OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau cancelled plans to appear in person at a Liberal fundraiser in British Columbia Tuesday after RCMP warned an aggressive protest outside the event could escalate if he arrived, said a source close to the decision.
The source spoke to The Canadian Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the situation publicly.
Trudeau addressed the issue Wednesday during a stop in Saskatoon, which was also attended by protesters who were verbally aggressive with the prime minister’s RCMP protective detail and initially blocked his exit from a local senior's centre.
The prime minister did not explain why he chose to speak virtually to the fundraiser in Surrey, B.C., but expressed disgust at the "harassment, racist insults (and) threats of violence" targeting the mostly South Asian attendees as they arrived.
Witnesses at the protest reported hearing attendees harassed for wearing turbans, among other racially motivated insults. One protester is seen in a photo carrying a noose hanging from two flat sticks printed with the words "treason" and "Trudeau."
"The safety of Canadians choosing to make their voices heard in politics should never be in question as it was last night and as we're increasingly seeing across the country," Trudeau said.
"The fundamental freedoms we have as a country that we enjoy as Canadians need to be defended, need to be protected. Nobody should feel endangered or harassed because of their support for one political party or another. And that's something I think we all need to be vigilant about."
He said all levels of government are currently looking at the issue.
This is the second time in 10 months aggressive protesters prompted police to advise Trudeau to change his plan to speak at an event. A campaign rally in Bolton, Ont., was cancelled completely last August when dozens of furious protesters chanting obscenities at the prime minister set up at the site.
He was followed by angry protesters throughout much of that campaign, which has prompted some noticeable changes to how his office handles his schedule. Specific locations for events are no longer included in his publicized daily itineraries, for example.
During the early days of the convoy protest in Ottawa in January and February, Trudeau and his family were evacuated from their home in the city for several days.
Other leaders, including NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet, have indicated they received RCMP protection during the convoy when they were in Ottawa.
An access to information request released by the Privy Council Office shows between Feb. 5 and March 23, 26 threats were logged against Trudeau and eight of his cabinet ministers. Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland were each the subject of nine threats during that period.
The nature of the threats or actions to investigate are not included in the release.
RCMP in B.C. said in a statement about Tuesday's event that the protest group started off small but grew in number and were joined by cars, larger trucks and vehicles towing trailers "travelling in a convoy-style loop around the roadway."
"Due the size and composition of the protest group and for the safety of everyone in attendance, a decision was made that it was not safe for the prime minister to attend the location," the RCMP statement said.
The government source who spoke to The Canadian Press said the fear was that Trudeau's presence would amp up the crowd and put everyone in attendance at greater risk.
The Prime Minister’s Office and RCMP jointly made the decision to cancel Trudeau's in-person appearance, the source said.
Trudeau is not alone in being followed by more aggressive protesters. In Peterborough, Ont., two weeks ago, Singh was chased to his car outside a provincial NDP campaign office.
In Montreal Wednesday, Justice Minister David Lametti temporarily left a press conference outside his office when confronted by an anti-Israel protester yelling in his face. Lametti returned when the protester left.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 25, 2022.
— With files from Camille Bains in Vancouver and Mickey Djuric in Saskatoon
Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press