Jan 09, 2019

It’s OK to not like JT: it’s not OK to call for him to be killed

There is little doubt that the bloom of the Justin Trudeau rose has lost some of its lustre. The advent of the young mop-haired, baby-balancing, stripey-sock wearing son of a former Prime Minister onto the national political scene had many Canadians excited, much as they had swooned decades ago for his dad, Pierre Elliot Trudeau (better known as PET, just as a lot of people call his progeny JT). When Justin won the 2015 federal election and became grand poobah there was a sense of real change from the perceived staid, boring style of leadership from Stephen Harper – whether that reputation was deserved or not – and an expectation of a new era of peace, justice and free kittens for all.

Not surprisingly things didn’t turn out quite as well as that. There sure have been gaffes – the trip to India which morphed into a costume party, meeting with Joshua Boyle, and there are more examples – and now a sizable percentage of Canadians mock JT and his government. Some of this discontent is reflected in polling numbers with the Liberals and Conservatives running neck and neck leading up to the 2019 election. If the two main opposition leaders, Andrew Scheer and Jagmeet Singh (the latter from the NDP) had better images, a Liberal loss in October could have been a foregone conclusion.

Politics is a blood sport and not for the faint of hear. Similarly, public views on leaders and their parties can get vicious and personal. I see a lot of comments to my blogs on LinkedIn and Twitter and I often come across views on JT that are far from charitable. It seems a lot of my compatriots have a serious hatred for our PM.

Hatred is one thing: calling for him to be killed is quite another, As Global News’ Stewart Bell reported yesterday such threats have been appearing on a FaceBook page whose members align themselves with the Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vests) populist movement in France that has been behind weeks of protesting and rioting, and which is seeking to overthrow the government of President Emmanuel Macron. The Canadian version describes itself as a protest against the carbon tax and politicians who it claims are selling “our country’s sovereignty over to the globalist UN and their tyrannical policies.” Mr. Bell wrote that “while the group’s own rules encourage civility and prohibit the advocacy of violence, the page is rife with comments that wish for — and sometimes encourage — the death of the prime minister.” Among the comments to be found are:

  • Trudeau needs to be shot
  • He needs to eat ‘led’ (I think the poster meant ‘lead’, i.e. a bullet)
  • Just shoot him
  • Push him off a cliff
  • Others suggested that he should be hanged or posted images of a noose, guillotine, electric chair and gunman while some referred to the assassination of former U.S. president John F. Kennedy. Another asked how easy it would be to stab Trudeau.

Not surprisingly, the RCMP is taking this seriously. Here is what I see as important in this story.

a) FaceBook again is being used to spread hate, intolerance and the encouragement of violence. The social media giant is in big trouble again over its inability to police the content placed on its application. From Myanmar to Canada individuals and groups are inciting acts of violence and the company cannot keep up with the sheer volume of material. I know this is not an easy thing to do – i.e. remove all this garbage – but FB really has to figure out a better way to do this.

b) I agree with my former CSIS colleague Jessica Davis (quoted in the Bell story) that it is far from clear whether any of these violent posts will be acted on. There are always more ‘talkers’ than ‘walkers’ but it is really hard to distinguish the two and it only takes one to do some real damage. Recall that last April an alleged ‘incel’, Alex Minassian, drove a van down Yonge Street in Toronto, killing 11 people. Very few incels kill but it is all but impossible to predict which one or two will.

c) the creation of a Canadian version of the Gilets Jaunes shows how connected violent movements are around the globe. Thanks to the wonders of the Internet and social media ideas, good and bad, spread immediately. This new world of information sharing makes it that more critical for CSIS, the RCMP and their partners to keep up on developments outside our borders and to share intelligence with their foreign allies.

d) The Gilets Jaunes can be described as slightly right of centre I think. I agree with Jessica that it is very nebulous and unorganised but that does not entail that it is not capable of violence. French citizens may have several valid reasons to man the barricades to protest all kinds of problems in their countries, but as often transpires movements get hijacked by other players. I have read where activists on the left and right are vying to jump on the protest bandwagon in France and steer it in a new direction. If either side wins out the chances of violence increase (perhaps more so if it is the far right but we cannot ignore far left violence at the same time).

In light of all this, the Canadian Yellow Vests are now on the national security radar and rightfully so. Any threat of the use of violence for political or ideological ends is terrorism and from what I have seen this would qualify as such. The leaders of the movement – if there are any – have a stark choice: they can either better police what gets posted on their site and drum out those calling for JT to be hanged, or they can be subject to investigation and censure. It is time for this crap to end.