“Lock him up.”
No, this wasn’t chanted at a rally of former U.S. president Donald Trump, but by protesters at a campaign event of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.
While the words may be the same, experts say the anger expressed at some Liberal rallies is not necessarily directly influenced by events in the U.S., but reflect a simmering resentment that has existed even before Trump.
Carleton University political science professor Jonathan Malloy said that anger with institutions and “elites” was evident before Trump’s election victory, such as the vote to approve Brexit in the U.K. in June 2016.
“We’re seeing this sort of anger in different countries … this sort of angry mob that’s just rebelling against traditional elites, traditional institutions,” he said.
“So it’s not just American, it’s elsewhere.”
Now, recent COVID-19 policies, such as vaccine passports, have tapped into something that was there “long before COVID,” according to Malloy.
He said that anger towards elites and institutions has translated into anger towards COVID-19 policies as they are implemented by the government, and the more there is a consensus that vaccines are the route out of the pandemic, the angrier those opposed to it become.
Malloy said the anger from protesters is largely driven by feeling left behind, that they don’t belong in the new consensus and are not being listened to.
One person who is listening to them, though, is Maxime Bernier, the leader of the People’s Party of Canada, which has seen growth in this election campaign compared to its results in 2019’s vote.
According to an Ipsos poll of 2,001 Canadians over 18 years old done Sept. 10-13, four per cent said they would vote for the PPC if the election were held tomorrow — a significant increase over the party’s standing at one per cent in the last election.
Bernier has been outspoken against vaccine passports and COVID-19 restrictions and has remained skeptical about climate change, even mocking teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg in a tweet, but Malloy said that any similarities to Trump may not be intentional.
The PPC, though, does have a connection to the anger demonstrated towards Trudeau. Shane Marshall, the president for a London, Ont., PPC riding, has been arrested and charged with one count of assault with a weapon in connection to the gravel throwing. Marshall has since been removed from his position by the party.
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While not as physical as throwing gravel, chanting “lock him up” is the type of rhetoric that vilifies the political opponent, said Alexander Reid Ross, author of Against the Fascist Creep and a lecturer at Portland State University.
“It’s an authoritarian solution … that has definitely caught on among some sectors in Canada, but luckily, not as powerful as here in the United States.”
Trudeau is not currently being criminally investigated on any matter, although the RCMP is examining the leader’s involvement in the SNC-Lavalin affair, for which he has been accused of influencing the judicial process regarding the company.
The Conservatives have also called on the RCMP to investigate whether Trudeau broke ethics rules over the awarding of a government contract for WE Charity, which has paid members of Trudeau’s family for speaking engagements.
Ross said that resentment can grow when a political establishment has had power for a long time, and the more excluded some feel, such as with vaccine passports, the more open they can be to forms of violence.
That can be seen in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, when rioters who believed the U.S. election was stolen from Trump stormed the building, resulting in five deaths.
“When those parties start to degenerate and decline, that can lead to a situation where political agents disaggregate from a conservative political engagement, and they start to enter into terrorist activity,” Ross said.
While Ross agrees that such policies as a vaccine mandate should be debated, the problem is that those arguments can be “flooded with far-right supporters” that pull the argument out of a “rational context.”
For Ross, vaccine protests could even bring more people into the fold.
“You can’t underestimate the power of belonging in a political movement.”