived at the Lachine office Wednesday morning, they found that a wall had been broken through and the drawers emptied of their contents.

Radio-Canada
Radio-Canada

Computers and documents were stolen as well as several other items, including a petty cash box containing cheques. Ciccone, said he also received a threatening message on his office voicemail.

Ciccone said he's devastated by what happened, saying he's concerned confidential information may have been stolen.

"I'm very worried also for my staff," he said. "That's why I told them to stay at home now, to work from home until we fix things."

The candidate said he will take "full responsibility" if the confidentiality of the stolen documents is compromised.

The SQ has confirmed that it has opened an investigation into the incident.

Meanwhile, Sylvain Lévesque, the CAQ candidate running for re-election in the Montreal riding of Chauveau, said he filed a police report Thursday morning after an image showing his election poster dripping with blood was circulated online.

"This kind of publication is unacceptable," he wrote. "We can be against ideas, but violence and intimidation will never be tolerated."

On Thursday, Rizqy told reporters in Sherbrooke, Que., that Conservative Party of Quebec Leader Éric Duhaime is partly to blame for the highly charged political climate.

She pointed to comments Duhaime made last June when he said his party's objective was to bring voters' discontent into the legislature.

"If your democratic legacy shows that you will channel hate and anger, that's a very poor democratic legacy," she said.

Later in Montreal, Duhaime said Rizqy's comments crossed a line. He said politicians of all stripes are facing hatred, pointing to an incident over the weekend where two of his own party's volunteers putting up signs were threatened with knives.

Campaign is no place for violence, say party leaders

Quebec's other major party leaders came together in a united front to denounce these recent acts of violence and call for more security during the campaign.

Quebec Liberal Party Leader Dominique Anglade said she wants to be reassured that her party can campaign across the province without being subject to violence.

"We're in politics because we want to build Quebec. We're in politics to bring ideas. We want to campaign in a climate that will let us do this," she said.

Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press
Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

Legault, speaking Thursday, said all Quebecers have a responsibility "not to stir up anger." He also shared a video on Twitter of himself calling on Quebecers to "be careful."

"Unfortunately we're seeing that it's happening more and more ... threats that are real, that are really unacceptable," he said.

Hate on social media is nothing new, but he said the tone has gotten worse during the pandemic.

"I don't like that of course ... it's not the type of society we want to have in Quebec," he said.

Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, the co-spokesperson for Québec Solidaire, also denounced the threats on Wednesday as well as the outright hostile acts and violence.

"Everyone has noticed in the last two or three years an increase in tensions," said Nadeau-Dubois. "It worries me, it is not normal. All parties are targeted."

Parti Québécois leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon called for respect for the rules and people during an election period.

Since the beginning of the campaign, the SQ has strengthened the security around the party leaders because of increased threats.

Provincial police told Radio-Canada they've received 221 complaints of threats against politicians so far this year. In the entirety of 2019, they received 16.