Politicians and academics worry about where extremist behavior in Canada could lead
Federal Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said no one should be surprised by the extremist behavior making its way to Nova Scotia, including outside the doors of his Pictou County constituency office.
Unmasked protesters gathered in New Glasgow, N.S., on Thursday and attempted to enter the locked office after promoting the event by referencing the Nuremberg trials, the courts held in the aftermath of the World War II for the war crimes of Nazi officials.
People don’t have to share his views or agree with everything — or even anything — his government is doing regarding the COVID-19 pandemic or other issues, Fraser said, but there are has a civility line that more and more people seem comfortable crossing. , and that worries him.
“There is no room for comparisons between public health measures and the Holocaust,” the Central Nova MP said in an interview from Ottawa.
“There is no place in our democratic discourse to threaten elected officials with violence because you disagree with them, especially when they have been democratically elected by your friends and neighbors who do not may not share your point of view.
Deputies, deputies targeted
The incident at Fraser’s office comes over the course of a week when several federal and provincial politicians in Nova Scotia received suspicious packages, some of which contained chemical irritants. Most of the envelopes were left sealed, but at least one that was opened contained disturbing images of hanged politicians. Province House was closed to the public on Friday following threats against it and other government buildings in Halifax.
The incidents follow protests that closed the Canada-US border crossing and took over parts of downtown Ottawa. Despite being portrayed as opposing public health measures, such as vaccination mandates, the protests also included people waving Nazi and Confederate flags, while others bullied community members and danced at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Fraser said he was worried not just about where things might lead, but the immediate threat of physical violence.
“Let’s not forget that the people who are in Ottawa today threatened journalists and elected officials,” he said.
But friends, we all have to pay attention to what is happening in this country. Such heinous acts only serve to spread fear and undermine democracy in Canada.
Lori Turnbull, director of Dalhousie University’s school of public administration and associate professor of political science, said right-wing extremism was having an effect on mainstream conversations as frustrations over public health measures were rising and that there was a loss of confidence in the institutions among some people.
“It’s not all about one thing, but we have a serious far-right presence in Canada that is starting to become more visible to the general public,” she said.
Nelson Wiseman, professor emeritus in the department of political science at the University of Toronto, said what is happening in Canada is a proliferation of something that has been growing for a few years.
“It’s become very common in the United States,” he said. “The United States is always showing Canada its future in all sorts of areas – in consumer trends, cultural trends, politics – and so there are spillovers, and that’s what’s happening.”
Wiseman said the overt anger and public expressions of racism, misogyny, anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry that emerged during Donald Trump’s presidency in the United States are spreading.
That’s why Turnbull believes it’s so important that political leaders in Canada at all levels and across all parties speak out against the actions unfolding in recent days.
“Political leaders must resist the urge to try to exploit at all costs what they see as a potential base of support,” she said. “There has to be some defense of the integrity of democracy.”
In recent days, leaders of all major parties in Ottawa have called on protesters to go home. What started as a supposed show of support for truckers, although the majority of people in this industry have been vaccinated and are still working, has turned into something very different.
West Nova MP Chris d’Entremont, whose constituency office in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, received one of the letters containing a chemical irritant, said the language people use when they were debating contentious issues. He says this is increasingly recognized within the Conservative Party of Canada caucus.
“I sometimes worry that people are treating it like some kind of Western movement or some other movement, and so [they] need to support it,” he said.
“But in the end, I think as it goes on, I think they’ll realize the fault of that. It’s not just that.”
For 16 years in provincial office and three in Ottawa, d’Entremont has seen his share of protests and frustrated voters. But he said a new tone has emerged.
“People are calling very angry”
“People on social media, people on emails and phone calls, people are calling very angry and demanding things and it’s really unlike anything I’ve really seen since I got been elected,” he said, adding that it’s starting to affect how politicians do their jobs.
“We should interact with our constituencies. We should interact with the public. And because of the additional threats that seem to be popping up everywhere, we end up having to put up, you know, barriers in this work.”
Like d’Entremont, Turnbull and Wiseman, Fraser believes that at least part of the problem lies in the past two years of public health measures that have caused people to withdraw into themselves and communicate online rather than face to face.
In many cases, Fraser said, this has led them to seek out viewpoints that validate and reinforce their own, rather than considering the views of others and engaging in constructive exchanges.
Even interactions between MPs have changed, he said, as Zoom meetings have taken away opportunities to bump into people in the halls of Parliament or at a restaurant or bar in downtown Ottawa, places where real cross-party relationships are forged.
Staff caught on the way
Fraser is also troubled by the fact that the people who actually receive threatening mail and protests in political offices are often not politicians, but rather staff whose job it is to help voters.
This work has been particularly challenging and all-encompassing during the pandemic, he said, as staff members worked to help people access financial benefits, support for small businesses and wage subsidies for larger businesses.
“It’s the kind of thing they’ve been doing to literally help thousands and thousands of people over the last few years, and they’re doing it in the face of this kind of aggression where protesters would compare the policies that our government has adopted from Nazi work during the Holocaust,” Fraser said.
“It’s not okay.”