A Liberal election campaign stop in Bolton, Ont., that was hounded by angry protesters was cancelled on Friday due to safety concerns, a party spokesperson said.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau was set to speak at the event, which was delayed for nearly two hours before the party made the decision to pull the plug — an extremely rare move in Canadian politics.
It wasn’t exactly clear what specific concerns led to the cancellation. Media following the party on the campaign trail were told “security concerns” were a factor, although the public statement to supporters said “safety reasons.”
The party later restaged the event in Brampton, with Trudeau still attending along with local Liberal candidates. He told reporters that the event had to be cancelled because the party “could not guarantee the safety of those in attendance.”
“Canadians have had a hard year,” Trudeau told reporters. “And these protesters have also had a hard year. … I know and I feel the anger, the frustration, perhaps the fear.
“But we must meet that anger with compassion.”
Trudeau later noted that he has never seen the level of anger that has followed him during this campaign, including when he campaigned with his father when he was a child, and that there was no place for it at a political event.
“This is not who we are,” he said.
Police and campaign staff held protesters back from the event area in Bolton, which is about 50 kilometres outside Toronto. Music being played by event organizers and chanting from Liberal supporters were unable to drown out the protesters, many of whom were loudly shouting profanities aimed at Trudeau.
Some of the protesters were chanting about vaping rights, while others voiced anger about COVID-19 restrictions.
As Trudeau, campaign staff and media left the event area on the party campaign bus, protesters followed, many with raised middle fingers.
Protesters have been hounding Trudeau throughout the campaign so far about vaccines and the crisis in Afghanistan. The Taliban took over the country on the day the election was called, forcing the military to scramble to evacuate Canadian diplomats and allies.
Yet more protesters seem to be pushing back on the federal government’s call, right before the writ dropped, to mandate vaccinations for most domestic travellers as well as for all public sector employees.
Earlier Friday, protesters followed the Liberal leader at events in Mississauga and Nobleton, Ont., where they screamed profanities and attempted to get close to Trudeau. Some of the protesters in Bolton had travelled from those earlier events.
In Mississauga, Trudeau acknowledged people had a right to be angry about masks and vaccine mandates, but added, “It’s a choice they’re imposing on others,” and said the protesters are “endangering” other people’s lives.
Polling this week has shown Trudeau is facing a more disenfranchised electorate than in past elections, as he faces criticism over both the evacuation of Canadians and allies from Afghanistan and the timing of the election due to the fourth wave of the pandemic.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh expressed concern about the situation on Twitter, reminding Canadians that “everyone deserves to be safe on the campaign trail.
“I am very sorry to hear this happened tonight to Mr. Trudeau and the Liberal team and I hope that everyone is ok,” Singh tweeted.
The Conservative Party said it condemns the actions of the protesters at Friday’s Liberal events, including the “obscene and extreme language” used by some.
“Many families, some with young children, attend events such as these. It should be a positive experience, whatever their political affiliation,” the party said on Twitter.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole agreed. “No one deserves to be subjected to harassment and obscenities,” he tweeted.
— with files from Abigail Bimman