Skip to main content

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland speaks with reporters following her speech at the Empire Club of Canada in Toronto on June 16.Cole Burston/The Canadian Press

At this point, all we have to offer are useless platitudes.

Threats against politicians, journalists and other public figures have become so commonplace that our response sounds like a well-worn script.

“No one deserves this,” Politician A will say on Twitter. “This kind of behaviour has no place in Canada,” a colleague will add. “This is not who we are,” various public figures will assert. “Do better,” others suggest.

These laments ultimately have the same impact as the “thoughts and prayers” offered up after a mass shooting: zero.

The rage bubbling up in this country, a subject I wrote about recently, played out last Friday in Grande Prairie, Alta. Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland was verbally accosted by a large, menacing-looking man who unloaded a string of threatening obscenities in her direction as she approached an elevator at city hall. Since identified as Elliot McDavid, a right-wing conspiracy theorist, he and a couple of female friends had set out to track her down.

After the encounter, they laughed about it in the parking lot and posted a video on TikTok.

The footage is deeply disturbing. I’m sure Ms. Freeland and her three female aides were frightened to death, wondering what this man was going to do.

But other than being condemned on Twitter, Mr. McDavid has had little to worry about. Nothing will happen to him. If anything, his reputation among the Freedom Convoy folks and conspiracy theorists he hangs out with will likely only grow.

This kind of abuse isn’t new. Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek recently chronicled some of the abuse she’s been subjected to, including people showing up at her home. Former federal environment minister Catherine McKenna needed a security detail because of the dangerous vitriol aimed at her. Last August, Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner was confronted in an Alberta restaurant by a very large, hostile man demanding she respond to various conspiracy theories. Journalists have increasingly become online targets of the disgruntled. It’s everywhere.

Nothing is ever done. We can’t get social media companies to accept any responsibility for what is taking place. If anything, their platforms have become a frightening free-for-all. The federal government doesn’t seem inclined, or to have the stomach, to take this fight on.

But it’s the politicians themselves who deserve a portion of the blame here. Pierre Poilievre, the presumptive favourite to be the next leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, was asked about the Freeland incident. He said it was “unacceptable,” then went on about how he and his wife, Anaida, had been the victims of harassment, too.

This would be the same Anaida Poilievre who recently tweeted out a story about how Justin Trudeau meets with pedophiles – which, of course, is oxygen for the frankly scary people filled with hatred for the Prime Minister. Her husband, meantime, has fed into delusional conspiracies about the World Economic Forum. Mr. McDavid told The Tyee he didn’t feel bad about what he’d done. He also mentioned how the Trudeau government was part of the conspiracy involving the WEF.

It should be no surprise that Mr. McDavid is from Alberta, where smearing the federal Liberals is a blood sport. Around the time he was confronting Ms. Freeland, Danielle Smith, the front-runner to become the next leader of the United Conservative Party and the province’s premier, was tweeting out a misleading and malicious image accusing Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals of hiring “federal climate cops” to operate in Alberta.

She thinks this will help her win the UCP leadership. She doesn’t care if it stirs more rage among the Elliot McDavids of the world.

The moral dishonesty that underlies the debate around the harassment of public officials is breathtaking. Many politicians don’t dare look in the mirror for fear of seeing how they are contributing to this frightening phenomenon. Same goes for those supporting these very politicians. They are, effectively, accomplices to the crime.

The reality is there are political figures in this country propagating false and misleading conspiracy theories for votes while stoking fear and resentment. That’s a fact. And many of us seem to be fine with that.

In her tweets on the subject, Ms. Gondek said: “The cold reality is we all know the Deputy Prime Minister will be targeted again. We know I will be targeted again … And the next time may result in injury or death.”

We all need to think about those words. Because if her prediction ever comes true, “thoughts and prayers” aren’t going to cut it.

Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.