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Anti-Vaccine Protesters In Canada Are Targeting Justin Trudeau's Campaign Events


In Canada, protesters against vaccines and vaccine mandates have spilled onto the campaign trail after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called a snap parliamentary election last month. Emma Jacobs reports that groups of protesters have been targeting and sometimes disrupting Trudeau's appearances across the country.

EMMA JACOBS, BYLINE: Canada's national election comes as there's a rise in COVID cases, mostly among the unvaccinated, leading to vaccine mandates by local and federal governments. Since then, thousands have attended protests against vaccine requirements at bars and restaurants in Quebec and Ontario. Protesters have also pursued Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the campaign trail with messages that have shocked people used to Canada's usually tempered political culture.

ALEX MARLAND: Somehow, there's just this extra level of anger that we're seeing here.

JACOBS: Alex Marland is a professor of political science at Memorial University of Newfoundland. Protesters have cursed at the Liberal Party leader and carried posters of him being led to a noose. One of his events was cancelled for security reasons.

MARLAND: This is something that has not been going on any time in recent memory.

JACOBS: According to Elizabeth Simons, deputy director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, the protesters are loosely organizing in groups on social media.

ELIZABETH SIMONS: Which track Trudeau. They share information about his itinerary, where he's going to be. They might carpool.

JACOBS: She says these same communities have targeted provincial politicians, too, including conservatives, even sharing information from whether lights are on in their homes to the cars in the driveway.

SIMONS: We are quite nervous that we're going to see violence. Now, that violence is likely not going to take the form of somebody actually getting to a politician or an official. That violence is likely going to be police or another protester or some kind of an altercation.

JACOBS: The prime minister and reporters were hit with gravel thrown by protesters Monday evening. Trudeau has become increasingly forceful in his criticism of the demonstrators. At a stop in Sudbury, Ontario, last week, he said their stance is endangering other Canadians.


PRIME MINISTER JUSTIN TRUDEAU: The folks out there tonight shouting, the anti-vaxxers - they're wrong. They are wrong about how we get through this pandemic.

JACOBS: Trudeau went on to call on his main political opponent, conservative leader Erin O'Toole, to condemn the protesters. O'Toole has, but it's not clear many were his supporters to begin with. Aengus Bridgman is director of the Canadian Election Misinformation Project.

AENGUS BRIDGMAN: The Conservative Party of Canada doesn't hold anti-vaccine views and has been sort of a very large supporter of significant government action to combat the pandemic.

JACOBS: Canadian misinformation about vaccines, according to Bridgman, has co-evolved with conspiracy theories in the United States but remains at the political fringes.

BRIDGMAN: These protesters - they're taking up a lot of national space. But relatively speaking, most Canadians are strongly in favor of both vaccine passports and getting vaccinated and mask mandates.

JACOBS: Still, that may not help Trudeau's campaign for reelection. His decision to call a snap election for September 20 may have been a political miscalculation. Polls now suggest his party could lose seats. But regardless of the outcome, University of Toronto political scientist Nelson Wiseman says the protesters will have used the campaign to get their message out.

NELSON WISEMAN: The most significant thing, in my opinion, is the kind of language that's been used and the threats. And that was normalized.

JACOBS: And that will remain a pressing concern for any government.

For NPR news, I'm Emma Jacobs in Montreal.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOUR80EAST'S "WATERLINE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Emma Jacobs