This election cycle the appropriation of grassroots far-right aggression by the People’s Party of Canada paid off. Recent polls often show more support for the People's Party federally than for the Green Party and Bloc Quebecois. All the while, candidates appear at anti-restriction protests, push the narrative of disinformation, rally against the “radical" trans agenda, and some even glorify the executions of political opponents and journalists.
They’ve never been more popular or more dangerous.
After a People’s Party of Canada candidate and director’s involvement in a London protest that ended with gravel being thrown at Justin Trudeau, it is important to understand the problems that come with the party’s relationship with Canada’s COVID-denial movement.
PPC candidates are getting a platform on the debate stages in local ridings and in interviews alongside major party contenders across Canada. Out of seven ridings overlapping with the city of Ottawa, PPC candidates debated in six. In Kitchener, candidate Marc Emery was invited to debate but declined over the venue’s vaccination policy, which he called “Apartheid-themed.”
Local news reporting has treated their political hopefuls as established contenders, and although small rallies are not usually given the same kind of coverage as major party events, they do sometimes receive coverage from major outlets. Maxime Bernier didn’t make the cut for the federal leadership debates, but the party succeeded at bringing some attention to their protests outside the venue while Bernier himself spent the duration of the English language debate on a racist podcast network’s live stream.
The PPC's new wave of support has been galvanized by a single issue, that of public health measures like “vaccine passports,” but the party itself is far from that. It’s a party of enabled bigotry, as evident by its history of attracting a whole lot of white supremacists in both its lived election cycles.
In this election, it’s more worrying than before, as they’ve effectively adopted anti-science rhetoric and messaging. The relationship is mutual. While every major party went into their campaign largely in favour of vaccinations and health mandates (as they should have, we’re trying to get out of a pandemic), Bernier saw an opportunity in a massive echo chamber of extreme and polarized beliefs. His presence -- as well as the PPC’s role in organizing viral events -- may be effective, but the movement he is courting is non-partisan (movement members have protested outside the homes of Conservative politicians) and would exist in almost the same capacity with any party championing the cause.
As a result, where major parties aren’t empowering anti-vaccine messaging, minor party candidates who do are sharing the same stage. This gives the appearance of validity to the voters for both anti-vaccine talking points and the People’s Party of Canada label -- a label that should carry a weight of white supremacy wherever it is seen.
And make no mistake, appeals to bigotry are not only a part of Bernier and the People’s Party’s past. They’re part of the current landscape the leader curates, and a feature of the party.
In a press release last week opposing bills C-16 -- an amendment to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression -- and parts of C-6 -- an amendment to outlaw activities related to conversion therapy -- the PPC made bold, bigoted statements conflating transgender identity with homosexuality: “Boys and girls suffering from gender dysphoria are being encouraged to start transitioning, when most of them would grow up to become healthy gays and lesbians.”
It referred to conversion therapy outlined in Bill C-6 as “therapeutic counselling,” a gross misrepresentation of the practises being banned under the bill.
The overwhelming draw to white nationalists, neo-Nazis, Islamophobes, and other hateful people is a feature of the party, not a bug. The 2019 election was fraught with what felt like news story after news story about PPC candidates or executives caught either propagating hate, or with documented hateful pasts.
This cycle is no different.
When the Canadian Anti-Hate Network exposed Shane Marshall -- a white nationalist with a habit of posting openly neo-Nazi content on Instagram -- it was not until eight days later, after a PPC spokesperson confirmed Marshall threw gravel at Justin Trudeau, that the party let him go.
But Marshall wasn’t fired for his open white nationalism. Instead, it took an assault on the Liberal Party leader at what ostensibly became a campaign rally for PPC candidates in London.
Although shocking from a political party, Marshall’s actions and his extreme politics are not anomalies for the far-right protest movement in Canada. The crowds organizing through Telegram groups to harass Trudeau are just the next stage of evolution for Canada’s racist anti-immigration movement who were quick to use anti-mask and anti-vaccine conspiracies to recruit to their cause.
A Very Canadian Problem
Before the protests against Trudeau, many of the same agitators recently protested against vaccine passports. Before that, their wedge issues were lockdowns and facemasks. But anti-government rhetoric pushed to defy COVID-19 mandates was always just above the surface of a pre-existing movement. Antisemitic and Islamophobic conspiracies are and have always been, an integral part of Canada’s far-right protests, just as they were when many of the same Canadians rallied under the Canadian Yellow Vests movement.
The Canadian Yellow Vests emerged from the ashes of the movement against M103, a non-binding 2016 motion to condemn Islamophobia in Canada. When the far-right realized the sky wasn’t falling, and Sharia law wasn’t being ushered in after M-103 was passed, the new lightning rod to rally under was the Yellow Vests.
Some of Canada’s most well-known anti-maskers, including Chris "Sky" Saccoccia and Pat King, are former Yellow-Vests. Soldiers of Odin, an anti-Muslim hate group and early adopters of anti-mask protesting, also provided security for early Canadian Yellow Vest rallies.
Every cycle picks up fresh faces as they broaden their horizons in time for the next polarizing issue. As a result, the anti-Trudeau demonstrations are often attended by those with years of experience shouting into a far-right echo chamber.
Many also have experience using social media to organize rallies on short notice, making them incredibly effective public demonstrators.
Although the PPC clearly used London’s anti-Trudeau protest as a campaign opportunity, -- their own candidate showed up with a purple-donned entourage -- it is worth remembering that before Bernier co-opted the movement, it existed in almost the same capacity.
The key difference now is that because of the PPC’s political aspirations, the movement has the most legitimacy lent to it since the beginning of the pandemic.
Bernier himself started attending anti-mask rallies in the Fall of 2020. Before that, when the movement rallied behind racist causes under the guise of “immigration reform,” the PPC attracted neo-Nazis and openly racist alt-right activists. Their signatories included that of a member of Pegida, an anti-Muslim hate group, and a former member of Soldiers of Odin.
The relationship between the People’s Party and Canada’s own grassroots hate movement is being shown in full force this election. Make no mistake: it is not new, and it is not imported.
Canada has produced some of the worst hate propagandists in Stefan Molyneux, Lauren Southern, Faith Goldy, and Gavin McInnes. An Institute for Strategic Dialogue study found 6,600 Canadian channels pushing hateful content, and that Canadians are disproportionately active in spaces like 4chan’s /pol/ board, which trades near exclusively in hate speech. As the 2021 election concludes and discourse moves away from the violence and bigotry we have seen, it is critical to remember one thing -- Canada is to blame for its own far-right problem.
Follow Dan Collen on Twitter @SpinelessL.