SIMCOE – Norfolk County Mayor Kristal Chopp says online harassment has been part of her job since being elected two years ago, including one case that resulted in a man being criminally convicted.
“I’m pretty tough, but the constant barrage of abuse that some find amusing has affected my psychology,” the mayor said in a recent interview.
Earlier this month, a 57-year-old Port Rowan man was sentenced after he pleaded guilty to uttering a threat to cause death or bodily harm to Chopp.
Dana Robert Dargie was placed on house arrest for 30 days and put on probation for 18 months, during which he is banned from communicating with or going near the mayor. He also can’t go to the municipal building or attend any Norfolk council meetings. And he must get counselling for anger management.
Dargie is just one of many people who lash out on social media against the mayor, who has faced controversy over council’s decisions to cut services and staff, among other things.
Along with emails and negative online comments, Chopp is mocked through a parody account on Twitter, which often compares her to U.S. President Donald Trump. She said a members-only Facebook site with 3,000 members seems to have been formed specifically to discuss and denigrate her work and that of Norfolk County’s top bureaucrat, Jason Burgess, who is the municipality’s fifth CAO in just over a year.
She said she regularly receives inappropriate emails, including some from a “dirty old man,” who has sent dozens of messages, including half-naked photos of himself.
“I never used to believe in blocking people but that has changed in recent times. Social media has become too out of control, too offensive, too damaging and too harassing.”
And that harassment has extended to her family.
Chopp said her parents’ Hamilton-area farm was visited last year by bylaw officers looking for illegal cannabis.
“They realized they had been sent on a wild goose chase the second they stepped onto the farm but said they had so many phone calls and emails telling them to check it out that they finally went.”
A spokesperson for the City of Hamilton confirmed bylaw officers visited the farm and found no violations.
Chopp said that incident is still under investigation and included a “22-page manifesto” from someone named “Harry Smith,” who mailed his allegations to major media organizations in Canada and to Chopp’s employer, Air Canada, where she works as a pilot. The “manifesto” said the mayor is a narcissistic dictator and psychopath, who owns her own plane and runs a marijuana business.
“I think there’s a reason why women, in particular, don’t want to get involved in politics,” she said. “I can give you a list of more than a dozen men I’m allegedly sleeping with. And, if they don’t get off on that one, they call me a lesbian.”
Chopp said she has pondered taking civil action against some of the harassers as the abuse intensifies
She said she hopes Dargie’s conviction will stop others.
“But I don’t think it will,” she said. “Social media has taken on a life of its own and the facts don’t seem to matter.
“Ignoring the keyboard warriors is difficult but I will do my best to soldier on.”
At a Norfolk council meeting last Tuesday, the mayor was accused by her council colleagues of using bullying tactics and intimidation as the politicians aired their feelings and grievances. Chopp refused to participate in the meeting, gathering her things and leaving.