As It Happens

When 'Lock her up' came to Canada. Why Chris Alexander says he's 'mortified'

The Conservative Party leadership candidate says he did his best to stop the chant at the Rebel Media organized rally at the Alberta legislature.
Chris Alexander reacts to a crowd at a Rebel Media hosted anti-carbon tax rally, as they begin to chant "Lock her up." (Sheila Gunn Reid/Twitter, Zoe Todd/CBC)

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At the rallies that were a staple of Donald Trump's presidential campaign, several slogans developed. "Build the wall." "Drain the swamp." "Lock her up."

Now, one of those chants has made its way to Canada. On Saturday, a rally was held at the steps of the Alberta legislature in Edmonton, hosted by the right-wing organization Rebel Media. They were there to protest the introduction of a carbon tax by the Alberta provincial government.

Speakers included Wildrose party leader Brian Jean, "Rebel Commander" Ezra Levant, Bernard "the Roughneck" Hancock, and Conservative Party leadership candidate Chris Alexander.

During the speech by the former Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, the crowd began to chant the now familiar "lock her up" slogan, in this case directed towards Alberta's NDP premier Rachel Notley. 

Chris Alexander spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off from Toronto.

Carol Off: Mr. Alexander, welcome back to As It Happens.

Chris Alexander: Thank you very much Carol.

CO: You're not going to hang up on me are you?

CA: Never [laughs]. And there's no chance today because I'm not expected in question period.

CO: On a more serious note, we want to talk to you about this rally in Edmonton. This is the video that shows, as the crowd starts to chant a very familiar slogan, "lock her up", this time about Rachel Notley. What was going through your mind when you heard the crowd do that?

CA: Well, to that point I had been speaking for some time. The crowd had been reacting enthusiastically to my message which had been about jobs in Alberta, helping the unemployed. And then all of a sudden this new chant began. I had not initiated it. I had not foreseen it. And when I heard it I was actually mortified, because I don't ever think our democracy should ever be associated with calls for illegal, unconstitutional action. I, like many Canadians, was dismayed by what I saw happening south of the border in these recent months.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley. (Jonathan Hayward/CP)

CO: I guess the issue is that in the video, which was taken by people at the rally, that you're smiling when they are saying "lock her up" and your hand is moving in rhythm to the chant, as the people say "lock her up".  So why were you doing that?

CA: Well I think there's a distinction here between those that were at the rally and who saw what I said next and those that were not at the rally who want to imply that I was somehow instigating this chant. In fact, at first on Twitter I was accused of having participated in the chant, which I did not do.  And I was dismayed, in fact mortified. And I was trying to think fast on my feet. And the next message that came out of my mouth was about voting, was about ballot boxes.

Do I wish that the chant had not happened? Yes. But at the same time I take the anger and frustration of the people who were there very seriously. This was a group of people, and I spoke to many of them before, during and after the rally, who have lost their jobs.  They're part of this hundred thousand person cohort in Alberta in the private sector who've lost their jobs since the downturn began, and they're worried that with the carbon tax that other oil-producing jurisdictions won't have, their jobs haven't just gone away, they're not coming back.
More than a thousand people crowded the Alberta legislature on Saturday to rally against the provincial carbon tax put forward by the NDP. (Zoe Todd/CBC)

CO: Lots of people have lost their jobs and they're not standing there saying "lock her up" about Rachel Notley.  So this is a specific reaction. And I guess what people are saying is that if you feel so strongly about it, as you are saying here, why didn't you say "this is not right, this is not how we do this, this is not the direction I want to be taking my leadership"?
When I heard it I was actually mortified, because I don't ever think our democracy should ever be associated with calls for illegal, unconstitutional action. I, like many Canadians, was dismayed by what I saw happening south of the border in these recent months.- Chris Alexander

CA: Well, that's exactly what I did say.  I said "let's go to the ballot box". Not do things that involved committing illegal acts, and I've been saying that ever since.

