‘I have a target on my back’: Liberal candidates say they’re coming face-to-face with anti-Trudeau vitriol in their ridings

OTTAWA—First-time Liberal candidate Elizabeth Quinto insists that most people in her southern Ontario riding of Oxford aren’t hostile. There are supporters who happily place Liberal election signs on their lawns, greet her warmly at their front doors and are willing to give her their vote.But over the past two weeks, Quinto has experienced a surge of opposition from a pocket of residents. Her signs have been stolen or thrown into a creek, with a neighbourhood watch group in Woodstock, Ont., warning on Facebook that a small group of people seemed to be targeting Liberal signs.“When I have been installing these signs with my volunteers, people are just yelling obscenities from the car,” Quinto told the Star. “Basically, ‘You’re a disgrace. Eff Trudeau. Eff the Liberals. You’re destroying this country.’ Just yelling at the top of their lungs as we’re trying to do our part.”The family law lawyer says she was also barred from talking to residents and handing out political literature at a local farmers’ market where other candidates appeared to be welcome. And she received a call from one elderly supporter, who said she’s been using her walker and a rock to repeatedly hammer her Liberal sign back into her lawn after a neighbour kept tearing it down. “Sometimes I do feel I have a target on my back,” confessed Quinto, who said she feels anxious when putting up signs and tries not to door-knock alone.Quinto is one of several Liberal candidates who have noticed a swell of vitriol and vandalism within their ridings, as Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau contends with unrest plaguing his own campaign in recent days. “I’ve never seen so much division in Canadian politics. It seems like it’s like an American political thing creeping … up the border, in my opinion,” said Quinto, who believes the discontent from those opposed to Trudeau’s pandemic response is trickling down into her campaign.The Liberal leader has come up against a vocal throng of anti-vaccine and anti-lockdown protesters in the past week, hurling obscenities and slurs and brandishing graphic images. The protesters — who kept out of sight Monday but resurfaced in Sudbury on Tuesday — have been gathering in encrypted chats to keep tabs on the Liberal leader’s travels and plan disruptions of his public events, the Star reported Monday. Candidates agree that the reaction they’re seeing is more concerning than the occasional sign-downing that sometimes occurs during elections.“This time around, it’s just the scale,” said Trevor Kirczenow, the Liberal candidate in the southeast Manitoba riding of Provencher, where he also ran in 2019. “It seems like a very organized effort,” he said. “Somebody is going around and removing every sign in certain areas, very quickly after they’ve been replaced.”Kirczenow’s signs have been cut up, one had a slur scrawled across it and others have been run over by vehicles. At least 50 signs have been vandalized or taken, including some on private property.“Vaccination is a big issue here, and I think that’s also a lot of what Trudeau is seeing when he’s having problems at his campaign stops,” Kirczenow said, adding that he doesn’t know for certain who is behind the acts. Like Quinto, Kirczenow has found support in his Conservative-held riding, but he won’t go out canvassing alone. He said people have yelled at his team so aggressively that it’s “not possible to have a conversation” with them.“Elections are a time where people should be openly disagreeing and presenting different ideas,” said Ottawa-Centre Liberal candidate Yasir Naqvi, who previously served the area as an MPP and has only encountered a small number of hostile voters so far.“But we also know that it has to be done in a way that is peaceful, that is respectful, without providing any risk to anyone. We’ve seen an erosion of that. I’ve never seen anything like this.”Liberal candidates also acknowledge that while their party seems disproportionately impacted, other parties are not immune.Conservative candidate Michelle Rempel Garner shared in a statement Saturday that she was recently aggressively approached in two incidents by men demanding that she “respond to conspiracy theories,” and has received a death threat from someone who has repeatedly called her campaign office.Oshawa Liberal candidate Afroza Hossain, who has also seen a similar uptick in sign vandalism, has said there are other ways for Canadians to show their dissatisfaction with the political climate.“You can express your ideas or express your support by going to the polls, rather than (vandalizing) campaign signs,” she said.Hossain’s team has seen her signs sliced in half, tossed in ravines and defaced with words linking the Liberal party to communism. Her campaign manager, Braeden Kloke, noticed that the vandalism first started happening last week, around the same time Trudeau was dealing with ramped-up protests.The damage has cost her campaign around $500. But that’s not what matters most to Hossain.“I will

‘I have a target on my back’: Liberal candidates say they’re coming face-to-face with anti-Trudeau vitriol in their ridings

OTTAWA—First-time Liberal candidate Elizabeth Quinto insists that most people in her southern Ontario riding of Oxford aren’t hostile.

