NOTICE: From Sunny Paths to Stone Pelters: Why Do Some Canadians Hate Justin Trudeau?


Fenwick McKelvey, Concordia University and Scott DeJong, Concordia University

The snap elections in Canada have increasingly featured threats of violence against Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau. While not the only leader to be harassed, Trudeau’s campaign stops in recent weeks have been disrupted by hostile, mostly white crowds – a protester has been accused of throwing gravel at Trudeau during the an electoral appearance.

Outside of Canada, people might be surprised to hear of the anger directed at a politician known internationally as a young, charming and energetic progressive. But our research into Canadian memes revealed a lingering and visceral dislike of Trudeau among many right-line communities.

In Canada, Trudeau is a polarizing figure – people online like him or love him very much.

Trudeau, the son of famed former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau who enjoyed similar international fame, ushered in yet another episode of Trudeau when he won his first election in 2015. This campaign was defined by the focus on the “sunny lanes” and Instagram style as part of a gradual reset after years of Conservative rule.

Trudeaumania 2.0 was real, another example of how close the connection between celebrity and political culture is.

A cartoon suggesting Trudeau betrayed Canadian veterans. Facebook Proud Ontario Group

Two years later, trudeaumanie had largely dissipated, although it never existed among right-wing groups. In 2017, a friend shared a post from Ontario Proud, which is part of Canada Proud, a popular Facebook page run by a center-right media strategist. It was a cartoon from an alt-right sub-Reddit suggesting Trudeau betrayed injured white male veterans.

The Islamic crescent on Trudeau’s socks may be a conspiratorial explanation for the false belief Trudeau paid for Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen who, at the age of 15, was detained by the United States at Guantanamo Bay Bay for 10 years for the wartime murder of a US Army Sergeant in Afghanistan. This allegation ignores the violations of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that led to a $ 10.5 million legal settlement with Khadr.

One poster reads Trudeau: Traitorous, ruinous, unreasonable, delusional, selfish, arrogant and unethical.
An anti-Trudeau online poster. Facebook

Charges that Trudeau betrayed Canada were a common theme when we began studying popular Facebook pages in 2019, another election year. We couldn’t find any Trudeau meme pages celebrating the leader.

Instead, we’ve seen anti-Trudeau pages describe him as a traitor who deserved to be treated with contempt.

In another meme, Trudeau’s name was reduced to “Turd.”

Meme asks Canadians to 'rinse the shit'
Another anti-Trudeau Facebook meme from the 2019 election campaign. Facebook

Blackface, accusations of sexual predator

These right-wing groups had a distinct reaction to the blackface scandals that erupted during the 2019 campaign. They believed, like some mainstream commentators, that the prime minister’s past behavior symbolized liberal hypocrisy, accusing him of performative kissing and superficial equality and social justice.

Blackface, however, seemed to matter less to right-wing groups than portraying Trudeau as a sexual predator. They “uncovered evidence” of Trudeau’s alleged lewd conduct in old schools and targeted the placement of his hands in a photo from a Bollywood gala in 2001.

The memes became collages of evidence designed to prove Trudeau’s past sexual misconduct and used to negatively taint his contemporary image.

Trudeau was a sex symbol, okay, but of the worst kind, according to these groups. Trudeau denied the allegations and apologized for an incident, although he said he had no recollection of it. But the demands had left their mark in these communities and further poisoned their supporters towards the Liberal leader.

The pandemic has intensified anti-Trudeau sentiments

The COVID-19 pandemic has offered these groups yet another reason to feel betrayed by Trudeau.

Poster says COVID-19 is a hoax that allows Trudeau to electronically track Canadians.
Poster suggesting COVID-19 is a hoax that benefits Trudeau. Facebook

Pandemic lockdowns, vaccination warrants, vaccine passports and corporate disruptions have offered new ways of interpreting Trudeau’s arrogance and betrayal. The reaction has not been exceptional – most countries around the world are dealing with anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers – but rather the continuation of anti-Trudeau attitudes that see him as an incompetent leader who should not be resented. trust, whether with women or with the economy.

Our observations show a darker side to Trudeau’s celebrity status. As much as Trudeau may be seen as a nice person by many Canadians and international observers, he is hated by right-wing groups for perhaps similar reasons: they often refer to them as “old Canadians.”

This may explain the unpopularity of Trudeau’s online niche and the white, angry crowds that appear at his rallies.

As journalist Fatima Syed writes, “These largely white groups of protesters who have followed Trudeau have an unfair privilege accorded to them by all aspects of society: they get away with their rhetoric and their hateful actions, and don’t get called out or punished for it.

This privilege could also explain a media blind spot. There is a multitude of right-wing rage online, and as a society, Canada urgently needs to make sense of the racial and cultural power dynamics that underlie the speech of anger and hate.The conversation

Fenwick McKelvey, Associate Professor of Information and Communication Technology Policy, Concordia University and Scott DeJong, PhD student and research assistant, Communication Studies, Concordia University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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