May 15, 2023

Interview about hateful voicemails (Power and Politics)

Ottawa, ON

DAVID COCHRANE: Alberta Liberal MP George Chahal is speaking out about the online threats and intimidation he's faced since running for office. On Saturday, Chahal shared two videos on his social media featuring examples of voicemails sent to his Calgary offices. The messages, and we're going to play an excerpt so be warned, they contained racist and homophobic slurs targeting Chahal, his family and the Liberal Party.

ANONYMOUS CALLER: "I just want to say all the Liberals deserve their families to be exterminated. You're all a bunch of rat ugly traitors that sold us out to China so kindly hang yourself, thank you. Hi, just a reminder, the Liberal Party's a bunch of ****** and all your families should be exterminated for selling us out to China. I hope you all get what's coming to you and all your families receive capital punishment.

COCHRANE: In response, Chahal wrote, "Homegrown hatred is growing, and we need to fight back." George Chahal joins me now. Mr. Chahal, thanks for coming in.

MP CHAHAL     Thank you for having me.

COCHRANE: How often do you receive messages like the ones in the video that you share?

MP CHAHAL: Well, it's a regular occurrence for my staff on a daily basis. They're getting messages, calls, in many cases, the messages, these messages were a series of messages left by an individual, and completely unacceptable to leave those types of messages anywhere. They're deeply disturbing. And hate has no place in our country.

COCHRANE: I listened to the full video that you shared, it's a string of messages from one guy and multiple uses of multiple F-words, the N-word all directed at you. I mean, what's it like to hear that kind of hate directed at you personally?

MP CHAHAL: It's deeply disturbing, you know, I've faced a lot of hate growing up, I thought we have overcome that. And unfortunately, many in our country are promoting hate. And it's disturbing that my staff has to deal with these messages on an ongoing basis, but that this individual feels like they can target folks, like myself and others and our staff across the country. And, you know, we've seen extreme radicalization, right-wing radicalization, and this ideology is extremely hurtful, and it affects many. We've seen just today on CNN, I saw that a representative's staff was targeted and attacked. And that's concerning that our staff are serving the community. And for me, I serve a very diverse community. And representing those members, there's no place for this hate. Racially motivated slurs and the homophobic slurs that were left are deeply disturbing.

COCHRANE: You know, it's unfortunate, as you say. You're not the first example we've heard of this, right? We just saw someone sentenced to house arrest for throwing gravel at the Prime Minister, people like Jenny Kwan, the British Columbia New Democrat MP, talked about having to get a panic button maybe installed in their office because of different things. I mean, what do you think is driving all of this hostility and this anger towards people in elected life?

MP CHAHAL: Well, it's right-wing radicalization. We've seen it after Trump in the US and post-COVID. How this radicalization has really come out and targeting elected officials. I've had a protest at my house and I've seen many others across the country. I'm concerned about our staff. I mean, we've had to take measures in our office to protect our staff. We also have security measures in place that, you know, will protect them, but you're concerned because they're there to serve the community and for young staff members who have to deal with with this on a daily basis. It's difficult.

COCHRANE: So what kind of security measures do you have to take without revealing vulnerabilities? But like, I've heard, you've had to put bars on your windows and video cameras in your constituency.

MP CHAHAL: Yeah, we have bars and we've had, you know, the House of Commons Sergeant-at-Arms have provided, done a great job to equip us with the right measures. We have to lock our door. I'm a very open and accessible person, but we want to make sure that our staff are protected. So we have a barrier in place that folks can come in, and we will meet them and serve them. But just to make sure that if somebody comes in who's violent or aggressive that there is a barrier in place.

COCHRANE: It wasn't always that way, right, with constituency offices ten, twenty years ago, you just walked in, you might just see your MP there. I know, certainly the way it was when I started covering politics back in Newfoundland. I mean, this is a, it creates a barrier between you and your constituents in a way that is unwelcome.

MP CHAHAL: Well, in my, you know, I was a City Councillor before and I've been very public in meeting constituents with regular community programming, and I still do that. But it's really difficult on our staff when folks come and target your office and so whether it's through social media that they have to monitor, or the voicemails they leave or physical altercations, it's concerning. But we're going to do what we do and make sure that we call this out, 'cause it's disgusting and wrong, and has no place in Canada.

COCHRANE: So this particular video released, this is one person persistently calling on a single day. But as you say, you've had others with some frequency. This one you've taken to the police on Saturday. Why did you decide to go to the cops? Why did you decide to go public now?

MP CHAHAL: Well, we wanted to report it to also highlight, I know Ms. Delacourt had put out...

COCHRANE: Susan Delacourt from the Toronto Star.

MP CHAHAL: ...yes, and I thought it was important to show Canadians what's happening. You know, what extent people will go to and how they target us. We've had a number of these type of messages or calls that we get in our office targeting our office because I'm a Liberal in Calgary, I'm the only one. I've never seen it like this. I never saw it in my early days on City Council. And we have a responsibility to call it out, and also turn down the temperature politically in the House of Commons and make sure that we're working together to make sure Canada is the greatest country in the world. And, you know, to make sure that folks who come here to make Canada home know it's a safe place, that they are safe. And we've seen too many incidents across the country where folks have been attacked, walking home from the mosque, or going to the temple. It's concerning that folks are being targeted because of their race or their religious affiliation.

COCHRANE: Right. And Susan Delacourt wrote in the Toronto Star that okay, we're all worried about Chinese interference, Chinese state interference, and threats against MPs, but perhaps a little bit too casual about threats against Members of Parliament like you from actual Canadians, who are making threats like this. I just wonder, as a final point, how common is this with you and your colleagues? You know, as you talk about these things when you're in caucus, or whatever? I mean, how widespread because it seems based on some of the stories, you see the reports, you hear that certainly against the Prime Minister and the cabinet and other political leaders in other parties, it's quite intense. How common is it for backbenchers?

MP CHAHAL: It's very intense. I think we, amongst my colleagues, everybody has a story, many stories that they can share, on how they've been targeted, whether it's through social media or directly at their office. So it's quite concerning. But we have to call it out. I mean, we have to stand up and make sure that racism has no place in our society, and that these folks know that we are gonna stand up and make sure we don't tolerate this.

COCHRANE: And so did the police, when your office reached out to them, or I don't know if you did it personally, did they give you or your staff any sense of what they're going to do about this?

MP CHAHAL: Well, we reported it, so they're aware, and they're going through their investigative process. We've also reported to the Sergeant-at-Arms, so they're aware as well of what's occurred. We just want to make sure, I want to make sure that my staff are protected in their office, that they're comfortable, and they can do the job of serving our community, which is my job. And I'm going to continue to do so. I'm not going to be deterred by somebody who leaves voice messages targeting me and my family. And I'm going to make sure I stand up for all those folks who don't have a voice and make sure that we don't tolerate this and we take further action against it.

COCHRANE: Okay, George Chahal. Thanks for coming in.

MP CHAHAL: Thank you.


Office of George Chahal, M.P.

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