There are supporters who happily place Liberal election signs on their lawns, greet her warmly at their front doors and are willing to give her their vote.

But over the past two weeks, Quinto has experienced a surge of opposition from a pocket of residents. Her signs have been stolen or thrown into a creek, with a neighbourhood watch group in Woodstock, Ont., warning on Facebook that a small group of people seemed to be targeting Liberal signs.

“When I have been installing these signs with my volunteers, people are just yelling obscenities from the car,” Quinto told the Star. “Basically, ‘You’re a disgrace. Eff Trudeau. Eff the Liberals. You’re destroying this country.’ Just yelling at the top of their lungs as we’re trying to do our part.”

The family law lawyer says she was also barred from talking to residents and handing out political literature at a local farmers’ market where other candidates appeared to be welcome. And she received a call from one elderly supporter, who said she’s been using her walker and a rock to repeatedly hammer her Liberal sign back into her lawn after a neighbour kept tearing it down.

“Sometimes I do feel I have a target on my back,” confessed Quinto, who said she feels anxious when putting up signs and tries not to door-knock alone.

Quinto is one of several Liberal candidates who have noticed a swell of vitriol and vandalism within their ridings, as Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau contends with unrest plaguing his own campaign in recent days.

“I’ve never seen so much division in Canadian politics. It seems like it’s like an American political thing creeping … up the border, in my opinion,” said Quinto, who believes the discontent from those opposed to Trudeau’s pandemic response is trickling down into her campaign.

The Liberal leader has come up against a vocal throng of anti-vaccine and anti-lockdown protesters in the past week, hurling obscenities and slurs and brandishing graphic images. The protesters — who kept out of sight Monday but resurfaced in Sudbury on Tuesday — have been gathering in encrypted chats to keep tabs on the Liberal leader’s travels and plan disruptions of his public events, the Star reported Monday.

Candidates agree that the reaction they’re seeing is more concerning than the occasional sign-downing that sometimes occurs during elections.

“This time around, it’s just the scale,” said Trevor Kirczenow, the Liberal candidate in the southeast Manitoba riding of Provencher, where he also ran in 2019.

“It seems like a very organized effort,” he said. “Somebody is going around and removing every sign in certain areas, very quickly after they’ve been replaced.”

Kirczenow’s signs have been cut up, one had a slur scrawled across it and others have been run over by vehicles. At least 50 signs have been vandalized or taken, including some on private property.

“Vaccination is a big issue here, and I think that’s also a lot of what Trudeau is seeing when he’s having problems at his campaign stops,” Kirczenow said, adding that he doesn’t know for certain who is behind the acts.

Like Quinto, Kirczenow has found support in his Conservative-held riding, but he won’t go out canvassing alone. He said people have yelled at his team so aggressively that it’s “not possible to have a conversation” with them.

“Elections are a time where people should be openly disagreeing and presenting different ideas,” said Ottawa-Centre Liberal candidate Yasir Naqvi, who previously served the area as an MPP and has only encountered a small number of hostile voters so far.

“But we also know that it has to be done in a way that is peaceful, that is respectful, without providing any risk to anyone. We’ve seen an erosion of that. I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Liberal candidates also acknowledge that while their party seems disproportionately impacted, other parties are not immune.

Conservative candidate Michelle Rempel Garner shared in a statement Saturday that she was recently aggressively approached in two incidents by men demanding that she “respond to conspiracy theories,” and has received a death threat from someone who has repeatedly called her campaign office.

Oshawa Liberal candidate Afroza Hossain, who has also seen a similar uptick in sign vandalism, has said there are other ways for Canadians to show their dissatisfaction with the political climate.

“You can express your ideas or express your support by going to the polls, rather than (vandalizing) campaign signs,” she said.

Hossain’s team has seen her signs sliced in half, tossed in ravines and defaced with words linking the Liberal party to communism. Her campaign manager, Braeden Kloke, noticed that the vandalism first started happening last week, around the same time Trudeau was dealing with ramped-up protests.

The damage has cost her campaign around $500. But that’s not what matters most to Hossain.

“I will say, more than anything, it is (about) the hard work of our volunteers who went out day and night, in this scorching hot weather, and hammered in all this signage,” she said.

Raisa Patel is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @R_SPatel