On the morning of election day 2006, my team arrived at the campaign office to find that the lock to the front door had been glued shut. When the property manager -- a recent immigrant to Canada from Afghanistan -- let us in through the back door, he said, "Oh dear, I didn't know this kind of thing happened in Canada too." His comments at the time have stayed with us forever.
Elections are supposed to be passionate, but vandalism of campaign signs has become an expensive and unfortunately predictable aspect of Canadian political campaigns. Signs are smashed and cut in half. Signs are stolen. Signs are also placed on the property of those who haven't requested them. Often moustaches are drawn onto candidates' photos, and more hateful messages like swastikas or 'homo' are written on the signs of gay candidates. All of this is often attributed to 'kids' and literally written off as the signs are replaced and the extra expense incurred.
In the 2008 election, the campaign in my riding of St. Paul's experienced more than just vandalism, as citizens displaying Liberal signs were targeted and victimized -- brake lines were cut and 'L's keyed in the enamel of their cars, and anti-liberal graffiti was spray-painted on the walls of their homes.
The Toronto Police Service conducted an intensive investigation, but no charges were ever laid and no one was ever caught. Targeting of Liberal supporters also occurred the next night in Parkdale-High Park and there had been a few similar incidents in the Willowdale and Guelph 2008 byelections.
Fast forward to April 23 in the 2011 election. At 9:50 a.m. we got the first report of tires being slashed on cars in the driveway of homes with a Bennett sign on their lawn. The calls kept coming all day. Sometimes all eight tires were slashed if there were two cars in the driveway. One home didn't have a sign this year because they had been targeted in 2008. Nonetheless the perpetrator hit them again. Another family was attacked three nights in a row. Again, this was not just a local issue, as similar attacks on our democracy took place in other ridings.
As the calls came in, we again notified all homeowners displaying Bennett signs to alert them. Many felt they needed to take their sign down. Others chose to replace their small sign with a large sign. All expressed their upset that they had been targeted because they were actively participating in our democratic process, and that their hard-fought-for freedom of political expression was under attack. Yet again, citizens were being intimidated, and some had had their lives placed at risk. Again the words of the Afghan-Canadian reverberated... surely not here in Canada.
We do not believe that any of the other campaigns were responsible for these criminal acts. However, all Canadians must speak out against those people whose rhetoric and actions can incite the kind of hatred that can motivate this kind of behaviour. Surely we must all do more to protect and promote freedom of expression and respect for the democratic process.
Intimidation of voters has no place in our democracy. Not now, not ever.