In the pre-COVID-19 recent past (yes – pre-COVID times are still the recent past), my colleague and I were having discussions with a potential future team member during the evening at a pub in downtown Ottawa. Looking around the room I noted a prominent Federal Government Minister at a table nearby. I walked over to his table, introduced myself and thanked him for his service to his country. Although the two staffers that were with him looked a little nervous, the Minister was anything but. He was completely interested in what I had to say and completely engaged in our short conversation. He was also completely unprotected.
As I left the table, two thoughts came to mind: first, as a Canadian, I felt grateful that I live in a country where I could approach and engage a prominent politician in a respectful conversation; second, as a security professional I realized that the security of Executives in Canada has not kept pace with the evolving threat. The threat landscape in Canada has changed significantly in the last seven years and the recent global pandemic has only added additional stress into the equation.
Regrettably, there has been a rash of threats against prominent Canadians recently reported in the media. A case in point is our public health officials. While these people were undoubtedly well known in their fields prior to COVID-19, the pandemic has quickly thrust them more directly into the spotlight and made them well-known public figures in a very short period of time. Unfortunately, their tireless efforts to keep us safe have also made them the focal point for people who are frustrated and stressed, and who are looking for someone to blame. Instances of threats or harassment have been reported by several of our public health officials and in one case the abuse included death threats that resulted in her needing security in her home.¹
In some cases, race and gender identity are being interwoven into these threats. Recent examples of threats and vandalism based on racism are numerous and the threats against many of our public health officials contain instances with a gender bias.
“There’s a segment of the population that somehow feels it’s OK to treat women in leadership positions in a way that they wouldn’t think about a male leader.”²
The team at Presidia Security Consulting, a member of the ADGA Group, has a great deal of experience with executive security. We have developed and implemented complete security programs, reviewed existing programs and taken on a numerous projects where a person or persons was the subject of threats. Several members of our team, myself included, have been the subject of death threats in a previous career. We know what that feels like. The following are some considerations from our toolbox that may assist your organization if one or more of your people have been subjected to threats or are in a position where this may happen.
- Be proactive. The best time to plan how you and your organization should react to serious threats is before they happen.
- Consider if the threat should be reported to the police. If the behaviour amounts to a criminal offence, such as a death threat, then it should be reported. If in doubt – report.
- Recognize that, even if the threat is reported to the police, more action is required. The police will focus on the criminal investigation. You and your organization must focus on proactive measures to keep you and others safe.
- Seek expert advice. Have the situation reviewed by a person or persons with experience in dealing with threats and protective measures. This may be a knowledgeable security professional on staff or a trusted firm with the requisite experience.
- Report, track and monitor all threats. Individual emails, calls or contacts from one person may not seem dangerous but a pattern of behaviour from the same person or organization may indicate that the situation is more serious.
- Decide what mitigation measures the threat warrants. During the initial call with many clients that have received a threat they often default to requesting security personnel to accompany and protect them. While there are situations where this is necessary, there are often less expensive and less invasive measures that can be taken first.
- Remember your reputation. It is one of your most valuable assets. Ensure that the security personnel you employ have the appropriate experience and training. Inappropriate behaviour, heavy handed measures and excessive use of force will reflect on you (a previous Presidia article, Executive Protection Considerations, discusses protection in more detail).
- Put the threat in its place. Once you have instituted measures that you are satisfied with, have confidence that they will work. You can be situationally aware and still enjoy your work and life.
It is unfortunate that dealing with threats is a necessary part of work and life for many people in prominent positions. More unfortunate still is the fact that gender and race sometimes play a role in who will receive such threats.
To all who are keeping us safe, breaking glass ceilings, promoting equality and otherwise working to make the world a better place you have our thanks and our support.
The author, Stephen Moore, is a Principal and Security Strategy lead at Presidia Security Consulting. Should you require further information or assistance he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org