Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau says he will continue to campaign in the face of increasingly aggressive protests, but will follow the advice of the RCMP when it comes to security.
Police in London, Ont., confirmed on Tuesday that they are investigating an incident that occurred during a Liberal campaign stop the previous day, when protesters threw gravel at Mr. Trudeau and others.
Security experts have warned that the Liberal Party’s campaign events, which have largely been held in outdoor locations, are risky, and that violence from protesters could escalate in the remaining days before the Sept. 20 vote.
The Liberal campaign has been besieged by protests throughout the election campaign. Some groups have organized online to ambush the party’s events, even though the locations are often not publicly advertised in advance. The leaders of other parties have condemned the increasingly extreme tactics of protesters.
Mr. Trudeau said he will continue to campaign as long as his security detail says it is safe. He blamed the gravel throwing and other recent incidents on “anti-vaxxer mobs” who are “practically foaming at the mouth” to get to him.
“A few misguided individuals who don’t believe in science, who just want to watch things burn, are not going to make us flinch,” Mr. Trudeau told reporters on Tuesday during a campaign stop in Montreal. “Yes, we need to adjust, we need to make sure we’re keeping people safe, but we need to not accept that further distancing between people and the people who want to represent them is inevitable or desirable.”
During election campaigns, the RCMP provides protective services to all leaders with official party status. RCMP spokesperson Sergeant Caroline Duval said Tuesday the police force undertakes “threat and risk assessments” and monitors campaign events to ensure safety. But she added that maintaining public order is “the responsibility of the local police of jurisdiction.”
Mr. Trudeau did not specify how he would adjust his campaign style in response to the RCMP’s advice.
Pierre-Yves Bourduas, a former RCMP deputy commissioner of federal, international and protective policing, called Mr. Trudeau’s situation troubling and said demonstrators have become a lot more aggressive than in the past.
“It remains a challenge for the Prime Minister’s protective detail to manage the situation. They rely on information, they rely on different techniques to be able to determine the appropriate level of threat. But the fact remains, though, that it’s risky,” Mr. Bourduas said.
“The RCMP are stuck managing a potentially explosive situation … it could escalate.”
Still, Mr. Bourduas said it’s important for people vying for elected office to be able to meet safely with the public. “These events should continue. The message here is political leaders need to come up with a strong statement condemning this,” he said.
After the incident on Monday, Mr. Trudeau brushed off the escalation in rancour from protesters as “no big deal.” When a journalist asked him if any of the rocks hit him, he asked, “Does it matter?”
On Tuesday, though, the Liberal Leader condemned the incident, adding that law enforcement will decide if charges are warranted.
Other Liberal Party campaign events have been marred by security threats.
On Aug. 27, a Liberal event in Bolton, Ont., was cancelled over security concerns. At an event in Cambridge, Ont., on Aug. 29, one protester held a sign depicting the Liberal Leader standing beside a noose, and the crowd chanted “lock him up.”
Mr. Trudeau on Tuesday connected the protests he is facing to those that health care workers, including in B.C. and Ontario, have faced in recent weeks, as well as the daily bullying over pandemic restrictions that people working in places such as stores and restaurants have endured.
Mr. Trudeau also defended the proximity between the protesters and his team. He said Canadians don’t want to end up like the United States, where political leaders are surrounded by a “phalanx of security guards” who are forced to stop people from engaging with politicians. He said that the “little pockets of people lashing out” remind Canadians of the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol building, and that people don’t want that to happen on this side of the border.
Stephanie Carvin, a former national security analyst and an associate professor of international relations at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, said she’s concerned Canadian protest violence could escalate to the levels seen in the U.S. “What I worry is that people are looking at Jan. 6 and they’re now saying this is the model for political engagement, that you physically attack the person you disagree with. And that may happen. If this continues, it may have to change the way we conduct elections in the long run,” she said.
Many of Monday’s protesters were carrying signs or wearing T-shirts that promoted the People’s Party of Canada – an antivaccination, anti-establishment party headed by former Conservative leadership contender Maxime Bernier. Mr. Trudeau has previously connected the protests to the Conservative Party, but there has been only one confirmed instance of Conservative volunteers attending a protest at a Liberal event during this election campaign.
Mr. Bernier, who was hit with an egg recently during a campaign stop in Saskatoon, has been urging his supporters to start a “revolution.” He said on Tuesday he condemned the violence against Mr. Trudeau.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole called the violence “unacceptable” and urged people to debate ideas, rather than harass politicians they disagree with.
At a campaign stop in Toronto on Tuesday, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh called the gravel-throwing incident “horrible” and said that campaigns may need to be more careful about where they hold events, and do a stronger security analysis. He added that there are some “troubled folks out there” who are resorting to violence.
In August, Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves François Blanchet accused Mr. Trudeau of adding “fuel to the fire” with his responses to protesters. On Tuesday, Mr. Blanchet didn’t repeat those comments, and instead condemned the protests.
All of the major party leaders are in Ottawa for the first of two official debates, starting on Wednesday.
With a report from Menaka Raman-Wilms.
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