, 09.07.2021 03:13 PM

My latest: how to deal with protestors

It was Feb. 15, 1996: National Flag Day.

Jean Chretien tells the tale: “There was a bunch of young kids in front of me. I was signing autographs. The kids were there with Canadian flags, and they asked me to autograph their flags. So that’s why the (RCMP) bodyguards were behind me at that particular moment, to permit me to have access to the kids.”

He pauses.

“(After the speeches and autographs,) I was going back to my car, and these two guys rush towards me, shouting. One had a steel bullhorn. He was screaming things, it was not highly complimentary. So when the first one arrived, I grabbed him by the neck and flipped him over. But the press didn’t ever report that, with the other guy — the one with the steel bullhorn. I pushed down the bullhorn, too, right after I flipped the first guy over. Then an RCMP guy flipped the (bullhorn-waving protester) over.”

He pauses, and shrugs. “I had to grab the guy by the neck and flip him. So I did.”

And so, the Shawinigan Handshake was born.

Prime Minister Jean Chretien grabs demonstrator Bill Clennett by the neck in this screengrab from television taken during a national Flag Day celebration in Hull, Quebec on Feb. 15, 1996.
Prime Minister Jean Chretien grabs demonstrator Bill Clennett by the neck in this screengrab from television taken during a national Flag Day celebration in Hull, Quebec on Feb. 15, 1996. Photo by PHIL NOLAN /GLOBAL NEWS

Chretien went home, wondering if his wife would be mad at him (she was). An aide called. The aide said a Toronto radio station had conducted a quick survey about the Flag Day fracas. Fearing the worst, Chretien preferred to put it off: “I said to him, ‘Don’t tell me give me the results until I’m back at work on Monday.’”

The aide replied: “Mr. Prime Minister, we won’t tell you on Monday, in any event.”

“Why?” Chretien asked, genuinely puzzled.

“If we tell you,” answered the press secretary, “we’re afraid you will go out and grab another protester by the neck. It’s gotten an 85% approval rating!”

Not every prime minister — as we all know, too well — is like Jean Chretien. Not every prime minister will grab a protester with his bare hands and flip him out of the way. And not every confrontation with protesters ends with something as memorable as the Shawinigan Handshake.

Monday in London, Ont., for example. Another prime minister, Justin Trudeau, was leaving a Liberal campaign event at a brewery. A mob of angry protesters — many clutching home-made signs, but many more clutching People’s Party of Canada signs — surrounded Trudeau’s bus.

As Trudeau stepped onto the bus, a phalanx of nervous-looking RCMP officers surrounding him, a shower of rocks and gravel rained down — on media, on police, on protesters. It’s unknown if Trudeau himself was hit (asked later by a reporter, Trudeau wouldn’t say).

video posted to Twitter showed a single protester by the bus — one alleged to be a People’s Party organizer and white supremacist by the Canadian Anti-Hate Network — leaning down to scoop up rocks. And then rocks rained down near Trudeau and others.

Whether Trudeau was hit or not, whether another political party was involved or not, the event was serious. Someone could have been hurt, perhaps badly. And many questions remained unanswered, among them:

  • Why has the Trudeau Liberal campaign repeatedly held events in places, and in circumstances, where crazed protesters have gotten too close?
  • Why hasn’t the Trudeau campaign moved to a more controlled — and pandemic-safe — approach to events, as Erin O’Toole’s has done?
  • Why has the RCMP not exercised its authority, and stopped the Liberals from holding events like the one in London?

Many questions, too few answers.

One thing is for certain: If Jean Chretien was still running things, the rock-throwing protester could count on one thing.

He wouldn’t ever get a chance to do the same thing twice.

— Warren Kinsella was Jean Chretien’s Special Assistant


  1. Sean says:

    Very simple answer… Maybe its implied by the questions asked in this piece? The tour probably thinks this is working for them in the polls… So I *think* they are intentionally setting these events up with the hope that a fracas will ensue. Safety be damned.

  2. Douglas W says:

    Protesters on Libs’ payroll?

    I can see KT + GB, orchestrating this.
    They’re comfortable, sinking to new, all-time lows.

    • Douglas,

      Surely, this would be beneath anyone, even someone in the PMO. SURELY?

    • Derek Pearce says:

      Not voting for Trudeau but you do forget that Mad Max’s PPC supporters are in fact frothing at the mouth lunatics. I hope a good fucking chunk of them end up on a ventilator.

      • Phil in London says:

        Derek I am thrilled someone else is concerned about this lunatic fringe. In many national polls the PPC leads both greens (not so lunatic but equally fringe) and the bloc (albeit the Bloc vote is much more concentrated mainstream alternative in one province)

        It deeply concerns me that they as a protest vote are attracting the white supremacy movement. Hopefully the supporters stay home on Election Day because any party that can be seen as beneficiaries in any way will surely make this movement grow.

