NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says the aggressive verbal harassment he endured outside a campaign event in Peterborough, Ont. was one of the most troubling experiences of his political career.
Singh was accosted Tuesday by protesters before and after a rally at the campaign office of provincial NDP candidate Jen Deck.
Videos posted to social media show protesters approaching Singh and shouting profanity in his face as he left the event. Some followed Singh to his vehicle, where they continued to yell and hold up middle fingers just outside the passenger-side window.
Protesters could be heard shouting, “You’re a f–king piece of s–t” and “You lying piece of s–t” on videos capturing the incident.
A day later in Ottawa, Singh said the incident reflects a worsening trend of aggression and polarization in Canadian politics.
“There were folks that were saying some really horrible things. Some folks were saying ‘I hope you die’ and things of that nature,” he told a news conference when asked about the incident.
“We should be able to disagree as a society respectfully, maybe even angrily, but it doesn’t have to come to the point where it’s getting so polarized that people’s safety is at risk.”
Singh said he has gotten used to dealing with aggressive behaviour in public, but conceded that the verbal abuse he received in Peterborough “would rank among the worst experiences.”
He directed some blame at politicians who stoke division, though he did not offer any names.
“There is a responsibility that politicians play who purposely flame these divisions or purposefully spread misinformation,” Singh added.
Peterborough police say they have reached out to Singh since there was no call for service made after the incident.
“It’s disheartening to hear as we know most residents are respectful & these few are not reflective of our community,” the police service wrote on Twitter.
Threats against politicians more common now
The 2021 federal election campaign and this winter’s truck convoy protest in Ottawa have highlighted what politicians and security agencies say is a growing trend of hostility toward political figures.
Signs and flags bearing the phrases “F–k Trudeau and “F–K Legault” were rampant throughout the Ottawa region for much of the protest.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was dogged by protesters for much of last year’s campaign. At a campaign stop in London, Ont., he was pelted with gravel.
A 2020 report by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service obtained by CBC News through an access to information request found that “political figures in Canada are facing threats of violence and online abuse with increasing regularity.”
The document notes an increasing number of online threats and calls for violence against Trudeau and says several provincial premiers have experienced similar threats.
Conservative politicians also have decried a shift in public discourse toward threatening and aggressive behaviour.
“Something has changed and it has not changed for the good,” Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner told CBC News last year.
Conservative leadership candidate Scott Aitchison condemned the harassment directed at Singh.
“This vitriol is corrosive for our politics and bad for the country. Politics by intimidation has no place in Canada,” Aitchison said on Twitter.