Two members of the Independent Senators Group say police and parliamentary security are investigating a threat that forced one of them to leave her home last weekend after a social media post blasted members of the upper chamber for their position on a carbon-pricing bill for farmers.
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Quebec Sen. Raymonde Saint-Germain and Ontario Sen. Bernadette Clement also accused members of the Conservative Senate caucus of “physical and verbal intimidation” on the Senate floor on Nov. 9, and then later sharing a social media post they say prompted online harassment.
“I believe it’s a wake-up call for our democracy,” Saint-Germain, leader of the Independent Senators Group, said in an interview with The Canadian Press on Wednesday.
Clement said she fled her home in Cornwall, Ont., about 100 kilometres southeast of Ottawa, last weekend after her office received a phone call from “a very angry man (who) said that he would come to my house.”
Clement said she called the Parliamentary Protective Service first, who told her she needed to call the Cornwall police.
“Both bodies said to me, ‘No, we’re going to follow protocol. This is what you do,”’ she said.
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They asked her to locate her Parliament-issued panic button, which she said she had left at her Ottawa apartment because she always feels safe in Cornwall. When she hesitated about being worried about the threat, they urged her to take it seriously, she said.
“I just feel generally like I’m home and I’m safe, but then they said, ‘Listen, you’re not,”’ Clement said.
She said she went to her downtown Ottawa apartment, which she uses during Senate sittings. She said it has its own security system.
Chad Maxwell, inspector of field operations at the Cornwall Police Service, confirmed on Wednesday that they are investigating.
“The Cornwall Police Service is aware of the ongoing situation with Sen. Bernadette Clement and has been in communication with the Parliamentary Protective Service,” Maxwell said.
“These online threats and harassment are unacceptable and are being taken very seriously by police.”
Clement and Saint-Germain, who were both appointed to the Senate on the advice of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, said it all began after Clement proposed adjourning debate on Bill C-234. The private member’s bill seeks a carbon-price exemption for propane and natural gas used by farmers to heat farm buildings and dry grain.
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Introduced by Conservative MP Ben Lobb in 2022, the bill passed the House of Commons with support of all parties but the Liberals.
There remains one stage of debate before a final vote in the Senate could pass it into law.
The bill got little attention in its early stages, but has been the subject of more scrutiny in recent weeks, particularly after the Liberals moved to exempt home heating oil from the carbon price for three years. They said this was to give people more time and money to replace oil furnaces with electric heat pumps.
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has launched a full-scale effort to get the bill passed as part of his “axe the tax” anti-carbon price campaign, and has accused the governing Liberals of trying to keep the bill from being approved.
That accusation took on angrier tones on Nov. 9, when the bill was back up for debate in the Senate.
An amendment was introduced that Conservative senators said was frivolous and designed to force the bill to be sent back to the House of Commons, where the government could keep it from ever getting to another vote.
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Clement, who was not behind the amendment, moved to adjourn debate on it, because she said some senators weren’t present to speak to it that day.
That’s when things went sour, she said.
“After violently throwing his earpiece, the leader of the Opposition stood before Sen. Clement and me as we sat at our desks, yelling and berating us for proposing this routine motion that would see debate resume the following week, when we returned,” Saint-Germain said in the Senate on Tuesday evening as she rose on a point of privilege about the matter.
Before the point of privilege was raised, Sen. Don Plett, who leads the Conservative caucus in the Senate, spoke in the chamber on Tuesday about his role in the heated debate.
Nobody is “very happy with what happened on (Nov. 9) and we all have our reasons,” he said.
He said he didn’t “think I conducted myself unprofessionally, but I got angry.”
“I don’t like being called a ‘bully,” he added. “I also don’t like being a bully, but I am passionate. I am passionate and I am dedicated to what I believe. I will never apologize for that. I will fight hard for my cause and my party, but I want to do it in a respectful manner, colleagues, and if I didn’t on (Nov. 9), that isn’t acceptable.”
Several senators spoke in support of Saint-Germain and Clement, agreeing that the behaviour they witnessed was unacceptable. Sen. Renee Dupuis said Plett’s comportment qualified as “harassment and intimidation.”
Plett did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.
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Sen. David Wells, another Tory senator, raised a separate point of privilege Tuesday accusing Sen. Lucie Moncion of calling him a bully, and said the context around what happened is important.
He said some anger grew out of a belief that there was a conspiracy to do the government’s bidding.
Clement and Saint-Germain, however, say the intimidation and bullying didn’t end on the Senate floor.
They pointed to a post from Conservative House leader Andrew Scheer on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, a week after the adjournment debacle.
The post included a graphic with photos of Clement and Quebec Sen. Chantal Petitclerc, along with their contact information and words encouraging people to call them to ask why they were shutting down debate on the bill. The post was shared by several senators.
Petitclerc, Clement and Saint-Germain all said that the graphic resembled a “most-wanted poster.”
Both Petitclerc and Clement said they received a barrage of disturbing phone calls. Clement described the comments received online as racist and misogynist. There was also the threatening call that led Clement to leave her home.
Multiple senators referred to the social media post as “doxxing,” which usually refers to sharing someone’s personal identifiers and contact information on the internet without their consent, often inviting blowback against them.
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But this was “certainly not doxxing,” Conservative Sen. Denise Batters, who shared Scheer’s post on X, said in the Senate on Tuesday.
“The post that was put out did not contain anyone’s personal emails or phone numbers,” she said.
“The emails and phone numbers on that (post) are from those two particular senators’ offices — their Senate office emails and phone numbers. I certainly in no way intended to harass anyone or provide any venue to do anything like that.”
When asked about Scheer’s post about the senators, Conservative party spokesman Sebastian Skamski said it wasn’t a “wanted” poster. He repeated the accusations against Clement that she was simply doing the government’s bidding.
“While millions of Canadians are forced to use food banks, this so-called ‘independent’ senator, who ran in numerous elections as a Liberal and was appointed to the Senate by Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, is simply doing his bidding to punish Canadian farmers and the families they feed with a costly carbon tax,” Skamski said.
Clement did run for the Liberals in the 2011 and 2015 federal elections, but she lost both times.
She said she absolutely wasn’t engaging in work for the government, that she hadn’t spoken to any cabinet minister about the bill and that she had in fact voted for it when it came to the Senate from committee last month.
She said she has not yet decided how she intends to vote on the final bill.
—With files from Liam Fox