The PPC, political violence and conspiracy theories
Fringe party director seen with violent mob, Toronto candidate alludes to executing Trudeau.
I dislike the People’s Party of Canada. Immensely. There is ample evidence of my poking fun at their candidates on social media. So I have a bias here. Even so, I gave the PPC a chance to say their part and they refused to.
A protest that ended with Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau being pelted by gravel in London, Ont. Monday is raising questions about the People’s Party of Canada and its links to white nationalist groups.
Footage of the protest appears to show PPC riding director Shane Marshall picking something up just moments before someone threw the debris at Trudeau. Marshall is listed by Elections Canada as the chief executive officer of the PPC’s Elgin--Middlesex--London riding association.
He also has a history of writing Instagram posts featuring white power anthems and neo-Nazi iconography.
“He runs three or four Instagram accounts that I was able to find, around this anti-authoratarian, right-wing push for violence that trades in conspiratorial ideas,” said Peter Smith, an investigative reporter with Anti-Hate Canada. “There’s this idea that the vaccine is about control, that it’s part of a communist plot. There are connecting dots between this anti vax, anti mask movement and hate groups of the past.”
Marshall is working with PPC candidate Chelsea Hillier — whose campaign signs were prominently displayed at Monday’s protest. The phone number Elections Canada lists for Hillier’s headquarters is Marshall’s. I left my phone number with the riding director but he hasn’t called back.
The PPC’s media relations officer did not respond to an interview request.
Yesterday’s flash of violence wasn’t an isolated event with the PPC. On Monday, Toronto-area candidate Marc Emery tweeted an insinuation that Trudeau should be assassinated, implying that his political career should end like Benito Mussolini’s in 1945. The Italian dictator was executed and hanged upside down in a public square.
PPC Leader Maxime Bernier initially refused to condemn Monday’s violence, instead calling Trudeau a “psychopath.” Just hours after the gravel pelting, Bernier escalated his rhetoric, tweeting that “When tyranny becomes law, revolution becomes our duty.” He changed his tune Tuesday morning.
“Some idiot” threw pebbles at the Liberal leader, he wrote on Twitter. “Words are our weapons. But violence is always wrong.”
A protester walked up to Bernier last week and struck him over the head with an egg. The PPC leader says his opponents never denounced the egging.
PPC supporters have been showing up at Trudeau events across the country, shouting him down and hurling insults at him. But Monday was as close as anyone came to physically harming the Liberal leader.
“Nobody should be doing their jobs under threat of violence or acts that put them in danger,” Trudeau said, after Monday’s incident. “It is absolutely unacceptable that people be throwing things or endangering others at a political rally.”
Whether or not Marshall will still be in charge of Hillier’s riding district after Monday’s violence, his association with fringe right wing groups was well documented before the attack. Marshall’s Instagram accounts make reference to Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf, depict the skull mask worn by American neo-Nazis and feature the song Bomb the Boats — a skinhead anthem about using violence to rid the homeland of “foreigners.”
The RCMP, which is responsible for security at Liberal events, are investigating the incident but it’s unclear why they allowed the protesters to get within inches of Trudeau. The mounties run security checks well ahead of each campaign stop and are supposed to make threat assessments in the event that things appear dangerous.
During the 2019 campaign, Trudeau’s wife Sophie Grégoire stayed behind at an event while he attended it wearing a bulletproof vest. But this year’s campaign, held amid an increasingly radical movement against sanitary measures meant to prevent the spread of COVID-19, is veering into uncharted territory. Trudeau had to cancel a speech in Bolton, Ont. last week after an unspecified threat caused the party to worry for his safety.
Indigenous-led protests against the Liberal leader have been peaceful by comparison. At the beginning of the campaign, dozens of groups held marches across the country to decry RCMP’s tactics in clearing land defenders from a logging site in British Columbia.
Bernier has fashioned himself into a leader of Canada’s anti-vaccination movement, speaking at protests against vaccine passports and sanitary measures across the country. The PPC leader was arrested on June 11 in Manitoba after he refused to self-isolate when entering the province. Since he’s unvaccinated, Bernier was legally required to quarantine himself before attending a rally in the village of St-Pierre-Jolys.
Smith says the combination of an unpopular election with a global pandemic is being seen as a recruiting bonanza for members of the far right. Anti vaccination influencers like Chris Saccocia also traffic in conspiracy theories and anti-semitism. In a 2014 Facebook post, Saccocia wrote that Hitler was “bang on, like he had a crystal ball into the future” in reference to the Nazi leader’s views on Judaism.
“It’s not to say that every person who is part of the anti vaccination movement is part of the racist right or even right wing politics,” said Smith. “What we see is that it puts them in close proximity to extremist views. So you’ll see these ideas about race that are laundered through the anti-vaccination movement. There’s no problem with protesting Trudeau or having reservations with the government’s handling of the pandemic. But some of these people are taking legitimate concerns and putting them through the lens of conspiracies.
“It takes good people who might easily be led astray and puts them on a path with folks who have nefarious ideas. One of the early organizers of the anti-lockdown protests was Brian Ruhe, who likes to cosplay as Hitler.”
Hillier did not respond to our request for comment.