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Up to police to investigate, Trudeau says of being pelted with gravel on campaign

In response to questions from The Canadian Press, an RCMP spokesperson said their protective services detail is assigned to protect leaders, and local police are in charge of crowd control.
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RCMP security detail put their hands up to protect Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau as protesters shout and throw gravel while leaving a campaign stop at a local microbrewery during the Canadian federal election campaign in London Ont., on Monday, Sept. 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

OTTAWA — Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said he will leave it to police to decide whether charges are warranted after he was pelted with gravel at a campaign stop in London, Ont., on Monday.

Trudeau said he felt the stones hit him but that he wasn't hurt.

"The RCMP will make decisions about follow-ups," he said Tuesday morning at an event in Montreal.

He was there to discuss the Liberals' plan for housing, but spent most of the news conference instead answering questions again about the security of his campaign.

"I did have a conversation with [the RCMP] about what happened and assured them that I was physically unharmed," he said. "And I know that there will be ongoing conversations about how we make sure … everyone who comes out to partake in political democratic events continues to be safe."

In response to questions from The Canadian Press, an RCMP spokesperson said their protective services detail is assigned to protect leaders, and local police are in charge of crowd control.

The London Police Service has not yet responded to queries from The Canadian Press.

Trudeau said it is "absolutely unacceptable" to throw things at a campaign rally, and that he isn't afraid for his own safety but for that of his volunteers, his security detail, and journalists covering the campaign.

He noted, however, that it's also not just happening at political rallies. He pointed to the harassment of health-care workers by anti-vaccine and anti-mask crowds gathered outside hospitals across Canada, or to the behaviour store clerks and restaurant workers have put up with for months when asking patrons to follow COVID-19 rules.

"I am inspired by those people who continue to do the right thing in the face of anti-vaxxer mobs who are not respecting the basic science and the basic decency that Canadians have rightly come to expect from each other," Trudeau said.

The London stop was the latest Liberal tour event to be sidetracked by the arrival of such an "anti-vaxxer mob" but the first where he was physically assaulted.

But it's not the first sign of violence for Liberals. Calgary Centre Liberal candidate Sabrina Grover said two of her volunteers were assaulted when they were door-knocking on Sunday.

Grover said an individual used the pamphlets being handed out by the volunteers to strike them and also spit in their faces.

"Spit on in the time of COVID, so you can only understand how distressing that is," Grover told The Canadian Press.

She said a police report was filed Tuesday, and the volunteers are shaken but otherwise OK.

"This is the first time any interaction that we've had has gotten physically violent, but this hasn't been the first time we've experienced an increasing level of a negative interaction or hateful interaction," she said.

"It needs to be called out by every party, every leader."

Party leaders were united in their condemnation of the violence at the Trudeau event.

"There is never an excuse to intimidate people, to promote violence, or to harass people, when in Canada we should have a healthy debate about the future of our country," Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole said at his Tuesday news conference at an Ottawa hotel.

"That type of conduct is unacceptable toward anyone."

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the behaviour crossed a line, noting when someone throws a rock their intention is clearly to hurt someone.

"That is horrible and that's wrong," he said while taking questions from reporters in Toronto.

Singh's campaign stops have not seen the same kind of angry crowds, but the NDP leader is regularly subjected to racist insults, including from people driving by his events who have hurled hateful slurs out their windows as they pass.

Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet said there is never an excuse to intimidate or be violent.

Annamie Paul, leader of the Green Party, has said previously her campaign has been targeted with racist attacks and threats on social media.

People's Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier also joined the chorus, even though the crowd at the Trudeau event was dominated by his supporters, raising People's Party of Canada signs and wearing People's Party clothing.

"Some idiot threw pebbles at Mr. Trudeau yesterday," Bernier tweeted. "I condemn it. Words are our weapons. But physical violence is always wrong."

Bernier pointed out, however, that someone smashed an egg on his head last week, and none of the other leaders were asked to comment on that incident.

It occurred in Saskatoon on Thursday, when a man posing as a supporter asked to have a photo taken with Bernier, and then hit him in the back of the head with the egg.

Some leaders are suggesting Trudeau must change how he is campaigning. Blanchet said if he went into hostile crowds like Trudeau has been doing, his RCMP security detail would frown at him. Singh said perhaps the location of events should be better chosen.

Trudeau said he will follow the advice of the RCMP on whether events can proceed or not. A Liberal rally planned in Bolton, Ont., on Aug. 27 was cancelled on the advice of the RCMP when it was felt safety could not be guaranteed.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 7, 2021.

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press