“Traitor! You’re Not Welcome Here”

May 13, 2022 | Freedom Forum

Barry W. Bussey

“Traitor!  You’re Not Welcome Here!”

Those were the words (along with other insults) that confronted NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh when he was visiting an NDP candidate headquarters in Peterborough, Ontario.  Ontario will have its provincial election on June 2.  As leader of the federal NDP party, Mr. Singh was lending his support to his provincial counterparts.

Many of the great people in Peterborough were upset that some of their neighbours would accost the NDP leader in such a hostile way.  They offered Mr. Singh their support, noting that those who were yelling at him did not speak for everyone in Peterborough.  Indeed, regardless of our political leanings, we should all be able to agree that hurling expletives at a fellow human is unacceptable.  

In response, Mr. Singh tweeted:

Thank you to everyone that has reached out to me after yesterday’s incident in Peterborough.

Here are my thoughts and reflections:

Thank you to everyone that has reached out to me after yesterday’s incident in Peterborough.

To those that have asked, I’m in Chardi Kala – rising spirits.

I want to especially say to the people of Peterborough – I have visited many times and I know your community is filled with good people who want the best for each other.

Sadly, polarization and disinformation are real dangers to our society.

While disagreements are fundamental to a thriving democracy – hatred, violence and wishing death upon others threaten it.

Politicians must remember the consequences when they stoke fear and division.

When hate is given space to grow, it spreads like wild fire.

That is why we must always confront it – giving it no space to take hold, no room to grown.

Peterborough, I love you.

Don’t worry – I’ll back!

Mr. Singh also noted that he heard some people stating, “I hope you die,” and that when language “gets to this level, it doesn’t help in making better decisions (and) it doesn’t help our communities feel safer.”  He confessed this was one of his worst experiences in politics.

Unfortunately, we do not have to surf the net very far before we encounter inflammatory language on virtually any topic from the partisan divide to the culture war divide.  It might be tempting to accuse one “side” or another of stoking the conflict, but from my observation, there are multiple sides and groups that are willing to engage in unfortunate behaviour, attacking those with whom they disagree. 

I can empathize on a personal level with the kind of vitriol Mr. Singh experienced. During the 2000 federal election, I ran as a candidate for my local riding and was confronted by angry people on the street one Saturday night during the Santa Clause parade.  My campaign team thought it a great idea to have my children and me ride in a float, handing out candy to people along the parade route.  All went well until we passed a group of very angry men who obviously did not support my political views.  One “gentleman” bolted from the group and got within breathing distance yelling obscenities at me.  At that point I decided that was the end of my children handing out candy.  Hindsight is 20/20, they say!  “Why are they angry with Daddy?” my children asked my brother as he shuffled them out of the parade and led them away altogether.

Those are scenes one never forgets.

We could point to numerous causes that have contributed to a breakdown of civility in our society. But there is no question that the language used by politicians is not helping the political discourse in this country.  If we are to remain free, then those in power and influence would do well to avoid raising the temperature of the rhetoric being used.  People are suffering.  Inflation is soaring.  It is difficult to make ends meet.  Many people have lost jobs over the last two years.  And there remains an unresolved animosity against the unvaccinated as they are still unable to travel by air or train in the country.  Many feel frustrated that their various concerns are not being heard. 

Indeed, disinformation is everywhere.  We can no longer rely only on the “mainstream media” to give us a balanced view of things.  Everyone seems to have a slant on what is happening.  An increasing number of media outlets are taking extreme positions on the issues that confront us.  We are in a complex cauldron of voices which makes it difficult to decipher exactly what is true and what is not.  Often truth is mixed with error.  Facts are made to fit a narrative with political results.

We are constantly “gaslighted” when we are told that we are not seeing and hearing what we are indeed seeing and hearing.  Confusion is rampant.

It is time that we take a deep breath, step back, and ponder what is happening around us.  We must ask ourselves: What is gained by verbally abusing candidates or politicians or those in authority?  Can we not engage in conversations that are civil? 

We live in a great country that is worth being proud of. We need every perspective to be given a fair hearing so that we can determine the best course to pursue.  Our disagreements are real, and they must be addressed openly in a spirit of civility and peace.  We need each and every one to be given the same respect we expect others to show us.  Freedom is dependent upon it.

“Now, young man, watch your tongue!” my dear Mother use to tell me when I got out of hand.  As I look back, her advice remains salient to this day.    

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