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Canada John Ivison: Trudeau's security scare a dark turn for an election filled with online threats

07:00  14 october  2019
07:00  14 october  2019 Source:   nationalpost.com

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a group of people in uniform: Liberal leader and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attends a rally during an election campaign visit to Mississauga, Ontario, Canada October 12, 2019.© REUTERS/Stephane Mahe Liberal leader and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attends a rally during an election campaign visit to Mississauga, Ontario, Canada October 12, 2019.

MISSISSAUGA – Suddenly the warning that “somebody’s going to get shot” doesn’t sound so preposterous.

Michael Wernick, the former clerk of the Privy Council, cautioned last spring that the state of public political dialogue in this country could result in assassination. The admonition was dismissed as hyperbole.

But the events at a Mississauga conference hall on Saturday night, where Justin Trudeau emerged 90 minutes late for a mass rally wearing a protective vest, have borne him out.

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The election that has been about nothing was in danger of becoming about everything.

Trudeau was due to take the stage at 5pm to speak to the biggest Liberal rally yet, in front of 30 candidates and around 2,000 supporters.

After an hour, the Liberal leader had still not shown up and the crowd was getting restless. Navdeep Bains, who as MP for Mississauga Malton was host for the evening, started in on another anecdote about how great it is to be Canadian before being shouted down by his own supporters.

Another local MP Omar Alghabra admitted he was filling time and started up a listless chant of “four more years” that petered out quickly. It was clear that something was badly wrong.

Trudeau finally emerged, 90 minutes late, and launched into his stump speech. But his embargoed remarks had him thanking his wife Sophie for introducing him, yet she was nowhere to be seen.

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What was visible was a handful of large men wearing green shirts, sporting backpacks, arranged in a protective phalanx around the Liberal leader. Officials said they are members of an RCMP tactical unit who have been with Trudeau at certain events on this campaign. But they have never, in my experience, been this visible.

When asked later what they were carrying in their backpacks, one said a pastrami sandwich and a squash racquet. The reality was probably more incendiary.

Nobody from the Liberal Party would comment on the security issue but officials recognized the incident was so public that it required an explanation.

There was, it emerged, a specific threat in the room against Trudeau personally (as opposed to a general threat to the public).

The RCMP’s recommendation was to put on a show of strength to deter the threat and to send Trudeau’s wife and children back to the hotel.

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The decision was also taken that the show must go on, which must have been terrifying for the Liberal leader, knowing there was the very real prospect that someone in the room was trying to kill him.

Trudeau made a reasonable fist of it in the circumstance – giving a speech heavy on the cuts to public services that he said would be made under an Andrew Scheer Conservative government.

“He looked at Doug Ford’s cuts and said: ‘Hold my beer’,” was one of his better lines.

But there was not much levity in the room and most people appeared relieved when the event concluded without incident.

Justin Trudeau et al. standing in front of a crowd:  Justin Trudeau attends a rally during an election campaign visit to Mississauga, Ontario, Canada October 12, 2019.© REUTERS/Stephane Mahe Justin Trudeau attends a rally during an election campaign visit to Mississauga, Ontario, Canada October 12, 2019.

Nobody would comment on the nature of the threat but security has remained tight since, with sniffer dogs checking the buses Trudeau and the media use to travel around.

The only comment about the incident Trudeau would make at a Sunday morning event was that his concern was for his family and the other people in the room. “It won’t change how I campaign,” he said.

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It is hardly the first general election campaign where security has been a concern. Canada has known political violence, even before Thomas D’Arcy McGee’s murder in 1868.

More recently, poet Irving Layton quipped that Canada had finally produced a political leader worthy of assassination, in the form of Trudeau’s father. Conspiracies involving the American Nazi Party in 1969 and the New York mob in 1974 have since come to light (the mob wanted to shoot Trudeau, in the hope that his friend Fidel Castro would come to the funeral, where they could shoot him too).

But the tone of this campaign, and the venom expressed toward Trudeau in particular on social media, has heightened fears that Canada could go to a very dark place.

Wernick warned the justice committee earlier this year that “the rising tide of incitement to violence, where people use terms like ‘treason’ and ‘traitor’ in open discussion … these are words that lead to assassination”.

A casual search on Twitter reveals how dire things have become. The hashtag #traitorTrudeau is an open sewer of conspiracy, the kind of thing the late Christopher Hitchens described as “exhaust fumes of democracy”.

Trudeau is presented as a leader who wants to hand the country over to the Chinese. “Wondering why he’s banning guns?” asked one keyboard warrior.

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The online response to the security threat in Mississauga was that it was a “desperate campaign stunt” and the bullet-proof vest was “a costume”.

Really? Does anyone seriously think an RCMP tactical squad would allow itself to be used as a political prop?

On Sunday morning, Trudeau had the opportunity to use Thanksgiving as an opportunity to appeal for civility, and for zealots everywhere to dial down the rhetoric. Instead, he cranked it to 11.

He stopped short of blaming the Conservatives for the security scare, rejecting the idea that Scheer’s language had put his safety at risk. But he did call the party “reprehensible” for running ads that suggest the Liberals will legalize hard drugs. “We are seeing an increase in polarization and the politics of fear and negativity from the Conservative Party, including flat out lies,” he said. “The Conservative Party is creating falsehoods to scare people into voting for them, or against us. I don’t think there’s a place for that in Canada.”

He said his government is moving forward with the Christchurch Call to Action, the commitment by governments and industry to eliminate violent extremist content online that was signed after the terror attack in New Zealand last March. “We will look carefully at what we can do – protecting free speech, which is extremely important, but also ensuring that Canadians online are safe from toxic intimidation. The rules that apply in the public sphere should also apply in the virtual sphere,” he said.

It is long past time that a zero tolerance approach was taken toward the online incitement by cowards who don’t even have the cojones to attach their names to their poison.

Freedom of speech does not extend to intimidation and death threats.

The leaders of our political parties are honourable people who are serving their country, not traitors or turncoats.

Canada blessing is that power is transferred peacefully and violence is, by and large, alien to its political culture.

All Canadians, regardless of allegiance, should give thanks for that this Thanksgiving.

jivison@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/IvisonJ

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