Conservative leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre’s personal attacks on journalists are a deliberate, and dangerous political calculation.

A photo of Conservative Leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre at a rally in May 2022.
Conservative Leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre at a rally in May 2022. Credit: Pierre Poilievre campaign / Facebook

Last week, after Pierre Poilievre’s political foe Patrick Brown was disqualified from the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) leadership race, the frontrunner turned his attention to attacking reporters.

Poilievre may not outright say “the press are the enemy of the people” like Donald Trump, but he doesn’t have to. He has a base of supporters to do the work for him.

Poilievre’s deliberate and targeted disinformation campaigns against award-winning and highly reputable reporters like Rachel Gilmore are just the latest controversy in the leadership contender’s run.

Poilievre’s team sent this to me on Tuesday in response to my request for comment.

It read like a press release then.

I guess it *wasa press release.

Here are the questions I asked, which – instead of answering – he replied to by calling me “unprofessional.”

1/5 https://t.co/ZjVsgKH5Y9

— Rachel Gilmore (@atRachelGilmore) July 7, 2022

This is who Poilievre has told us he is all along. Back in May, during the unofficial leadership debate, the leading contender for Conservative leader bragged that his campaign strategy was purposely “going around” the media to get his unfiltered (and fact-check free) message to prospective voters.

Former Quebec Premier Jean Charest even called for Poilievre to be disqualified from the contest for participating in the occupation of the nation’s capital.

After Poilievre recently marched alongside anti-vaccine conspiracy theorist James Topp, who is facing a court martial for advocating against vaccines while in uniform, Gilmore had a few questions. As an ethical reporter, she reached out to the source at the centre of the story—Poilievre—himself.

Among the questions Gilmore posed to the Conservative contender were whether Poilievre feels a responsibility to distance himself from anti-democratic movements, as well as whether the leadership candidate is concerned that his support of figures like Topp could be interpreted as endorsing far-right views.

She also asked if Poilievre would condemn white supremacy. According to his detailed response, which did not include those words, it would appear not.

While initially responding privately to Gilmore’s media request by sending her the press release styled statement, Poilievre’s campaign released their response publicly two days later, tweeting, “No wonder trust in the media is at an all-time low.”

By calling Gilmore a “so-called journalist,” Poilievre deliberately sought to delegitimize her position as a reporter, while also referring to her inquiry as a “disingenuous trap to attack your opponents.”

The Coalition for Women in Journalism (CFWIJ), an organization documenting press freedom violations against female and LGBTQIA+ journalists, reported on harassment against Gilmore all the way back in January.

“… Not only has [Gilmore] been receiving vile abuse from certain sections of the Twitter user base, her loved ones are also being harassed due to their association with her,” the CFWIJ wrote. “In one of her tweets she also highlighted how cumbersome it is to constantly ask for police protection for merely doing her job.”

In an interview with rabble.ca, CFWIJ founding director Kiran Nazish said that her organization has observed a rise in these kinds of attacks from both the far-right and the Conservative Party of Canada to discredit the work of intrepid journalists holding governments and the politicians who run them accountable. 

“We have no doubt that this is deliberately done to rile their supporters against the media,” Nazish said, noting that if Canadians’ trust in media is truly at an all-time low, it’s because of the rhetoric from politicians like Poilievre and Maxime Bernier “who consistently use divisive politics to generate mistrust in the media.”

Nazish, who worked as a foreign correspondent for 20 years, founded the CFWIJ in 2017 to help support mid-career women in journalism propel to leadership positions across the industry. Calling this new trend “antithetical to democratic values,” Nazish noted that the issue extends beyond the media.

“Discrediting the media is a direct effort to distract public attention from real issues journalists like Gilmore are exposing,” she said. “These discrediting campaigns are hence a force of harm to the fabric of democracy.”

CAJ president condemns Poilievre’s attacks

What makes Poilievre’s attacks on Gilmore all the more disturbing is that this isn’t a case of a quarrel between a politician and a reporter. It’s about an opportunistic electoral contender both enabling and endorsing a community of extremists in their harassment of a journalist who is just asking questions. 

For Brent Jolly, President of the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ), these acts represent a troubling pattern of harassment against Canadian reporters.

“The attacks targeting Rachel Gilmore are another sad example of deliberate and organized efforts to undercut the credibility of journalists working to hold elected officials accountable,” Jolly said in a statement to rabble.ca, adding that “these kinds of personal attacks, often levied against women and journalists of colour, are absolutely unacceptable.”

While Poilievre accuses Gilmore of demanding the leadership candidate “answer for all the words and deeds” of everyone, he is proving to Canadians that he’s unwilling to answer for his own. 

“The fact that this kind of behaviour is being pushed out by someone running to be the leader of a major Canadian political party should send a shiver down the spine of Canadians concerned about the future of democracy in this country,” Jolly said.

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Stephen Wentzell is rabble.ca‘s national politics reporter, a cat-dad to Benson, and a Real Housewives fanatic. Based in Halifax, he writes solutions-based, people-centred…
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