TRIGGER WARNING: This story contains descriptions of threats of physical violence.
The threats against NDP Alberta Premier Rachel Notley come in many shapes and sizes.
Some come at the end of a long and rambling political diatribe about commies and dictators with the suggestion of hanging her in a public square. Some simply call her a cunt and suggest that the best course of action would be to put a bullet in her head and leave it at that. Others are chillingly specific, such as one that reads: "I would assassinate Notley using a zip tie around her neck so I could watch the look on her face as she struggles to breathe."
The comments seem to appear anywhere and everywhere, although there are some usual suspects: the comment section of the anti-Notley stories published by Toronto-based pundit Ezra Levant; on the wall of Albertan Separatist pages; on Reddit; hidden deep in the ableg hashtag on Twitter; and so on. But they even exist in seemingly innocuous places—just yesterday, a single CTV Lethbridge story featured at least four threats against Notley.
And it's not just Alberta's premier. During the final deliberation for the controversial Bill 6 yesterday, Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd broke down while addressing the legislature. She said that "a climate has been created where people are afraid to speak," referencing the extreme outrage that arose from the bill and the vitriol that followed.
"I myself was somewhat concerned to go home last week."
All in all, it seems that right now Albertans have a serious problem when it comes to not threatening to kill our current premier and her staff. With the aforementioned Bill 6 yesterday came a new tidal wave of angry rhetoric. One comment suggested that driving a pitchfork through Notley's neck and burning down the legislature may be a solution to the problem. Another that "maybe we need to just go back to the wild west and shoot her already."
The threats hit such a critical mass that Albertan opposition leader Brian Jean had to take to Facebook to denounce the right wingers who use violent and misogynistic language against the premier—which comes off a tad disingenuous when you realize that Jean, to an extent, was fanning the flames of the Bill 6 outrage. Standing up to the trolls took leadership though and for his trouble, Jean was slammed in the comment section of his own post.
This problem isn't just a flash in the pan sort of thing either. Back in October, the RCMP had to look into more death threats being laid against Notley. Albertans Against the NDP, and a Facebook page that harbored this type of violent language was briefly taken down. The threats seemed sadly familiar, "We can take over the government we just need the wild to back us, or a lone gunman," one read. "Not condoning that. Just saying bad things happen to bad leaders."
Furthermore, this isn't solely a partisan problem either. In 2014 then Progressive Conservative Premier Alison Redford was emailed the message "Fuck this Nazi failed process Redford you and your daughter will fucking pay" and the man who sent it was investigated by the RCMP. Early this year a death threat, albeit from an angry conservative, helped seal Airdrie MLA Rob Anderson's decision to quit politics.
It's important to remember that, as Edmonton Journal columnist Paula Simons put it, "Threatening to kill a particular public figure isn't a hate crime. It's a crime crime." Threatening to give harm to a public figure even on social media is a crime. Earlier this year, during the first major swarm of dickhead threats, Insp. Gibson Glavin told CBC: "If there is a reasonable likelihood that the person receiving that threat should take it seriously, then that is a type of thing that could be considered to fall in the criminal realm."
The saddest part of all of this is that it seems like this type of language and threats are considered par for the course in Albertan politics. Back in October when the RCMP was looking into The Albertans Against the NDP threats, Premier Notley's press secretary stated that "this kind of social media or correspondence activity is not unusual in any way" and that this was "normal."
I was born and raised in rural Alberta. I understand the frustration that came with the new NDP government. I don't agree with it, but I get it. There have been a lot of fast changes and if you pair that with a slumping economy, things can seem too much. But in no way is that any excuse to threaten to kill another human being.
A main complaint I routinely hear from other Albertans is that the rest of the country thinks we're ingrates, that we're hicks. I tell you what, I'm going to offer a little bit of advice right now.
Maybe if we don't want to be considered rednecks by the rest of the Canadian population we should have political discourse in which threatening to drive a pitchfork through the premier's neck isn't considered "normal."
Seems reasonable, right?
Follow Mack Lamoureux on Twitter.