"Lock her up for what? Because you disagree with her?"
A chorus of Albertans at a political rally chanting "Lock her up" about Premier Rachel Notley initially left communications professor Brian Gorman speechless.
"We have a long and ignoble history in Canada of aping the Americans — unfortunately not always in positive ways," Gorman said Sunday, referring to similar refrains from American voters keen to see Hillary Clinton behind bars.
More than 1,000 people crowded in front of Alberta's legislature building on Saturday for a rally hosted by the right-wing Rebel Media group.
The chant erupted in response to a speech from politician Chris Alexander, a federal Conservative leadership hopeful.
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"There's an ugly tendency among the extreme right, and I suppose the extreme left as well ... to confuse any disagreement with something that must be eliminated," Gorman said.
He pointed to groups such as Breitbart News Network in the U.S. and Rebel Media in Canada. Neither strive for coverage that reflects both sides of a debate, said Gorman, a former journalist who now teaches at MacEwan University.
"They see journalism as a struggle between opposing ideologies — and their aim is to win that struggle."
At Saturday's rally, Rebel Media leader Ezra Levant urged protesters not to engage with CBC employees covering the event. He decried them as extremists and activists, prone to causing scuffles.
Levant passed his microphone to speakers such as Wildrose leader Brian Jean, who vowed to tear up the carbon tax legislation if his party is elected.
Gorman described the speeches at Saturday's rally as a political power play, tapping into the anger and resentment of Albertans who feel ignored by their government.
"I think they're ripe for manipulation," he said.
"Politicians pay lip service to them and then get elected and then forget about them."
Alberta's current government, he added, shouldn't underestimate the vote of those left struggling and frustrated in the province.
"There are people with legitimate grievances and if we treat them as if they're an afterthought or irrelevant, the only weapon they have to employ is their sullenness and their anger."