The 2021 provincial election campaign continued Wednesday, after George Brake of Shoal Brook was arrested by police after they said he was headed to Deer Lake from the Bonne Bay area to stop the election.
Originally, it was believed Liberal Leader Andrew Furey was the intended target, although police later said there was no specific candidate targeted — instead, all were believed to be targets.
“We’ve seen some negativity throughout this campaign and perhaps some more online issues than we would in the past,” Furey said at a news conference in St. Anthony Wednesday morning.
In light of the incident, Furey indicated his campaign has contacted others to see if they’ve experienced anything similar recently.
As the MHA for the district of Humber-Gros Morne, his campaign office is in Deer Lake, but he was not in the area at the time of Brake's arrest.
Furey was campaigning with the local candidate in Lake Melville in Labrador when he was alerted by police of the threat.
Furey’s wife is accompanying him on this leg of the campaign trail. He said they had to address the incident with their children over FaceTime after the children saw news of it in the evening.
“To have a threat like this, I’m not going to lie, it hits close to home and it makes you question if you’re doing the right thing,” he said. “I do believe that I am doing the right thing. I do believe that others are doing the right thing, but it is very troubling for my wife and I. … It's tough. It’s not a pleasant situation for anyone to be in.”
After getting a phone tip from a source — which the RCMP didn’t identify Wednesday at a news conference — the RCMP say they spotted Brake, 66, a mere 20 minutes later and never lost sight of him.
The call came in at 10:15 a.m. Tuesday and he was in custody by 10:42 a.m., making a public alert unnecessary, RCMP media relations officer Cpl. Jolene Garland told reporters in St. John’s Wednesday.
She said the man refused to stop, but was arrested following a high-speed pursuit into Deer Lake.
She told reporters a threat was made to execute local politicians.
Garland said after the tip came in, the RCMP had serious concerns for public safety, including the safety of the sitting MHA for the area and political candidates.
Furey is the MHA for Humber-Gross Morne, though he was not named specifically in the threat.
Confiscated from inside the truck’s cab were 36 hunting and tactical knives of all shapes and sizes, and one large knife was within arm’s reach of the suspect, Garland said.
Brake, who was remanded into custody, appeared in court Wednesday and will be back in court Thursday, and faces charges of possession of a weapon dangerous to public peace, uttering threats to cause death, dangerous driving and flight from police.
“We suspect all the candidates would have been a target based on the threat received,” Garland said.
“Based on the information we received we believe Mr. Brake was a threat to cause death or serious bodily harm.”
Information concerning the arrest and threats uttered were shared with the Department of Justice and Public Safety and the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, as its mandate includes protection of those elected to public office, Garland said.
She also said it’s the first incident the RCMP is aware of involving the suspect and threats to politicians.
The investigation is continuing.
As Furey and Howell were holding a news conference in St. Anthony, Progressive Conservative Leader Ches Crosbie and Humber-Gros Morne candidate Jim Goudie were speaking to reporters in Deer Lake.
“I think everybody should just calm down, let’s hear the facts and see how it goes. I just hope that now from here on in it just plays out well, that the justice system handles it in an appropriate manner and see where it goes,” Goudie said.
He said the incident is not going to change what he does, but understands if his campaign team feels they need to do something, like locking the door to the headquarters to feel more comfortable working inside.
Why the man pulled into that particular parking lot, Goudie said, might have been pure coincidence.
No changes expected
Goudie and Furey’s campaign headquarters are just steps away from each other on North Main Street. At Furey’s headquarters it was also business as usual, with the door open to visitors.
The office was notified of the incident around 4 p.m. and soon after Furey contacted them to make sure everybody was OK and to tell them to
stay safe. Helen Reid, chair of Furey’s Humber-Gros Morne campaign, said he also advised them not to do any door-to-door campaigning Tuesday night.
Reid said Furey contacted others quite a few times during the night out of concern for the volunteers.
The event has generated a lot of interest, including nationally, but Reid said there wasn't any more cause for concern.
She said the campaign team has been taking precautions in terms of limiting the number of people inside the office because of COVID-19 regulations, and whether or not it would do more remains to be seen.
“We’re looking at what else we can do to make sure that our volunteers are safe. … There’s no one here by themselves ever, and we’ll continue to do that.”
Furey said the incident will not deter them from keeping the election campaign on schedule and electing the next provincial government.
“It is certainly not going to impede the democratic process in any way, shape or form,” said Furey. “I mean, we’ve seen greater security details in regions around the country and different countries, of course, with large security details, and it doesn’t impede democracy, and this won’t either.”
— With files from Barb Sweet
Nicholas Mercer is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering central Newfoundland for SaltWire Network.