Threats, harassment can't dissuade West St. Paul mayor

·4 min read

When Cheryl Christian saw the video of fellow female politician Chrystia Freeland being verbally attacked in Alberta, it immediately reminded her of the harassment and aggression that she has dealt with since taking on the role of mayor in a small Manitoba community four years ago.

But despite what she has seen and heard over the last four years, Christian said she now intends to run for another term as mayor of West St. Paul.

“That video did hit home for me,” Christian, the mayor of West St. Paul said. “And it hit home because we see it at all levels more and more, with politicians being threatened and harassed.”

The video Christian is referring to was widely shared on social media in late August and shows a man confronting Freeland — the deputy prime minister of Canada — in the lobby of Grande Prairie city hall in Alberta, following her to an elevator swearing and levelling personal attacks and calling her a “traitor.”

And although the video made what some politicians deal with far more visible, Christian said that more and more she sees politicians of all levels here in Manitoba dealing with similar harassment and aggression, even if it’s not always visible to the public.

“I think people need to be aware that these things are happening behind the scenes and on social media all the time,” Christian said. “And it’s happening to men and women.”

Christian just wrapped up her first term as mayor of the community, just north of Winnipeg, and before being elected mayor she also served four years as a councillor for the RM.

She has announced that she will now run for reelection for mayor in the upcoming municipal elections slated for Oct. 26.

“I love West St. Paul, and I love representing this community, and I want to continue representing this community,” Christian said about her decision to run for reelection.

“We have a lot of projects on the go that I am really excited about, and I want to make sure that we can continue to grow the way we have been growing.”

But Christian said she and others are concerned that fewer people are going to be willing to run for public office because she said in the last four years she has seen some of the attacks on public servants get “nastier and more aggressive.”

“We are not going to encourage strong leaders if they feel they can’t do the job, and at the same time be safe,” she said.

“I’m very concerned the outright harassment is discouraging a lot of people from running, especially in small communities where everyone knows everyone. They don’t want to sign up to serve their communities at the expense of their personal safety, or their family’s personal safety.”

She added she has dealt with threats to her and her family over the last four years, including one incident that led to a man being arrested for making numerous threatening phone calls, and said she and other councillors were also confronted and cursed at during a public Canada Day event.

Christian said she knows politicians have to be able to put up with criticism but said there has to be a line that people don’t cross and repercussions when they do.

“It comes with the job, but yes there are lines that can’t be crossed, and I don’t think we should be tolerating that,” Christian said.

“And as governments, we need to find ways to address this and help prevent that, because these leadership positions are so important in these communities.”

Christian said she now hopes for four more years as mayor, and said “through both the good and the bad” she hopes to continue serving her community.

“If I am provided with another opportunity to lead, I will continue to work with council and with residents, and I will always be focused on growth and prosperity, and what’s best for the community,” she said.

“We just had a very successful term, and it’s very rewarding to be a community leader in West St. Paul right now.”

As of Thursday, Christian was the only person to declare a candidacy for mayor in West St. Paul for the upcoming election, but all prospective candidates have until Tuesday of next week to file candidacy papers.

— Dave Baxter is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Dave Baxter, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun