Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks next to the Watermark sculpture along the St. John River in Fredericton, New Brunswick on Thursday August 15, 2019. He will have the campaign stage mostly to himself Sunday, Sept. 29, 2019 as he reveals the bulk of his party’s re-election platform. The Canadian Press, Stephen MacGillivray photo.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks next to the Watermark sculpture along the St. John River in Fredericton, New Brunswick on Thursday August 15, 2019. He will have the campaign stage mostly to himself Sunday, Sept. 29, 2019 as he reveals the bulk of his party’s re-election platform. The Canadian Press, Stephen MacGillivray photo.

COLUMN: Extreme expressions of political hatred

Online anger against Trudeau reached extreme levels

The comments in a post on my social media feed left me shaken.

A thread, well before the federal election campaign began, started out with commenters expressing their disgust with the federal Liberal Party and with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The anger in the comments intensified and the tone became increasingly vitriolic.

Before long, several of the posters had suggested Trudeau should kill himself. There were even detailed instructions on how to accomplish this task.

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I couldn’t believe what I had just read. These commenters hoped Canada’s Prime Minister would die.

While anger has been directed at other political figures in Canada, as well as at members of other identifiable groups, I don’t recall hearing or reading comments suggesting someone’s death.

For reasons I do not understand, the comments about Trudeau have gone much farther.

And yes, I know there are some who dislike him, for various reasons.

This was not the first time people had used online forums to express this level of hate for Trudeau.

Near the beginning of this year, some had posted in an online forum that Canada would be better off if someone were to kill the prime minister.

As a result, the comments suggesting the prime minister should take his own life were disturbing, but in hindsight, they should not have been surprising.

In recent years, criticism of elected officials in Canada has taken an increasingly aggressive tone.

Instead of expressing contrary opinions, too many comments are nothing more than expressions of rage.

Emotion has replaced opposition.

This is happening here in Canada, in a country where we have traditionally prided ourselves on politeness and decorum.

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There’s nothing wrong with having an opinion about the government of the day.

And there’s nothing wrong with disliking a leader, a political party or a government’s performance or a course of action.Such comments should be welcomed in a democracy.

Free speech must include the freedom to speak out against a government, a leader or a course of action.

But these comments were not simply expressions of disgust and disappointment. They were suggesting the country would be better off if the prime minister were to die.

Some might argue that the state of our government over the past four years constituted a serious crisis. For at least the past two years, some have stated Trudeau is a traitor and the federal Liberals had to be removed from office immediately in order to save Canada.

Those posting the wishes for Trudeau’s death might argue that their harsh, strongly worded statements were the only way to force the public to take notice.

Well, I’ve taken notice, and now I’m left feeling uneasy as I wonder what will happen next.

Trudeau has been re-elected and while the Liberals received the support of one-third of those who voted, the majority did not vote for a Liberal candidate.

Will the same venomous comments continue?

And if it is seen as acceptable to express wishes for the death of a prime minister, then is it also okay to take an equally harsh tone to speak out against another individual, group or organization?

More importantly, if comments wishing for someone’s death become acceptable, is it possible that someone would eventually work to make these wishes become a reality?

Now that the election is over, some are not happy with the results. And that’s their prerogative.

There is nothing wrong with voicing one’s disagreement and disapproval.

When the tone moves to wishing for someone’s death, the issue is something far more serious than a strong disagreement.

John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.

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