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EDITORIAL: Election takes a scary turn

Justin Trudeau wore a bulletproof vest and was surrounded by a uniformed security team at an election event in Mississauga, Ont., on the weekend after police apparently received a specific and credible threat to his safety.

In case you don’t pay attention to such things, politicians in body armour are not a regular thing in this country.

It’s a situation that should generate concern and reflection. Instead, in a total absence of facts to support their case, online trolls immediately began suggesting it was all faked to curry favour for the Liberals, even arguing that aspects of the police uniforms “proved” the security officers weren’t real.

This is where political discourse is now.

And if we don’t change our ways, someone is going to get hurt or killed.

Also this weekend, to the south of us, a video was shown at a conference supporting U.S. President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign (an event held at one of Trump’s resorts) that included a mock video with an image of Trump shooting and stabbing Democrats and journalists — the organizers said they hadn’t approved the video being shown.

What we’re doing when we accept threats of violence, whether they are on social media or in video , is normalizing the idea that rage and threats of physical harm are permissible forms of political expression.

On Monday, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham tweeted that the president had not yet seen the clip, “but based upon everything he has heard, he strongly condemns this video.” That being said, the notably Twitter-active president has not, as yet, tweeted his own condemnation.

Be prepared for people to argue that it’s all just a joke, that attacks like it are personal opinion and are harmless. Get ready to have to weather other claims that people are being too fragile and that they are taking things too seriously.

Except that’s not it at all.

What we’re doing when we accept threats of violence, whether they are on social media or in video, is normalizing the idea that rage and threats of physical harm are permissible forms of political expression.

They aren’t — and the reason that they aren’t is not because they will make the vast majority of Canadians pick up weapons and launch actual violence against public figures, but because there are members of our community who may do exactly that.

We can’t use social media to broadcast the need for physical action and then wash our hands of the results when someone receives that message and takes action.

Disagree with a politician’s policies?

By all means, make your cogent arguments against them — and make them now, during an election campaign, when those arguments can have the greatest impact to bring voters to your side of the issue.

But when your opposition strays into the land of making things up to incite others, or into directly encouraging violent acts, you’ve crossed the line — even if you’ve gone no further than the distance from your coffee machine to your chair in front of the keyboard.

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