With Sept. 20 and the next federal election only days away, Nickel Belt MP Marc Serré said he would not let something like being assaulted at his campaign office keep him from seeking re-election in the Nickel Belt riding.
Serré was assaulted by a 56-year-old woman on Sept. 13 at his campaign office, Greater Sudbury Police said today. It is alleged the woman entered the premises and began yelling at Serré and his volunteers. She then became more hostile, and used a table to pin the Liberal incumbent against a wall.
At one point, she struck Serré’s hand with her cellphone as he tried to record the altercation with his own cellphone, said police. She left the campaign office, only to confront Serre once again as he was attempting to leave. He was in his vehicle when she jumped in front of him and started striking the hood of his vehicle.
Police were called immediately, said Serré. The woman is now charged with assault with a weapon and will answer to her charges on Nov. 17.
Serré said the woman had all kinds of issues she brought up during the altercation, but didn’t want to get into any specifics. He said he does not think it is linked to any of the anti-vaccine groups and their protests taking place across the city.
“I had two other people in the office with me at the time, and their safety was most important to me,” Serré said. “We tried to keep the situation calm, and let her express her concerns, and it’s an incident we now have to deal with, but I will let the police do their work.”
Serré said he loved being the MP for Nickel Belt and the work the job entails. He said it’s a small number of people who are creating problems, such as the vandalism to his election signs at the start of his campaign.
“It has been really, really positive, and people are really wanting to debate the issues, but there is a small number of individuals who think they can vandalize, harass, intimidate or even assault campaign volunteers and staff, and that is completely unacceptable,” said Serré.
“I know it’s been a difficult time with COVID-19, and I’m doing the best I can to try and help people out, but the safety of me, my staff and volunteers is something that is truly pre-occupying me right now.”
Serré said there will be zero tolerance for this behaviour, both in his offices and through social media. He said a lot of the intimidation and harassment tactics taking place through social media right now are spilling out into the community, into offices and businesses.
“Retail workers are afraid, because people are coming in and yelling at them,” Serré said “That’s unacceptable. You want to yell at a politician, fine, do it, but don’t intimidate, don’t bully staff, volunteers, retail workers, nurses, doctors, it’s ridiculous.”
Like himself, he knows many people are passionate about politics, “but when you start crossing the line with violence, harassment and vandalism, that is completely unacceptable.”
Other candidates campaigning in the election have expressed the same opinion on those behaviours.
NDP candidate Nadia Verrelli said she is absolutely appalled to hear what happened.
“I just heard what happened to Marc G. Serré,” Verrelli said, in an email statement to Sudbury.com. “There is no place in Canadian political engagement for violence. I whole-heartedly condemn this type of behaviour.”
Upon hearing the news, Verrelli said she called Serré’s office.
“While I was reassured that everyone in his office is OK, my thoughts are with him and his team at this time. No one should have to worry about violence, harassment, or vandalism."
Andréane Chénier, the NDP candidate in Nickel Belt, called the incident “horrific.”
“My thoughts go out to Marc Serré and his team following the horrific incident that occurred yesterday,” she wrote to Sudbury.com. “No one should fear or experience violence at work. Campaigning is work and regardless of your political affiliation, there is no place for violence or harassment in politics.”
PC candidate Charles Humphrey agreed, this behaviour is completely unacceptable.
“Marc doesn't deserve this abuse, he’s a decent man,” Humphrey said in an email. “We are in different parties, but I consider him a colleague more than anything. This puts a chill on democracy.”
Humphrey’s Conservative counterpart in Sudbury, Ian Symington, expressed similar concerns.
“Our Sudbury team is very concerned for Mr. Serré and his team, and sincerely hope everyone is safe following this terrible behaviour they faced in his office,” Symington told Sudbury.com. “Such actions are not only unacceptable in all ways, they are illegal. Thanks to the Greater Sudbury Police for responding and keeping safety a priority. On a personal level I have a great respect for Marc and wish him all the best and I will be reaching out to check up on him.”
Green Party candidate David Robinson said Serré is a good man who is committed to serving the people of the area.
“It is hard to say much with confidence other than that this is appalling behaviour,” said Robinson. “It may be an individual incident, a sign that the assailant may be under stresses we can't imagine.
“On the other hand, we have someone who seems to have given herself permission to use assault as a political tool. We are seeing gravel throwing and abusive behaviour in other parts of this campaign, as well, and it should remind us that we have in Canada, like in the USA, a fraction of the population that leans toward furious threats and violence.
“In turbulent times, it is this layer that can be gathered into a very dangerous political movement. I worry because democracies can be quite fragile.”
The PPC condemns any act of violence against candidates, said candidate Colette Methé.
“This is a democratic country where everyone is allowed to campaign for their party without fear of being assaulted, physically or verbally.”