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An end to Internet anonymity? Please! The leaders of all Parliamentary parties need protection now

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Justin Trudeau

The National Post is shocked, just shocked, at the tone of the public commentary responding to the threatening break-in at Liberal Party Leader Justin Trudeau's Ottawa home while his wife and small children slept.

"Canadian political dialogue is devolving into a mosh pit where even the vilest personal attacks are more or less routine," lamented political columnist Michael Den Tandt in the Post yesterday, apparently in response to some of the ferocious debate that reports of the frightening incident sparked in the comment sections of various media outfits.

This is true enough, although a mosh pit is for too benign a metaphor for what has become routine political discourse in this country, thanks in large part to the rise of what's known here as the Online Tory Rage Machine.

These boiler rooms full of angry Conservative Party agitators respond instantly to any issue with furious online denunciations of anyone who disagrees with the enthusiasms of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, no matter how mild the disagreement.

Fret about the death toll in Gaza, get ready to be called a friend of terrorists, if not an outright terrorist yourself. Express some worries about sabre-rattling in Ukraine, and you'll be told you’re in bed with Vladimir Putin. Express doubts about the war on drugs, be prepared to be accused of drug use yourself, or maybe selling the stuff. And just try talking about moderate firearms regulations and then watch with astonishment the threatening tone the response to your remarks quickly takes on.

For, oh, the past eight years or so, it's been relentless -- and, with the active and enthusiastic encouragement of the Harper government. And it is semi-official -- who can forget the famous Craigslist ad of 2011, when this stuff was really getting off the ground, seeking social media writers to "make up facts" and use "sarcasm and personal insults" to "score points" and "stir outrage."

No one has ever persuasively denied this was legitimate, although recruitment of operatives seems to have moved to more secure channels, perhaps the back rooms of various right-wing centres for "building democracy."

This routine abuse of the CPC's doubters, let alone its actual opponents, has even crept into legitimate media, through the agency of the prime minister's favourite TV station, the semi-official Sun News Network.

Hell, thanks to Sun News, the Two Minute Hate is practically a Canadian institution now, except that it seldom runs for less than eight or 10 minutes.

And that's not to mention the Harper Government's approach to political advertising, which as we know nowadays tends to target on the mostly imagined failings of Trudeau, with an occasional halfhearted sideswipe at Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair. The fact it doesn't seem to be working just arouses them to new heights of vituperation.

Not that I'm jumping to any conclusions, but it's not hard to imagine the possibility that one of the many violent fruitcakes of the right was motivated by this stream of invective to decide they had to … do something.

This has served a purpose for the government. For one thing, keeping the tone of political debate ugly, and fostering the sense that all politicians are corrupt, is a well-understood technique of the political right in North America. It has the tendency to suppress the vote by people who might otherwise be motivated to do something about the state of affairs at the ballot box.

For another, it does in fact have a chilling effect on legitimate democratic discourse and the expression of views not approved by the official right.

Den Tandt, in the traditional enabling manner of the mainstream media, tries to paint this as something equally contributed to by intemperate supporters of both sides. "As quickly as Trudeau haters popped up to dine out on the break-in, Stephen Harper-haters piled on with their own equally anile attacks," he wrote, and, I admit, I had to look up "anile" to realize it is sexist as well as largely incorrect.

Although, in fairness, I have noticed in the past few months that traditionally mild-mannered Canadian progressive commentators are holding themselves back much less than in the past -- a sleeping dog, perhaps, than the political right may yet regret having awakened. Or perhaps not, since the goal of the strategy was always to debase political discourse.

And so we come to Den Tandt's proposed solutions: an end to Internet anonymity and a return to "time-tested standards of common courtesy and decency."

Well, I understand they've been trying something like the former idea in Russia. But good luck with getting any of that to happen in Canada, where, among other things, it would immediately put the Online Tory Rage Machine out of business.

We're well past all that, I'm afraid. What needs to happen now is for the Mounties to assign protection to the leaders of all Parliamentary parties, and their families. Even the one with only one member. Right now.

That's going to cost us a few bucks. We're told we had to pay $47 million from April 1, 2009, to Jan. 31, 2011, to protect Harper and his family.

Well, so be it. The alternative is much, much worse.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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