Add this Vernon city councillor to the list of local politicians to get death threats - InfoNews

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Add this Vernon city councillor to the list of local politicians to get death threats

Coun. Dalvir Nahal was first elected in 2014. She is just the latest local government politician to be the target of a death threat and other abuse.
February 21, 2020 - 8:00 AM

Vernon city councillor Dalvir Nahal thought she'd received her first Christmas card of the season when a bright red envelope arrived in the mail last November.

However, what the envelope contained was far more sinister - a handmade card exclaiming 'DIE! BITCH DIE!'

"I've been called every name you can imagine," Nahal told iNFOnews.ca. "But this takes it to a whole new level, this makes it personal."

The two-term councillor said her initial response to the card was to laugh it off but was encouraged to notify the RCMP.

"The police really took it seriously," she said. "Then I got scared... I slept with an axe in my bedroom."

The hatemail councillor Nahal received.
The hatemail councillor Nahal received.
Image Credit: Submitted: Dalvir Nahal

Nahal said she refuses to live in fear and is no longer scared.

The councillor can now also put her name on the list of regional politicians who have received serious threats from members of the public.

In the summer of 2017 former Summerland Mayor Peter Waterman on two occasions found a dead rat on his doorstep. In March 2018 an online post threatened to burn down Peachland Mayor Cindy Fortin's house and in May 2019 the RCMP made an arrest, before later releasing a man without charges, after Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran received an online death threat. Several politicians have also said social media comments have been a common deterrent for candidates.

Unfortunately, Nahal in many ways sees it as a sign of the times.

The situation is something former Vernon councillor Juliette Cunningham is all too familiar with.

"I had all kinds of (abuse), I had cards sent to my personal mailbox, I had voicemails left, I had letters sent to City Hall addressed to me," Cunningham said. "It was pretty prolific for a while."

The former councillor said the sheer amount of abuse she received was one of the reasons she chose not to run for re-election in 2018.

"I was just such a target," she said. "Some people just weren't comfortable with how outspoken I was with social issues... it just got to be a strain... after a while, it just eats away at your soul."

Cunningham, who sat on council from 2005 to 2018 with the exception of a three-year hiatus in between, said twice City Hall's legal counsel was involved and sent cease and desist letters to two individuals.

With social media still in its infancy in 2005, Cunningham said she believes the situation has gotten worse over the years as social media became more popular and allowed people to be caught in a toxic bubble of negativity.

"We live in a democracy, I expect that we're not all going to agree, but it has to be fair," she said.

What Cunningham experienced was far from fair. The former councillor says homophobic abuse was made at a member of her family, and she received a barrage of misogynistic comments and was called many derogatory names often personally insulting her appearance.

"I bet you there aren't too many men who have had to deal with that," she said.

And it appears she's probably right.

"I haven't been singled out at all as being the recipient of any kind of hate mail or bully or harassment," Vernon councillor Brian Quiring said. "I have a lot of people phone me and tell me they can't stand the decisions that I've made, and they're never going to vote for me again and they wish they hadn't voted for me... but they tell me that to my face, they email me and they sign it. We can still shake each other's hands."

Quiring doesn't believe gender was the reason Cunningham received so much abuse.

"She was very vocal, she was a great councillor, she spoke her mind she defended her position," Quiring said. "Juliette (Cunningham) got into heated debate... she took on very difficult social issues that I don't take on, and I think because of that she was definitely (targeted)."

The reason why Nahal received her death threat is not easily answered, however, an international study conducted in 2018 by US social enterprise group Atalanta found female politicians were more than three times more likely to see derogatory comments directly related to their gender compared to their male counterparts.

Nahal said now that the initial shock has gone, she's no longer scared but admits she is a little more cautious.

"People need to realize if you disagree with me or a decision I've voted for or against, then pick up the phone and call me," she said. "There's no need to resort to death threats, we already, in this position, take enough abuse."

Cunningham said looking at the bigger picture, the abusive behaviour is a threat to democracy.

"When you have those who were targeting me dissuade me from being involved, that's a concern," she said.


To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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