There were always going to be consequences that flowed from holding a federal election amid a pandemic that has fuelled a frightening rise in anger and hate in Canada.
And we are beginning to see them playing out now.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s campaign has been dogged in recent days by demonstrators representing the most contemptible element of the opposition that exists toward COVID-19 public-health restrictions. For some, Mr. Trudeau has become a polarizing symbol of the “unjust repression” to which these folks have been subjected.
It’s tempting to write off the noisy protesters who shut down a planned Liberal campaign event in Bolton, Ont., on Friday and who disrupted another in Cambridge on Sunday, as angry partisans with foul mouths. They are not. Many in those crowds are far more dangerous than that.
And they are not going away any time soon.
The fact is the pandemic has unleashed, or perhaps revealed, another pandemic. One of hate and extremism that is fed by a proliferation of lies and misinformation. We witnessed the danger inherent in this phenomenon when hundreds of supporters of former U.S. president Donald Trump stormed the Capitol in January.
Well, there are likely thousands, maybe tens of thousands of people in Canada who pose just as much of a threat to our institutions, to our way of life, to our democracy. Far-right extremism doesn’t just reside in Canada. There are many who believe it’s thriving, with social media being its poisonous life blood.
People will say there have always been protesters and demonstrations at political campaign stops. This is true. There were the yellow vest demonstrators who disrupted Mr. Trudeau’s rallies during the 2019 election. Union activists have created havoc at conservative campaign rallies for decades. Political leaders of all partisan stripes have been subjected to loud and often vulgar remonstrations.
But the ones we are seeing these days are different. The vitriol and red-faced rage is next level stuff. This is why security around Mr. Trudeau has been bolstered dramatically. And it’s likely to stay this way for the rest of the campaign. This is not something the other federal leaders have so far had to worry about.
It is, however, something with which Conservative candidate Michelle Rempel Garner is familiar. Recently, Ms. Garner and her husband were out having dinner when she was verbally accosted by a large, aggressive man demanding she respond to some conspiracy theory. She’s been chased down the street while out campaigning by men wielding cameras insisting she answer questions about other wacky notions propagated on the internet.
She said incidents of “violent language, threats and abuse … [is] getting worse.” She believes these people should be prosecuted for criminal harassment. She’s absolutely right. And she’s also correct that women in politics are subjected to this invective to a far greater degree than their male counterparts.
There are others, however, who need to be held to account too. They are those in positions of power and influence who are contributing to the dark pool of misinformation from which many of these protesters drink.
Conservative candidate Cheryl Gallant, who is running in the riding of Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke for the eighth time, recently had to remove a video posted to her website in June that contained a photo of Mr. Trudeau with what appeared to be a noose around his neck. At the Cambridge protest, a man carried a photo of Mr. Trudeau with a noose around his neck, about to be executed for “treason.”
In the video she posted, Ms. Gallant asks: “How long do you think it will take before the Trudeau Liberals start calling for a climate lockdown?” She also accused the Liberal Leader of being a con man and said “climate change may be his biggest grift.”
Some might dismiss this as just politics. Well, no it’s not. This can never be our politics. If anyone thinks this is innocent stuff that doesn’t influence those making up the toxic mobs we have seen recently is a naïve fool. Of course, people are angered and emboldened by this stuff. It might be good politically for Ms. Gallant because it fires up her base, but it’s horrible for the country.
The fact that Mr. O’Toole, who has run a mostly positive campaign, has not denounced Ms. Gallant for putting up such a disgusting video is not good. Nor is the fact that he hasn’t disavowed her claim that climate change is bogus.
We are on a perilous course right now. And unless we attack this problem with vigour, horrible things are going to happen to this country.
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