In America, the recent hate-motivated massacre at a Buffalo grocery store is just one of a mind-numbing array of mass shootings that seem to happen almost every day. It won’t prompt legislators there to pass new gun control laws, and it won’t have a meaningful impact on their politics. If the murder of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook in 2012 didn’t do that, nothing will. It will simply be accepted, more readily by some than others, as the cost of their freedom.
In Canada, though, it’s a different story, and it’s already become a major issue in the Conservative Party of Canada leadership race. Patrick Brown called on his fellow candidates, and specifically Pierre Poilievre, to denounce the “great replacement theory” cited by the Buffalo shooter as motivation for his hate crime, which targeted a disproportionately Black community.
That theory, which stupidly posits governments are trying to use immigration to “replace” white people, has been pushed and propagated by none other than Pat King, one of the key organizers and leaders of the recent occupation of Ottawa — one Poilievre still vocally supports.
Poilievre released a statement that tried to let him still have his populist cake and eat it, too. “I supported the peaceful and law-abiding truckers who protested for their livelihoods and freedoms while simultaneously condemning any individuals who broke laws, behaved badly or blocked critical infrastructure,” it said. “I also condemn Pat King and his ugly remarks.”
But King’s remarks shouldn’t be an afterthought here, and neither should Poilievre’s proximity to them. Back in 2019, after all, Poilievre was one of a small group of Conservative MPs who met with the “United We Roll” rally, a group of western Canadian truckers with anti-Trudeau and pro-pipeline views that included — you guessed it — Pat King. Poilievre stood just a few feet away from King as he shook then-leader Andrew Scheer’s hand.
When King arrived in Ottawa earlier this year, his well-known views about the supposed “Anglo-Saxon replacement” shouldn’t have been a mystery to Poilievre. Neither should King’s role in the occupation of Ottawa, one that was reported on by any number of credible outlets. And yet, until Brown forced his hand earlier this week, Poilievre hadn’t tweeted a single critical word about him or his hateful views.
The contrast between his grudging rebuke of King — one he didn’t share on his Twitter account — and Michelle Rempel-Garner’s statement about the “great replacement” theory speaks volumes here. “Platforming and giving space to the efforts of those who espouse this treasonous bullshit is tantamount to complicity,” she said. “Pat King stood in the convoy and Pat King stood for this. We have to purge our own tents of hate, in all forms, or Buffalo happens.”
She’s right. But purging the Conservative Party of Canada’s tent of hate is going to be very difficult, given how long and hard people like Poilievre have worked to churn up anger against any number of supposed enemies, from elites and “gatekeepers” to environmentalists, public servants and, of course, his Liberal and NDP opponents. The ramifications of those efforts were on full display last week in Peterborough, when a violent mob accosted NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, hurling death threats and accusing him of being a traitor.
The shooting in Buffalo won’t wake Americans up to the catastrophe that continues to unfold in their country. But it’s not too late for Canada. And while it might be tempting to tell ourselves we’re better off on this front than Americans, that’s just not good enough. “More Muslims have been killed [here] in mass Islamophobia inspired attacks than anywhere in the G-7 in the past five years — including in the United States,” Mustafa Farooq, the CEO of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, told me on Twitter. “We have major problems in this country.”
The only way to address those problems is to tackle them head-on. That means pushing back hard and fast against racist conspiracy theories like the “great replacement” and demanding that people who trade in them are held to account. That goes double for our political leaders, who should be held to the highest possible standards here. Nobody seriously believes Poilievre would subscribe to such an odious and racist view of the world. But his willingness in the past to tolerate and even empower people who do should raise some serious questions about the judgment and character of a man who aspires to be prime minister.