Conservative candidate banishes campaign volunteers who were at Trudeau rally
Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole condemns harassing behaviour like what was on display Friday night
Conservative candidate Kyle Seeback said Saturday some of his campaign volunteers were at the Liberal event shut down by police last night amid a tenuous security situation.
In a media statement, Seeback, the party's candidate in Dufferin–Caledon, said a "few of my supporters attended the protest outside Justin Trudeau's event," and as a result they are "no longer welcome on my campaign."
"My campaign has zero-tolerance for obscenities or threatening behaviour against any candidate," Seeback said.
Trudeau has been dogged by protesters at many of his campaign events, but the scene in Bolton, Ont., Friday night was particularly chaotic, with hundreds of angry people on hand for a planned outdoor rally.
Among the protesters were anti-vaccination activists who shouted vulgarities at Liberal volunteers and carried anti-Trudeau signs scrawled with obscenities. The crowd was frustrated with Trudeau's push to make vaccines mandatory in some settings and his support for provincial vaccine passports to restrict entry into some non-essential businesses.
Video footage from the event shows a handful of people with blue Conservative-branded T-shirts among the unmasked crowd assembled for the protest, which also included a strong contingent of people angry over the federal government's ban on flavours in smoking cessation devices, such as e-cigarettes.
The raucous group outnumbered police and, after a two-hour delay, the rally was cancelled. While Trudeau has faced security threats at election events in the past, police believed it was too dangerous to proceed with this rally.
Trudeau and his campaign bus were subsequently escorted from the property by Ontario Provincial Police (OPP).
Earlier Friday, at a campaign stop at Nobleton, Ont., anti-vaccination activists also disrupted Trudeau's visit to a local bakery. Protesters were seen banging on the bakery windows while shouting "F---you, Justin."
A woman carrying her infant barged into the business demanding to speak to Trudeau about why he's "funding segregation" by supporting public health tools such as vaccine passports. Another protester said "the blood of Jesus" is on Trudeau for his pro-vaccine policies.
A Liberal campaign spokesperson said security concerns were also behind a decision to move another Friday campaign event indoors. An announcement on vaccine passports was supposed to be held outside but went ahead in a tightly packed Syrian restaurant in Mississauga, Ont., instead — a place where physical distancing was non-existent.
"A determination was made by our campaign staff that it was no longer safe to hold the event outside, and so the event was moved indoors," the spokesperson told CBC News.
Speaking to reporters after the fracas, Trudeau said he has never seen this level of anger or intensity at a campaign event.
Asked if his move to make vaccine mandates a campaign issue is partly to blame for the fervent opposition he's now facing out on the hustings, Trudeau said he knows some people are "scared" about mandatory shots, but he won't back down from his pro-vaccine posture.
"Science tells us that the best way through this pandemic is to get vaccinated. That's how we end this, that's how we get back to the normality that so many people desperately want. We have to stand strong for what we know to be true. That science is going to help us through this, is going to be the path forward out of this," Trudeau said.
WATCH | 'We could not guarantee the safety of the people in attendance,' Trudeau says about cancelling campaign rally:
Speaking at an event in Fredericton on Saturday, O'Toole said he is trying to run a positive campaign, and he "strongly condemns any form of harassment" on the campaign trail.
"We should be having a healthy and respectful debate. We have no time for people who bring negativity to campaigning. I urge everyone to put the country and our democracy first — let's have a positive debate of ideas on the future. That's my approach, and that's my expectation for every single member of our team."
He said any Conservative volunteer found to have been part of the Bolton event "will no longer be involved with our campaign, full stop. I expect professionalism, I expect respect. I respect my opponents."
WATCH | O'Toole comments on Bolton, Ont., protests:
At an event in Sudbury, Ont., NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said what happened at the Liberal rally last night was wrong.
"No one should have to cancel an event because they worry about the safety of people coming out. I just want to condemn that. Mr. Trudeau and his team should never worry about their safety," Singh said.
Singh said this sort of anger is driven by anxiety at a time when COVID-related lockdowns and public health restrictions have upended social and economic life in this country.
The push to make vaccines mandatory in some settings has also caused unease, he said, and anti-vaccination activists need to be reassured that the COVID-19 shots are safe and effective.
"People are worried. They are in a precarious situation, and that's why there's tension," Singh said.
WATCH | Singh speaks about protest that forced a Liberal event to be cancelled:
As Singh left the event in northern Ontario, his bus was briefly held up by a small group of anti-vaccination protesters. One woman with a megaphone shouted: "You're killing humanity. Stop these vaccines."
People's Party Leader Maxime Bernier has been a vocal critic of public health measures like the ones the Bolton crowd were protesting against Friday night. Bernier, who is unvaccinated, has also been a fixture at "no more lockdowns" and anti-masking rallies across the country.
In a social media post, Bernier said Trudeau has been a flawed leader throughout the pandemic, calling him a "fascist psychopath" who is "the most intolerant, authoritarian and divisive prime minister in Canadian history."
WATCH | Bernier on anti-Trudeau protest:
Asked later about the cancelled Trudeau event, Bernier said in an interview that "people have the right to express their point of view as long as they do it peacefully."
"We are dividing the population. It's segregation. You know, some people will have fewer rights than other ones. We don't want to live in a country like that. It's segregation," Bernier said, speaking about provincial restrictions that limit some activities to people who've had both of their COVID-19 shots. "They do have to protest, and they're using their words to protest."
Green leader feels unsafe on the campaign trail
Green Party Leader Annamie Paul said she's not surprised to hear of overzealous protesters disrupting an event.
In an interview, Paul said harassing behaviour "has been a constant for me throughout my time as leader." Paul, who is campaigning without a full-time security detail, said she has faced "taunts" and "threats" online, and she is worried it will spill over into physical violence.
This week, she said, someone threatened to come to one of her events and intimidate her, a threat that was never carried out but one that has shaken her as she campaigns in the Toronto Centre riding.
"It's making me very uncomfortable and making me feel very unsafe. The online hate is always there and it's just gotten worse. It's a time of insecurity. I just hope we can continue to maintain a safe situation," she said.
WATCH | Green Party's Paul says she's felt unsafe on campaign:
In a media statement, Conservative candidate Michelle Rempel Garner said aggression like that directed at Trudeau is a "frequent occurrence" for her and other female politicians.
Rempel Garner, a candidate in Calgary Nose Hill, said she has recently been the victim of harassing behaviour on the campaign trail as men with cameras "demanding I respond to conspiracy theories" stalk her as she stumps for votes. Last night, while out for dinner, she said she was "accosted" by a "large man."
"In the last two weeks, I have also received a death threat from someone who called my office in escalating states of verbal abuse over the course of days," Rempel Garner said.
"This means I can't advertise the location of my campaign office. I can't attend public events where my attendance has been advertised. I've had to enhance security measures. I'm on edge and feel fear when I'm getting in and out of my car, and out in public in general," she said.
Rempel Garner said the solution may lie in "legislation that enhances the ability to prosecute for criminal harassment" and a crackdown on phony social media accounts that are behind a "barrage of online hate and defamation" directed at female politicians.
With files from the CBC's Raffy Boudjikanian