A group organizing protests outside Stephen Lecce’s house discussed pooling cash to hire private detectives to “dig up dirt” on the education minister, took pictures of his backyard and mused about gaining access to his daily schedule, the Star has learned.
The COVID-19 vaccine and lockdown protesters used encrypted messaging app Telegram to co-ordinate opposition to Lecce’s back-to-school rules, as well as to the Ford government’s forthcoming vaccination passport program.
It was the same group of more than 500 members that has been attempting to disrupt Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s federal campaign. The Star monitored the channel between Saturday morning and Monday evening, when it appeared to have been deleted.
“We need to show Lecce that we DO NOT support vax clinics at schools,” one user wrote Monday, one of many appeals for “boots on the ground” outside the education minister’s home.
“Cops are very friendly and allow for peaceful protest on the street. There is nothing to be afraid of.”
Last week, protesters showed up at Lecce’s home in his King-Vaughan riding in York Region for three nights in a row, with about 22 people in attendance on Thursday alone.
The Star has also learned that Lecce was followed as he left his home on personal time one day last week, and later a vehicle stopped in front of his car in an attempt to box him in. It is unclear who was behind that incident.
York Regional Police have been called to Lecce’s home, and Ontario Provincial Police have been notified about Lecce’s safety concerns, including the Telegram messages.
“For over a week, protesters have intimidated and made my neighbours and their families feel uncomfortable,” Lecce said in a statement to the Star.
“This is wrong, and I’m asking these individuals to move their protests to my places of work — be it Queen’s Park, the ministry, or my constituency office. My neighbours have no role in government policy decisions and should never be made to feel unsafe in their homes and community.”
Using Telegram, group members discussed more than just “peaceful protest.” One member suggested they’d spoken to private investigators about “tracking” Lecce and “digging up dirt” — and asked the group to pool funds to cover hourly rates between $65 and $100.
A number of users appeared to be enthused by the idea.
“F – – – him excuse my language,” wrote one.
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Members of the group frequently kept tabs on Lecce’s house, updating the others if they believed he was home, whether the curtains were open, or if there was a newspaper in the driveway. One member sent pictures of Lecce’s backyard, which appear to have been taken from the street in front of his house and showed what appeared to be a white tent.
“Maybe the tents are for us,” one protester wrote. “Is he throwing us a cocktail party?”
The Star began monitoring the Telegram group on Saturday, less than a day after an angry crowd of demonstrators prompted Trudeau to cancel a planned rally in Bolton, Ont. It was accessible through a Telegram invitation link that was publicly posted on one member’s Instagram page.
The “Fighting for our Children” group appeared to be motivated not by partisan politics, but by a mistrust of vaccines, anger at lockdown measures, and opposition to vaccination mandates and passports.
The group was shut down after the Star published a story about it on Monday evening.
York Regional Police were at Lecce’s house twice last week because of the protests and complaints by neighbours, said Const. Laura Nicolle.
She said if any new allegations come to light, police will investigate.
“Peaceful protests are permitted,” Nicolle said, adding no arrests were made last week. “Typically that’s our role — we are there to keep the peace and make sure no crimes are actually occurring.”
However, she added, “if something is going on and somebody reports it to us, we will go from there, and would disclose if any charges are laid.”
The protesters have carried placards and shouted, and have also targeted Lecce’s constituency office by banging on its windows.
Some of their signs said “Stop the abusive masking of the children,” and “Our kids bodies are not 4 sale.”
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