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Northern B.C. MPs in no panic over mobile panic buttons

Item old news in Zimmer's opinion, Doherty questions their effectiveness, Bachrach mulling whether to obtain one

They made headlines last week but as far as Bob Zimmer is concerned, mobile panic buttons are old news.

The Conservative Member of Parliament for Prince George-Peace River-Northern Rockies said the item has been a common feature in MP's offices since he was elected while the roll out of remote version dates back more than a year.

They were among several initiatives for which the House of Commons board of internal economy approved funding in October 2020, according to Canadian Press but were a topic last week when Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino revealed he has been subject to death threats on social media after presenting a bill curbing gun ownership.

He said panic buttons are being distributed to MPs and the sergeant-at-arms, in a presentation to Liberal MPs, strongly recommended that they keep the panic button with them "at all times," the Canadian Press reported. The device can be used across Canada, including in their constituencies, the presentation said. 

Zimmer dismissed the Mendicino's comments as smoke and mirrors.

"Mendicino is trying to divert attention from his failings and saying he's done this great thing when it's been around for a long time," Zimmer said and went on to cite the minister's contradictory statements over why the Emergencies Act was invoked during the Freedom Convoy protests in Ottawa in February.

Another wave of protesters say they will converge on Ottawa by Canada Day and remain there for the summer.

Zimmer said Wellington Street in front of Parliament remains closed to motorized traffic and is confident there are enough resources in place to deal with any trouble. He said protests on Parliament Hill were a daily occurrence prior to COVID.

"Probably what would've gone a long ways is for the Prime Minister to have gone out and meet with the leadership there and it probably would've ended right there," he said of the Freedom Convoy protest. "But I think the Prime Minister frankly benefited from dividing Canadians with this particular issue. He made a calculation and he seemed to go back into the House every day and just stoke the fires instead of trying to bring peace to the situation."

The panic buttons are "good to have," Zimmer said, but added dealing with threats is not an everyday occurrence.

Taylor Bachrach, the NDP MP for Skeena-Bulkley Valley, said he's still mulling over whether to obtain one but said there has been a well-documented rise in the amount of harassment and violent behaviour towards MPs.

Bachrach said he's been a target but not to the extent that women and racialized people in elected positions have faced. NDP leader Jagmeet Singh was greeted with expletives during a visit to Peterborough Ont. last month and, about a week later, Bachrach said he witnessed first hand the abuse Singh has endured during an event on Parliament Hill.

"We need to talk about the root cause behind the rise in this kind of behaviour," Bachrach said. "Our security agencies have clearly documented a rise in ideologically-motivated violent extremism and we're seeing a rise in violent rhetoric in online spaces and the risk there is that some people see that violent rhetoric and they act violently and that is a deeply troubling trend that we need to work together as a country to address."

Cariboo-Prince George MP Todd Doherty is no stranger to being harassed. In April 2021, he took to social media to send a message of his own after his family became the subject of a death threat.

He said he's noticed a rise in threatening behaviour against MPs in the time since he's been elected and put the blame on divisive politics and "anger and the frustration" amongst the public in general.

"I think its incumbent upon us as leaders to bring people together so that division's not there," he said.

Doherty said he is still waiting for details on the item but question their effectiveness in constituencies like his where cellphone coverage can be spotty.