A caller to the office of Boundary Similkameen MLA Linda Larson gets an unexpected reality check if required to leave a message.
That is – those who serve the public face abuse.
After a greeting and recitation of open hours the recording states:
“We do not return calls of a threatening nature or calls that use foul language.”
In an interview Larson – who will retire before the next election – said “it is no wonder it is difficult to get good people to step up for government positions at any level.”
For security, Larson’s office in Oliver is always locked, and anyone seeking admittance is buzzed in.
“We are pretty good at judging who is waiting. We also have panic buttons in all our offices linked to the police,” she said. “We do have several repeat offenders who are not allowed into our office at all.”
Larson and members of her team have been threatened, and those incidents are referred to RCMP and the legislative security office in Victoria.
She recognizes that some people who contact her suffer from addiction and mental health issues.
“We do try to get them help if we can.”
Also, she understands that by the time a constituent reaches out to the MLA, that person may not be happy.
“They are frustrated or upset about something we actually had nothing to do with and they are looking for a place to vent. There are some of those situations every week.”
While those contacts come with the position, Larson has no time for aggressive behaviour.
“I don’t believe our job is to take abuse from constituents for any reason.”
She noted that few people stop to think about how politicians and civil servants are treated.
“Most people don’t care whether government employees are abused by the general public. We seem to be at the bottom of the food chain.”
She recently feared for her safety in Victoria.
“I was confronted by protesters as I tried to get in and out of the legislature. I was yelled at, jostled, had cameras shoved in my face and genuinely was worried that I was going to be physically hurt.”
Locally, municipal staffers face similar issues.
According to CAO Lyle Thomas, Town of Princeton employees have even been assaulted.
“We’ve actually had that, when people spat on [arena] employees,” he said. “It doesn’t happen often, but there are a few people who are going to get abusive.”
Town hall workers are trained in customer service, and reminded of the techniques effective in diffusing hostile situations.
In some cases, he said, a resident at the counter might be disgruntled about a fine, or town imposed fee. Thomas has been required on some occasions to step in front of the women working at the counter to deal with a disgruntled taxpayer.
In 2019, during the lead up to the municipal election, the town placed security cameras in town hall, and posted signage that abusive behaviour will not be tolerated.
Thomas stressed that most customers visiting the municipal offices are respectful and friendly.
Abusers are “just a small contingent,” he said.
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