Canada’s top public servant, Michael Wernick, said he is worried that someone could be assassinated during the coming federal election campaign given the rise of disturbing political discourse.
Speaking before a House of Commons justice committee to address the SNC-Lavalin affair, Wernick said he is “deeply concerned” about the state of the country and the direction in which politics are headed in Canada.
“I worry about the rising tide of incitements to violence when people use terms like ‘treason’ and ‘traitor’ in open discourse. Those are the words that lead to assassination,” Wernick told the MPs on Thursday.
“I’m worried that somebody’s going to be shot in this country this year during the political campaign,” he said.
Wernick, the clerk of the Privy Council, appeared to address comments made by Saskatchewan Sen. David Tkachuk during a speech to protestors in Ottawa earlier this week when he encouraged them to “roll over every Liberal left in the country.”
“I think it’s totally unacceptable that a member of the Parliament of Canada would incite people to drive trucks over people after what happened in Toronto last summer,” Wernick said, referring to Alek Minassian, who is accused of killing 10 people in a van attack in Toronto last April. “Totally unacceptable, and I hope that you, as parliamentarians, are going to condemn that.”
WATCH: Ongoing coverage of the SNC-Lavalin affair
Wernick also expressed dismay about what he called the trolling from the “vomitorium” of social media entering the open media arena.
“Most of all, I worry about people losing faith in the institutions of governance of this country, and that’s why these proceedings are so important,” he said.
Tkachuk made the controversial comments while addressing the United We Roll protestors on Parliament Hill, who arrived this week after a cross-country trip from Red Deer, Alta.
They want the Liberal government to scrap the carbon tax and two bills, which overhaul environmental assessments of energy projects and ban oil tankers from the northern coast of British Columbia. The convoy is also protesting the United Nations’ global compact for migration as well as Canada’s refugee policy, and its members have faced accusations of racism.
“I know you’ve rolled all the way here and I’m going to ask you one more thing: I want you to roll over every Liberal left in the country,” Tkachuk told a cheering crowd. “Because when they’re gone, these bills are gone.”
Tkachuk said in a statement that his remarks were meant to be taken “figuratively, not literally” and that a video shared on social media did not include his full remarks on two environmental bills that he said would harm the oil and gas industry.
“I was referring to defeating every single Liberal in the upcoming election,” Tkachuk said. “I was not advocating violence and I think everybody knows that, except those for whom it serves a purpose to interpret (my comments) otherwise. Certainly, the people at the rally knew what I meant.”
Tkachuk called the outrage around his comments “manufactured” to distract from the ongoing controversy facing the Liberals.
“I am not going to apologize for my remarks,” he added. “The words I used may not have been as artful as I would have liked, and certain individuals are happy to misinterpret them to suit their own self-interest, but I am not going to apologize for that.”
WATCH: Pro-pipeline convoy arrives in Ottawa for Day 2 of protests
During Wernick’s testimony, he strongly refuted a report from the Globe and Mail that alleged political interference in the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin, claiming it included “errors” and was “defamatory.”
“I’m here to say to you that the Globe and Mail article contains errors, unfounded speculation and, in some cases, is simply defamatory,” he said.
The report claimed that the Prime Minister’s Office attempted to pressure former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to intervene in the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin and that exasperation with her lack of co-operation was one reason for shuffling her out of the justice portfolio.
Wernick said he never witnessed any inappropriate pressure on Wilson-Raybould by Trudeau or any officials in the PMO.
“At every opportunity, verbally and in writing in December, the prime minister made it clear that this was the decision for the minister of justice to take. She was the decision-maker,” he said.