CO: And you did that. You said that in your speech, and you moved on to that. But you didn't address this chant, this very offensive reaction to Rachel Notley. So, I guess, once again, are you rethinking that today? Are you thinking that you should have and might have addressed that directly?

CA: Well, I think I addressed it by not participating in it in any way and by delivering a different message immediately. I'm also well aware, Carol, that there have been calls for people to be locked up in the past.  When I was in government there was a petition signed by 12,000 Canadians calling for Stephen Harper to be locked up, literally, for signing a cross-border security agreement with the United States. David Suzuki called for Stephen Harper to be locked up, or jailed, for leaving the Kyoto accord.
Chris Alexander, seen while Canada's Immigration Minister, lost his seat to the Liberals in the 2015 election. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

CO: Was that offensive to you when those were made? And did you wish someone had stood up and said "that's wrong, don't say that"?

CA: Well, I think the most powerful instrument we have as politicians, and in media, is the power of our example.  Not to engage in these things. To call people out. To not make false accusations on Twitter and elsewhere.  And that's what I've tried to do and will continue to do every step of the way, because I think it is about the economy and about creating jobs. That's what that demonstration was about.  And if you look at my whole speech and all the speeches given that day, they were given in quite a constructive frame of mind.

CO: This event was organized by Rebel Media and Ezra Levant.  He has said that he is inspired by the ultra right-wing U.S. website, Breitbart, an organization that is misogynist and racist quite often.  Should that have given you any pause?  Did you think about it before you joined a rally that was sponsored by Rebel Media?

CA: Rebel Media has a big and growing following in Canada.  I see them as a Canadian news organization that covers issues that others don't cover.  But in this case they were organizing a meeting on an issue that is at the core of my campaign.  I was to talk to Canadian conservatives and Canadians across the board about job creation.  About the opportunity in front of us.

CO: Rachel Notley, who was the subject or the target of this attack and this "lock her up" chant, she has been subjected to threats of violence.  Her face was used as a target at a golf tournament by oil executives.  And she's not alone.  We saw Sandra Jansen, an MLA in Alberta who left the Progressive Conservative leadership race when she said that it had become misogynist.   What do you say to these attacks on female politicians?

CA: I think it's awful.  It's one of the reasons I'm in politics.  I cannot abide a political arena in Canada or anywhere where these kinds of things happen.  We have to stand together to create space for respect, to create space for bringing more women into politics, and to make sure that this country lives up this its ideals.

CO: And did that rally create space of that nature? Of respect?

CA: It was an absolutely upbeat, well managed, positive rally, with the exception of that one chant.  And that occupied less that 30-seconds of several hours.

CO: You say that this is a powerful movement that Ezra Levant is creating.  Will you hesitate before you take part in an event again of Rebel Media?

CA: I won't hesitate to take part in any event that helps us as politicians connect with Albertans and Canadians of all walks of life, especially those that need our help in getting our jobs back.  I think they were really proud of the whole event.  They posted speeches their leadership had made, other politicians had made.  Brian Jean was there and others.

CO: And if you could speak to this man who started to chant directly, what would you say to him?

CA: I'd simply say, we can do better in Canada.  I mean, I've said this throughout the leadership campaign.  We are not Trump.  We are not Trudeau.  We are Canada, and in our case, we are Canadian Conservatives.  We talk about these things in a civil way.  We are constructive, we look to the future, we respect one another, but we don't leave anyone out. We are inclusive, and we also respect what people have to say.  I can't tell people who've lost their jobs at Fort McMurray or elsewhere how to feel, or how they should be expressing their frustration, their very strong emotions.  They have the right to express themselves.  I see my role as listening to them and trying to fashion a better set of policies, a better platform for the future.

CO: Mr. Alexander, thank you.

CA: Thanks very much Carol.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. For more on this story, listen to our full interview with Chris Alexander.


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