Aggression on campaign trail in Waterloo region a 'disturbing', but not uncommon trend

From vandalized or stolen election signs to verbal harassment and nearly physical assault, local federal election candidates, across various parties, have faced aggression and intimidation on the campaign trail.

Police, political candidates report several targeted incidents

Protesters wait for Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau to arrive at a campaign event in Bolton, Ont. on Friday, August 27, 2021. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

From vandalized or stolen election signs to verbal harassment and nearly physical assault, local federal election candidates, across various parties, have faced aggression and intimidation on the campaign trail.

It's a trend that one candidate described as "disturbing," but not uncommon, according to a political science professor. 

Verbal attacks, assault

Just last week, Waterloo regional police confirmed officers were called to a disturbance between two males near the campaign office of Tyler Calver, Conservative candidate for Kitchener South-Hespeler. Calver said in a statement that a man had assaulted one of his volunteers.

"Volunteers, and their safety is an integral part of all campaigns and remains my top priority. Violence has no place in the democratic process," the statement read.

That same week, Kitchener Conestoga Liberal candidate Tim Louis said his family was verbally attacked during door-to-door canvassing.

"There is a level of discourse that I find disturbing … For the first time on campaign, my wife said to me, 'I don't feel safe.' I was very close to being physically assaulted at least once," Louis told CBC K-W. "I don't mind when people disagree, but we can disagree … without resorting to violence."

Louis said that of the three elections he's run in, the violence during this one has been the worst.

"It's a disturbing trend and I think Canadians have the capacity to rise up and say no to this," he said. "We need to be inclusive, we need to be respectful of each other and we can disagree, just do it without being violent."

Louis said he was with Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau during a campaign stop in Cambridge last month when protestors shouted obscenities, uttered death threats at Trudeau and hurled racist and misogynist insults.

 "It was very difficult to see, and it was disturbing, and I won't stand for that," said Louis.

Trudeau has been the target of several protests along the campaign trail. More recently, protestors in London threw gravel at the Liberal leader, which prompted a police investigation.

Election sign damage, theft

Also last week, Ontario Provincial Police launched an investigation into damaged federal election signs in Fergus. They belonged to a Liberal party candidate.

In late August, Waterloo regional police responded to several incidents involving election signs. Several signs were damaged in Waterloo and some were stolen in Kitchener.

Police sent out a reminder to members of the public that tampering with election signs in any way is an offence under the Criminal Code and the Canada Elections Act.

'It's not uncommon'

Election periods are usually the time when citizens feel more inclined to get involved in political discussions, according to Cristine de Clercy, associate professor in political studies at Western University.

This means clashes aren't uncommon.

"There is friction, combativeness, aggressiveness, that has been reported on the campaign trail experienced by candidates. That is not unusual. Politics is very much about the clash of ideas and elections are periods when ordinary citizens get to directly engage in [that] clash of ideas," she said. "And yeah, some people get carried away with it."

She said this type of aggression has been reported throughout history.

"Every election cycle, people think we've hit a new low, 'behaviour is just terrible now', but actually historically, there are lots of examples of very bad behaviour occasionally by citizens toward politicians," she said. "It's not uncommon. Lots of people get very worked up by the competition. They want their side or their representative to win."

She said there have been times during the early years of voting when people would be hauled out of pubs or parks and intimidated by citizens to vote for specific candidates. She said political candidates and politicians may be a bit safer now with security detail by their side, which wasn't common in the 60s and 70s for people other than the prime minister.

"Lots of people take politics very personally, but that's the nature of campaigning," de Clercy said.