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MP Gallant’s media posts provoke divisive atmosphere, constituents say


She posted a call for people to attend the downtown “freedom convoy” protest in Ottawa — after the Emergencies Act was invoked.

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Some constituents in Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke are calling foul after their controversial and popular MP posted a call for people to attend the downtown “Freedom Convoy” protest in Ottawa — after the Emergencies Act was invoked.

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Conservative Cheryl Gallant said the growing protests were “a direct result of (Prime Minister Justin) Trudeau’s divisive, hateful language and his failure to learn” and called for Canadians to demonstrate on the lawns of Parliament Hill and at provincial legislatures and city halls.

The message, which has since been removed from her Facebook page, has raised concerns that Gallant was calling on constituents to expose themselves to danger by attending the protest even after it has been declared unlawful on Feb. 14.

Jodie Primeau, a Deep River lawyer and NDP candidate in last fall’s federal election, said people who followed Gallant’s advice would have exposed themselves to the chance of being arrested, charged and jailed.
Jodie Primeau, a Deep River lawyer and NDP candidate in last fall’s federal election, said people who followed Gallant’s advice would have exposed themselves to the chance of being arrested, charged and jailed. Photo by b&rphoto /Handout

“I feel strongly that members of Parliament are supposed to protect constituents, not getting them into trouble by actively persuading them to something illegal. It was downright irresponsible to invite people downtown,” said Jodie Primeau, a Deep River lawyer and NDP candidate in last fall’s federal election.

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People who followed Gallant’s advice would have exposed themselves to the chance of being arrested, charged and jailed, she said. “As a defence lawyer, I know that affects people’s lives.”

Gallant’s post was merely the latest in long line of  comments aimed at fanning the flames of division in the riding of just over 100,000 people spread out between Arnprior and Algonquin Park, some in the riding said.

“Now that (former Conservative leader Erin) O’Toole is gone and the leash and muzzle are off, she’s going wild,” said Duane Gastant’ Aucoin, who has lived in Pembroke for about three years and founded Ottawa Valley Against Racial Discrimination.

Duane Gastant’ Aucoin is a Pembroke resident who says, “I’m expecting some kind of blowback, some kind of retaliation. I live in fear, but I can’t be silent.”
Duane Gastant’ Aucoin is a Pembroke resident who says, “I’m expecting some kind of blowback, some kind of retaliation. I live in fear, but I can’t be silent.” Photo by Handout

Gallant was elected last fall for the eighth time in 22 years, but she has often ducked invitations to election debates and requests to explain her comments.

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“There’s nothing positive in what she says. Its always us versus them. It’s a battle that has to be won,” said Aucoin, who says he follows the news media in a brood range of the political spectrum.

“Its a big problem when people get into their echo chambers,” he said. “Both sides have turned medical issues into political issues. Both sides have been using it to their advantage. They just keep feeding off each other.”

Meanwhile, those like Aucoin who have spoken out on LGBTQ and diversity issues say they feel threatened by the divisive atmosphere.

“I’m expecting some kind of blowback, some kind of retaliation. I live in fear, but I can’t be silent,” Aucoin said.

Katie Perfitt, a community organizer who grew up in Arnprior and now lives nearby, said Gallant’s posts “emboldens the far right to support the convoy.”

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Everyone who lives in small towns in the area knows who supports the convoy and who does not, Perfitt said. “Some people don’t want to speak out because they’re afraid of a backlash,.”

After Perfitt posted a drive-by video of convoy protesters in a field near Arnprior, Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston’s independent MPP Randy Hillier tweeted that she was “afraid of bouncy castles, big scary trucks and worried that she will melt from global warning. The woke are among us — everything they see is scary, especially pronouns.”

Dan Criger ran as an independent conservative candidate in Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke in 2019. Gallant’s call to demonstrate in Ottawa was “unconscionable and feeds into her campaign theatrics of divisive politics of fear and resentment,” he said.

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The real issues in the riding are poverty and the need for economic development, Criger said.

Dan Criger says the real issues in MP Cheryl Gallant’s riding are poverty and the need for economic development.
Dan Criger says the real issues in MP Cheryl Gallant’s riding are poverty and the need for economic development. Photo by Tina Peplinskie /Postmedia

“Not one community in Renfrew County has public transportation. We have lost our rail lines that should be providing economic growth locally and rapid transit to Ottawa.”

The posting about downtown protests was not the only recent comment by Gallant that has raised concern.

She recently posted a link to a video from a group that promotes conspiracy theories about the World Economic Forum. She also posted a photo of a protest sign, purportedly from a demonstration in Pembroke, featuring a pride flag with the words: “We too were a small fringe minority with unexceptable (sic) views.”

Gallant opposed the bill to ban conversion therapy last year, said Jill Holroyd, chapter lead of Pflag Renfrew County, which supports families with LGBTQ2S children. The meaning of the pride flag post is unclear, but members of the community wondered if Gallant was comparing the choice of not being vaccinated to the fact that some people were LGBTQ2S — which is not a choice, Holroyd said.

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“it was wrong to misrepresent the pride flag and post it without context,” Holroyd said.

Gallant’s call for protesters is a “dog whistle” for bad actors, but it’s not illegal, even for an MP, Ottawa criminal lawyer Michael Spratt said.

Spratt notes there is a constitutional guarantee protecting peaceful protest. While Gallant urged people to attend protests in downtown Ottawa, she also told them not to bring their vehicles and advised them to go home at night.

Gallant actually showed “uncharacteristic restraint” in her posting, Spratt said. It was dangerous, irresponsible and disingenuous — but not illegal, he said.

“It can be seen to go against the spirit of some of the prohibitions in the (Emergencies) Act, but, in the spectrum of voices, it shows understatement.”

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Gallant’s record of controversy goes back to 2002, when she interrupted Minister of Foreign Affairs Bill Graham during a heated exchange with “Ask your boyfriend.”

Last year, Gallant was recorded on a Zoom meeting with a student group at Queen’s University alleging Liberals wanted to “normalize sexual activity with children.”

But she has continued to perform well at the polls, often winning half of the vote even when there are five or more candidates on the ballot.

Kevin Budning, a PhD candidate at Carleton University who research focuses on right-wing extremism, notes there are diverging views in every caucus.

Generally speaking, differences in a party are more pronounced when there is a shift in leadership. Parties in power control the narrative more than those that are not, Budning said.

“Everyone has something to win and everyone has something to lose. It’s the nature of politics.”

Neither Gallant nor Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke riding association president Bernard Doyle responded to multiple requests for an interview about Gallant’s postings.

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