Warning: Readers may find some content disturbing.
Marjorie Knight used to knock on doors alone. This election in Ontario, her campaign team decided to always have her canvassed with someone else.
“I’ve had people call me the police because I ‘knew’ houses as I went door to door,” the Cambridge NDP candidate said. “You walk up to someone and they slam the door in your face and tell you they don’t care about your species. I don’t know what species it is.”
Knight, who first ran in 2018, doesn’t want to put herself in danger – she doesn’t know who she might bump into during her campaign. One of his campaign signs was recently defaced with insults.
“It was definitely hateful. And sadly, it’s in my community,” she said.
The incident is not isolated or party specific – all four major parties have said they have faced hate incidents so far during this campaign, often targeting racialized candidates.
Scarborough—Guildwood Liberal candidate Mitzie Hunter also had her campaign signs vandalized, with hateful words like Nazi and Fascist. In Peterborough, federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh was accosted by protesters at a rally for a provincial NDP candidate. The demonstrators hurled vile insults and threats at him and gave him the middle finger. (Peterborough Police have investigated and say there are no grounds for criminal charges.)
Krystal Brooks, Green Party candidate in North Simcoe, felt upset and hurt after finding one of her signs defaced by personal attacks. Brooks is from Rama First Nation and is a survivor of human trafficking.
“On one side it said, ‘Go back to the reserve,'” she said. “On the other hand, it was a little too inappropriate to say. But it was pretty targeted to my human trafficking background.”
Since sharing the incident on TikTok, her phone has exploded, with messages of love and kindness. Ontario Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner came to campaign with her to show his support.
She has heard from candidates she is running against. One even offered to help Brooks install more panels.
“I considered withdrawing. But I thought that was one more reason to keep going and it was just more motivation.”
“The climate has changed”
Knight and Brooks crews reported the vandalism to police.
The OPP actually works with the parties throughout the election, investigating potential criminal activity reported during the election campaign. Its protective services section is responsible for the security of the leaders of the Progressive Conservative Party, the NDP and the Liberal Party during the election.
Bill Dickson, spokesman for the OPP, notices a change in tone in this election campaign.
“Things have changed. The climate has changed. People seem to have changed and some blamed COVID,” he said. “If you disagree with a candidate, that’s fine. But targeting them with hateful words? That’s just plain wrong.”
Dickson notes that between 2020 and 2021, the OPP saw a 14% increase in “threatening and inappropriate communications to government officials.” This anger and polarization was on full display in the federal election last fall. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau even had gravel thrown at him during a campaign stop in London, Ontario.
The Ontario NDP has been tracking hate incidents this election and has reported six to the OPP so far, a mix of a vandalized sign, threatening comments online and hostile behavior by the share of those who show up at campaign offices. So far, the Green Party cites Brooks’ defaced sign as the only incident.
Neither the Progressive Conservatives nor the Liberals provided the types of incidents or their frequency, instead saying they are reported to police as they occur. The Liberals mentioned that they are hosting a session for candidates that looks at how to campaign safely and prevent violence, harassment and discrimination.
All four parties condemned the hatred.
Online Candidate Hate Tracking
It’s not just on the field, in person – the candidates are also hated online.
The non-partisan Samara Center for Democracy is trying to follow suit. The center is run a tool called SAMbotwhich tracks toxic tweets received by candidates and parties on Twitter.
Currently, the bot monitors 486 applicants, specifically looking for tweets sent to them for foul language, threatening, sexually explicit, attacking their identity, insulting or just plain rude. These are hateful personal attacks on candidates, not criticism of party policies or platforms.
In the last week of the campaign (May 11-18, including the debate), the bot analyzed 146,980 tweets and found 17,086 to be toxic, actually down slightly from the first week of the campaign. the countryside.
The greatest toxicity was directed at PC Leader Doug Ford (getting 5,760 potentially toxic comments), followed by Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca (2,495), NDP Leader Andrea Horwath (1,730) and PC candidate Stephen Lecce (1,262).
Sabreena Delhon, executive director of Samara, says tracking is important for understanding the extent of the problem of hate and toxicity on the campaign trail — and what that means for politics more broadly.
“Online toxicity is a barrier to civic engagement,” she said. “People are leaving politics or they’re not entering politics, or they’re just avoiding political conversation because of online toxicity.”
CBC Radio Ontario Morning7:31Candidates face racial slurs on signs and hate on campaign trail in Ontario
Delhon’s hope is to find out if the toxicity gets worse. She plans to collect data on this election to help guide policy and suggest possible solutions.
She knows that it would be almost impossible to stop the hatred towards the candidates.
“It’s a very complex problem.”