Since July 1, an encampment of fringe conspiracy theorists have been wandering the streets of Canada’s capital city, trying to perform citizens’ arrests of any Member of Parliament they encounter, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh. Or, in some cases, anyone who even resembles a politician will do.
The series of brazen confrontations, which have led to local police intervening, is causing concern in Ottawa. Worry that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are failing to take these threats seriously, first reported by VICE News in July, have only grown in recent weeks.
Despite that, the RCMP won’t say if they’re taking extra precautions to keep elected politicians safe.
Four months ago, hundreds of right-wing protesters arrived on Parliament Hill for a rally to coincide with Canada Day. Attendees accused Trudeau of treason, chanting “lock him up!” They marched through the city, to the doors of the U.S. Embassy, to present a letter which—they hoped—would spark an investigation into the prime minister for corruption.
The letter alleged Trudeau is guilty from everything from obstruction of justice to the enabling of a "multi-billion dollar intercontinental child trafficking enterprise" and “sex slavery”—much of it drawn straight from the playbook of QAnon, the delusional conspiracy theory that posits that U.S. President Donald Trump is secretly fighting a cabal of pedophilic liberal elites for control of Washington.
The ringleader, Norman Traversy, has been filing vexatious legal documents with various courts, hoping that the justice system would spring into action. Unfortunately for the retired firefighter, he has been relying on antiquated sections of Canadian law and misunderstanding all sorts of legal concepts. Most critically, his claims are without merit or evidence.
Nevertheless, it has inspired others and he has managed to crowdfund nearly $150,000 for the venture. After the rally, a group of protesters set up at the National War Memorial, across from Parliament Hill, to continue the crusade.
They are motivated, in part, by the belief that individuals have the right to launch private prosecutions or perform citizens' arrests.
In recent weeks, activists associated with the encampment have accosted staffers for Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna, tried to arrest a Radio-Canada reporter thinking he was a Bloc Quebecois MP, and threatened to arrest Singh, the leader of Canada’s fourth-largest party in Parliament.
It’s not entirely clear why the agitators would want to arrest politicians from the NDP and Bloc, but video shows Singh, walking alone down Wellington Street, doing his best to try and ignore the agitator as he threatens to perform an arrest.
When the group appeared on the grounds of Rideau Hall earlier this summer, where both Trudeau and Governor General Julie Payette live, Brian Kidder, a core member of the group, tried to force his way past security to perform a citizens’ arrest of Trudeau. When he was stopped, his supporters accused security of “obstruction of justice.”
Canada does permit citizens’ arrests, but only in limited circumstances. For it to be legal, the person performing the arrest has to genuinely believe that someone is in physical danger, and the arrest is an attempt to avoid that danger. While the activists may contend that the arrest is reasonable to stop an international child sex trafficking ring, as described by the QAnon delusion, no court would entertain such an argument, given that no evidence exists for the conspiracy.
At an event held Saturday in Ottawa, billed as a “public inquiry” to study the prime minister’s supposed crimes, Kidder took the stage to describe his campaign.
By his own count, he’s tried to arrest Trudeau seven times—on top of his other confrontations—and has yet to face charges for assault, disturbing the peace, or any other criminal complaint. As he told the crowd, “that itself says a lot.”
Indeed, after his failed arrest of a journalist outside the Radio-Canada building, Ottawa police arrived and put Kidder in handcuffs, only to release him shortly after without charges.
At the event, Kidder detailed the motivations for his actions: After being injured on the job about five years ago, Kidder applied for worker’s compensation and was denied. He became convinced that the then-Liberal government of Ontario was engaging in a conspiracy to deny his benefits; the plot has since stretched all the way to Trudeau’s office.
The fact that Kidder is not facing charges, and that the camp is still sitting on federal government land, is evidence for some politicians that the RCMP is not taking these threats seriously.
Kidder, emboldened, recently wrote on Facebook that he plans to attempt a citizens’ arrest on former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould as well. Given she is now an independent Member of Parliament, she can count on no dedicated security presence.
When asked by VICE News whether they would be increasing their security detail, the RCMP said it “takes all threats seriously.”
The federal police force went on to say, “We are constantly adapting our security measures to the current environment in order to ensure an adequate level of protection for all our protectees.”
Asked directly whether their proactive services budget has been increased, the RCMP did not respond.
When it comes to the citizens' arrests, however, the RCMP shifted responsibility onto Ottawa police, insisting they are “the police of jurisdiction in Ottawa and play a key role in investigating criminal activity.”
Follow Justin Ling on Twitter.