Before he spoke at the homeless rally and march at city hall on Saturday, one of the organizers was warned by police that they were aware of several threats made against him.
“All of us have been threatened,” said Stephen Milner.
He said people who support the homeless in Maple Ridge say they are generally targeted for online harassment and threats.
He is a relative newcomer to the issue with Chris Bossley, who have set up a Facebook page for supporters of the current homeless camp on the Haney Bypass, called Anita Place Tent City. They were also organizers of Saturday’s rally protesting the city trying to dismantle the camp.
An RCMP spokesperson confirmed that police do monitor social media, on several pages, for threats to public safety. They would not discuss specific threats.
Milner said the credibility of the threats could not be confirmed.
He was sent a Facebook instant message with a photo of his house and the message: “You have a nice car and house, and a nice family. You should be careful what you say.”
A meme was created that said, “RIP Stephen Milner. Hope you enjoyed your 15 minutes of fame.”
“This sort of thing gets scary,” he said.
He added the threats come from anonymous sources or fake social media accounts, and are tough to trace. He has made police aware of some, like a person on the Concerned Citizens of Maple Ridge Facebook page, who threatened violence against camp organizer Ivan Drury, and to drive his 4×4 through the camp.
Bossley’s friends have made her aware of “a very disgusting meme created of me” that was making its way through social media pages.
“Not only are they attacking our street population, they are attacking people who speak out for them,” she said.
“There’s this real animosity going on. I’ve had friends say, ‘Don’t get involved, it’s dangerous.’ But I won’t be intimidated.”
There are numerous social media websites that contain threatening or demeaning messages about the city’s homeless, said Milner.
“It’s the type of intimidation and threats you expect to see in moves about the civil rights movement in the U.S. during the 1960s,” he added.
Bossley considers the homeless people at the camp almost heroic for agreeing to speak and march last Saturday, considering they are “persecuted endlessly by persons in the city just because they are homeless.”
During the Cliff Avenue homeless camp, Bossley attended a meeting of people who would become known as the Ridgilantes, believing they were looking for solutions to homelessness.
“Clearly their intentions were not aligned with mine at the time,” she said.
“There was fear born of ignorance.”
Milner got involved through the Citizen’s Bridge social media page, which posts events around the city and discusses solutions to the problems of homelessness.
“We discuss solutions, not who is to blame and who we can hurt people or demean their dignity.”
When they learned about the homeless camp, they donated camping supplies and blankets.
Then they made a run to a dollar store for toothbrushes and rain jackets.
A week before the march, Milner was helping to bring two carloads of donations to the camp, talking to those involved, and finding out how he could help.
The Anita Place page was then born as a forum to discuss the camp in a respectful way.
Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read returned to work this past week after a five-week absence following online threats and harassment.
She was at Red Robin having dinner with her family a while back when she saw a social media post on her phone, by someone saying they where there in the same restaurant as her.
“Go up and slap that ho,” came a response.
Read has dealt with this kind of thing for more than two years.
There have been sites set up to denigrade her.
She said it is not simple online harassment relating to the homeless issue that caused her to miss some five weeks of work, but a credible threat.
Read plans to make a statement about her absence it the coming week.
“It’s not how Canadians should be,” said Milner. “This whole issue has turned Maple Ridge into a Trumpian Utopia.”