OTTAWA — Sen. Denise Batters was minutes from boarding a flight home when she noticed two-day old Twitter posts that said she was only in the upper chamber because her husband killed himself.
Twenty years earlier on the same night, she and her husband had been among the last people to leave their wedding reception.
It was the second time this summer the Conservative senator from Saskatchewan was told on social media that she is only in the Senate because Dave Batters, a former Conservative MP, died by suicide.
This was just beyond the pale.
The senator said she is accustomed to personal criticism online — it comes with being in politics and a partisan — but invoking the death of her husband crosses a line.
"This was just beyond the pale,'' she said in an interview Friday.
"I thought, no, they don't get to do this to me.''
Dave Batters was a two-term Conservative MP from Saskatchewan who died by suicide in 2009.
The couple met by chance while crossing a street during a provincial Progressive Conservative convention in Saskatoon in the early 1990s.
On Aug. 23, 1997, the politically interested couple married.
Dave Batters had always thought about being a provincial or federal politician. He became an MP in 2004 as a rookie candidate and won re-election in 2006, even though he had given his wife the chance to run for federal politics. She turned him down, figuring he was better suited for the life of an MP. Denise Batters was more interested in joining the Senate, something she had thought about since she was a child.
In September 2008, the two-term MP announced he wouldn't run again and went public about his battle with severe anxiety and depression. On June 29, 2009, he took his own life. Denise Batters, a lawyer by trade, became a vocal mental health advocate and in 2013, then-prime minister Stephen Harper — who delivered an emotional speech at Dave Batters' funeral — appointed her to the Senate.
Since the Trudeau government's election in 2015, Batters has become a vocal critic of Liberal policy on medical assistance in dying and towards the Senate itself.
Former candidate apologizes on Facebook
In late June, a former federal NDP candidate in Saskatchewan posted on the senator's Facebook page that she was "only sitting in the Red Chamber because her husband, the MP, committed suicide.'' The date was June 27. It was the first time the senator had heard or seen anyone aim those type of comments at her.
She posted a response at the time, but kept it off Twitter to avoid it getting national attention and potentially bleed into the eighth anniversary of her husband's death. The poster apologized on June 28 on her Facebook page.
On Wednesday night, she was minutes away from boarding a flight from Toronto to Saskatchewan when she went on Twitter and by chance came across two tweets posted on Monday. A Twitter user with the handle @swancoole tweeted that Harper appointed her to the Senate in 2013 only because her husband killed himself and taxpayers are now supplying her life insurance.
The tweets appeared to be in response to online criticisms the senator levelled against the Liberals for paying a new consul-general, one the party recruited who was also a former candidate, more than a female recruited to a similar position.
In her response to the Twitter user posted online Thursday with the intent it be widely shared, the senator wrote that she would give anything to have her husband back and that the tweets shame those left behind by suicide and perpetuate stigma around mental illness. She also said she was in the midst of planning a charity golf tournament in her husband's honour with the proceeds going to mental health and suicide awareness.
"The dichotomy of me using my Senate position and my national platform that affords me to try to positively dispel the stigma around mental illness and suicide and then this person, they use their public voice on social media to shame ... those left behind by suicide and perpetuate stigma,'' she said Friday.
"I just couldn't get over that difference between the two. So I thought people needed to know.''
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