RCMP investigating after man accosts Freeland in Alberta

·6 min read
A man hurled insults at deputy prime minister Chrystia Freeland, seen here on April 12, during an encounter in Grande Prairie, Alta. on Friday.  (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press - image credit)
A man hurled insults at deputy prime minister Chrystia Freeland, seen here on April 12, during an encounter in Grande Prairie, Alta. on Friday. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The RCMP says it's investigating after Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland was accosted in Alberta over the weekend by a man who repeatedly yelled profanity at her and called her a traitor.

The widely circulated video shows Freeland arriving inside the city hall building in Grande Prairie, Alta., on Friday and being confronted by the man as she approached and entered an elevator.

In the video, which was posted online, the man yelled at Freeland, calling her a "traitor" and a "f---ing bitch" and telling her to leave the province.

Responding to a series of questions sent by CBC News, the RCMP said Tuesday morning that — as the Globe and Mail has reported — it is looking into what happened.

"The RCMP is investigating the incident Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland experienced and takes threats against public officials seriously," said RCMP headquarters spokesperson Robin Percival.

CBC News reached out to the man who has been identified as the person in the video. He declined to speak, adding by text that he sees the mainstream media as "compromised."

WATCH | Alberta man hurls profanity at Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland:

If the threshold for a criminal charge is met, the RCMP or the police of jurisdiction may arrest and lay charges, Percival said. If the criminal threshold is not met, she said, the RCMP can still review the individual's comments "from an intelligence perspective."

An Alberta-based RCMP spokesperson would not confirm an investigation on Saturday, saying "generally, only in the event that an investigation results in the laying of criminal charges would the RCMP confirm its investigation."

The force provides protective policing services to designated Canadian officials, including the prime minister and the Governor General. MPs can receive RCMP protection in Canada and abroad "as needed," Percival said.

"For security reasons, the RCMP doesn't comment on specifics when it comes to security measures afforded to the deputy prime minister," she said.

"Protective measures are intelligence-led and are proportional to any threats or risks assessed by the RCMP, Integrated Threat Assessment Centre (ITAC) and other partners."

Incident was meant to 'intimidate': lawyer

At the time of the incident, Freeland — who was born in Peace River, about 200 kilometres from Grande Prairie — was on a multi-day tour of Saskatchewan and Alberta, meeting with officials, businesspeople and workers.

In a longer video of the encounter that was posted to social media, the man, a woman and a third person recording the incident could be seen entering city hall and asking about Freeland at the front counter.

Soon after, they noticed Freeland down a hallway and approached her. The man then delivered a burst of profanities and told Freeland to "get the f--k" out of the province as he raised his arm in protest.

As Freeland and several other women quickly retreated to the elevator and waited for the door to close, the man pointed at the group and called Freeland a traitor.

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The man's outburst may not meet the legal definition of uttering threats because "he was very careful in what he said," said criminal lawyer William Jaksa of Toronto, who viewed the video.

But the man could be open to charges of harassment and causing a disturbance, Jaksa added.

"He was yelling and screaming and he was attempting to intimidate her, even prior to her showing up," he said. "The sort of conversation that they had with the staffer there, it was curt. It was aggressive. This was all designed to make a statement."

WATCH / Lawyers weigh in on what Freeland faced

Criminal lawyers Will Murray of Ottawa and Kyla Lee of Vancouver, who also viewed the video, agreed the man could be charged with harassment or causing a disturbance and said the latter charge might be easy to prove.

"It's on video and people had to intervene to make him leave," Lee said, referring to two men who escorted the man and his companions outside the building.

From a legal perspective, the video did not show any threatening behaviour that falls within a criminal definition, Lee said.

"From a personal perspective and as a woman who is also public-facing, I can easily see how somebody would feel threatened in that situation," she said.

"I think it would be quite difficult to argue that the conduct didn't cause Minister Freeland to fear and that this fear was reasonable," said Murray.

Lee said there is leeway within the Criminal Code to take on incidents targeting politicians.

"What the law should do is protect people who feel threatened in situations like that and not simply create a black-and-white definition that doesn't protect people from these incidents that are on the rise," she said.

During a news conference on Monday, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino was asked if the federal government is looking at increasing security for cabinet ministers or considering bodyguards for some parliamentarians.

"We'll continue to explore all options," he said.

"The situation regarding security on the landscape is becoming more and more complex. We are seeing more incidents, particularly involving women, involving racialized Canadians, involving Indigenous peoples. I don't believe that that is a coincidence."

NDP MP reports threats to staff, family

NDP MP Charlie Angus, who represents the northeastern Ontario riding of Timmins-James Bay, said more needs to be done to protect backbench MPs as well.

He said a staffer working alone at his local office on Monday reported two voicemail messages spaced minutes apart. In those messages, he said, a man threatened his staff and family.

"When we're dealing with threats against family, dealing with threats against staff, something's fundamentally broken and we need to look at how we're dealing with these threats," Angus told CBC News.

Angus said he notified the office of the sergeant-at-arms and was told to refer the matter to local police.

"Well, my local police deal with car accidents on the highway and they deal with local drug dealers," Angus said. "They're not really there to be able to address cyber threats and people calling from wherever threatening parliamentarians.

"This needs to be seen as an issue to be dealt with by the House of Commons at a national level, probably by RCMP."

Condemnation from politicians 

In a tweet Saturday, Freeland condemned what happened to her.

"Nobody, anywhere, should have to put up with threats and intimidation," Freeland wrote.

"But the Alberta I know is filled with kind and welcoming people, and I'm grateful for the warm welcome I've received from so many people in Edmonton, Grande Prairie and Peace River over the past few days. One unpleasant incident yesterday doesn't change that."

The actions in the video have been widely condemned by politicians across the country.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the incident "extremely disturbing" and said episodes of harassment and threats against women, people of colour and members of other minority groups — especially those in high-profile roles, such as politicians and journalists — appear to be increasing in frequency.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney called the incident "reprehensible" and Conservative MP Dan Albas said that what "our Deputy PM experienced yesterday has no place here in Canada."