TORONTO — Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau called out his political opponents for widening divisions and ramping up the rhetoric Sunday after he was forced by a security threat to wear a bulletproof vest in public.
“We have seen an increase in polarization in election campaigns around the world,” Trudeau said Sunday, where he helped youth pack canned goods and other items for a Thanksgiving food drive at a church in Toronto.
The Liberal leader said he was not blaming the Conservatives for the unspecified security threat. He said the decision to have him wear body armour and add a highly visible RCMP presence at the rally in Mississauga, Ont., on Saturday night was based on the event.
Still, he did not hold back his criticism when asked how the Conservatives have adopted a decidedly sharper tone in recent days on the campaign trail.
“Increased politics of fear and negativity and now, as we have seen from the Conservative party, flat-out lies,” Trudeau said.
That has included telling Canadians the Liberals want to legalize all drugs, when they have said repeatedly they have no plans to do so, and insisting a re-elected Liberal government would impose a tax on home sales, which they have flatly denied.
“We are seeing unfortunately an extremely high level of misinformation, of disinformation online,” Trudeau said.
“The reality is the Conservative party is continuing to spread falsehoods to Canadians to try and scare them into voting for them or against us and I don’t think that has its place in Canada.”
Trudeau would not comment specifically on the nature of the threat. He said the campaign followed RCMP advice on Saturday night, when a crowd of roughly 2,000 people waited at a rally that was delayed by about 90 minutes.
“My first concern was for the safety of my family and for all the Canadians in the room,” said Trudeau, whose wife, Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, had been expected to deliver remarks.
Trudeau, who is known to walk through the crowds to shake hands and pose for photos with supporters, said the threat would not change how he campaigns.
“The importance of getting that connection with people, talking with people about the very, very clear choice they are facing between Conservative cuts or a progressive government, means that I am as motivated as I have ever been to get out and connect with people every chance I get,” he said.
There was no sign of the bulletproof vest or the added security in the room on Sunday, when he was joined by Masai Ujiri, the president of the Toronto Raptors basketball team, during a visit to the riding where Ahmed Hussen, his immigration minister, is seeking re-election.
Later on Sunday, Trudeau was once again diving right into the crowds on a street in Newmarket, Ont., where he went to support Liberal candidate Tony Van Bynen.
The RCMP tactical officers that had been on stage with him in Mississauga were there too, but they were not surrounding him as closely and Trudeau did not appear to be wearing a vest beneath his shirt.
Vir Sodhi, 32, stopped to join the crowd when he found out Trudeau would be there while he was visiting from his home in Toronto.
He said he agreed with Trudeau about the polarization of politics, but he also thinks that Canadian voters also bear some responsibility for responding to that kind of rhetoric.
“If we didn’t succumb to it, politicians wouldn’t continue to use it as a bait,” he said.
“I think we have to we owe it to ourselves to be a bit more engaged, a bit more educated about the process and kind of tune off or not engage with propaganda.”
Trudeau is heading into the final week of the campaign trying to beat back surging support for the NDP and Bloc Quebecois.
He also made an afternoon stop in Aurora-Oak Ridges-Richmond Hill, a riding the Liberals want to win back from Conservative Leona Alleslev. She won the riding in 2015 as a Liberal but crossed the floor to join the Conservative caucus in 2018.
On the campaign trail in Burnaby, B.C., NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said it is “wrong” Trudeau is facing threats requiring increased security.
“I want to let Canadians know you can have all sorts of opinions and it’s OK to disagree, but there should never be fear for any leader from any party to feel like there’s any threat to themselves,” said Singh.
Simon Jefferies, a spokesman for Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, who took Sunday off from the campaign, also issued a statement condemning threats against politicians.
“No matter what you believe or how you vote, it is completely unacceptable to threaten anyone with violence,” he said in a statement.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 13, 2019.
Joanna Smith, The Canadian Press