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Globe editorial: From Trudeau and Scheer, a lesson in how not to treat a far-right protester

The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Official Opposition have joined forces to make a celebrity of an anti-immigration protester. In the process, they have offered an unsettling glimpse of what next year’s election campaign might look like, if better judgment does not prevail.

When a woman interrupted Justin Trudeau’s speech at an event in Quebec last Thursday by yelling questions about the costs of “your illegal immigrants,” he could have avoided giving her oxygen. Instead, after initially responding politely, he raised his voice as he decried “intolerance” that “has no place here” – a message he repeated as he fed off supporters’ cheers. When she tried to confront him as he made his way through the crowd, he substituted “racism” for “intolerance.”

So while playing to fellow Liberals, Mr. Trudeau helped her make the case to others uncomfortable about Canada’s immigration and refugee policies – including those more moderate than her – that their government has no time for them.

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If Mr. Trudeau’s conduct could be partly chalked up to the heat of the moment, the same could not be said for Andrew Scheer’s four days later.

By Monday, there were reports that the protester – who accused Mr. Trudeau of ignoring “old-stock Quebeckers” – belongs to a far-right anti-immigration group. Yet the Conservative Leader saw fit to release a statement accusing Mr. Trudeau of “vile personal insults” against her, and saying the PM is name-calling because he is losing an immigration debate.

What the debate is about is not altogether clear. There is limited daylight between the Liberals and Conservatives on immigration policy; even on asylum seekers entering at unofficial crossings, which the Tories have painted as a Liberal-made “crisis,” it is fuzzy what they would do differently.

But that, apparently, is not enough to deter both sides from using the issue to fire up supporters. They should consider the dangers of dividing us into pro- and anti-immigration camps now, before electoral stakes offer more incentive to do so.

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