        I’m wondering if the PPC end game is not simply to further erode the population’s faith in the three party core? Maybe another minority or even a liberal majority allows them to advertise themselves more and more as populist saviours ala Donald Trump? His attacks on the mainstream party system began a full election before he tossed his hat in the ring.

        The Green Party won seats with this level of support. By the debate commission “standards” this is a legitimate party next round.

        That thought bothers the hell out of me.

        Too few women (according to polls) give trudeau’s faux feminism a pass because they won’t examine his record and look to cast their vote elsewhere.

        Too few conservative voters will support O’Toole regardless of how much he crosses the left right divide because he’s better to them then the liberal choice and he will be more friendly to them (rich and business community for example)

        More than a few NDP workers will read the union memo and vote accordingly and too many bloc voters are more interested in Quebec than Canada.

        I just hope that many PPC supporters understand that this brand of protest is not about protest of the mainstream for the sake of protest. Their vote is a vote for taking us back to a time when skin colour implies status, when small groups of status were in charge. (The kind of movement that argues the Weimar Republic was a stain on German honour. )

        I don’t think the PPC would take us to fascism any time soon but I see that on the distant horizon if this group of lunatics gets oxygen.

        It should disturb us to no end there is even a 5% fringe this sick.

        • The Doctor says:

          I’m not a PPC supporter, not by a long shot, but it’s bullshit that they’re left out of the debates while the Greens are in. Totally reflects the proggie bias of the people who set up the debates. Either keep them both out, or have them both in. The Canadian national media and other elites give such a constant tongue-bath to the Greens it makes we want to vomit. Don’t even get me started with Lizzie May’s Captain Queeg-quality drunken rant at the PPG Dinner a few years ago.

        • Phil,

          The bi-bi brains will have to vote by mail because they are too stupid to wear masks at polling offices or stations.

  3. Phil in London says:

    I am in no way condoning morons throwing shit at police much less politicos.

    I do think there is much different about trudeau and the little guy from Shawinigan.

    Love or hate Chrétien most would grudgingly respect him even if you were opposed to him.

    Chrétien faced the odd protestor and dismissed them whereas this jackass has created the protestors by degrading the office.

    I don’t agree with the rock throwing but I do understand the hatred for this boy emperor who dismisses everyone that does not agree with him.

    When you thank protestors for their donation ignore ethics guidelines, snub rules you establish for others you get a few people pissed off.

    It would be great if these morons could lift their knuckles
    Far enough off the ground to engage in mainstream politics in a polite fashion. O’Toole has done much to denounce these morons so crybaby’s continued attempts to draw allegiance to the CPC is political and nothing more. Despicable by all parties involved.

    • Phil,

      How could we possibly blame this Prime Minister? After all his stance on this is nothing more than a straightforward perfect representation of who this guy really is. The man has never before been this honest. All that’s missing is the PM standing in front of a mirror while saying it. See fellow Canadians, Trudeau is begging you to take his measure. I hope you will because this person will stop at nothing — and I mean absolutely nothing — to stay in power. That’s precisely who we’ve all been dealing with in Ottawa since 2015…

      • Phil in London says:

        Hi Ron,
        I do think you’re missing my nuance. I’m saying this type of protest is much different than that against say Mike Harris or Jean Chrétien or most others. I’m saying the scum are more vocal, more violent even more stupid and it’s partly because this leader has been awful for a long time at ignoring rules made for all (ethics), at poking the bear (cheeky comments to previous posters like the “thanks for your donation” one a few years back) and at his habitual dishonesty about doing things differently.

        No, I am not condoning the vulgarity of protests. I’m just saying that in his time in office this leader has shown little respect for dissent (JWR being another example). I believe that level of disrespect is reciprocated.

        To the degree he has disrespected all of us for a vanity tour to majority he is getting not what he has in fact orchestrated but what he deserves.

        It’s not lost on me that the PPC racist punks are a big part of this protest movement and they are more disrespectful than trudeau himself. If not for the man, their should be a respect for the office and the political process. Let’s be clear – They should be facing charges.

        However I am saying Karma is a bitch.

        • Robert White says:

          Entropy is always a bitch as the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Decoupling of macroeconomic markets invariably leads to political decoupling too.

          As populations experience market extremes we are certain to evidence corresponding opposition strategy & tactics playing out via protest movements especially during federal elections.

          If Trudeau had picked winter months to throw us all into an unwanted election during a worldwide bioweapons attack on all populations we would be throwing snowballs at him instead of gravel IMHO.

          Bad BofC Monetary Policy is closely followed by bad federal policy on both sides of the isle.

          If protest turns ugly & violent there is a logical reason for that behaviour if we look at our politicians and parties promulgating the anti-social strife.

          Politicians play prosocial rhetoric to a point of no return for segments of our population that are not following tertiary education via the Social Sciences.


  4. Maureen says:

    I have one question – has Maxime Bernier spoken out against the members of the mob who are carrying PPC signs? I recall Erin O’Toole’s campaign disavowing local Conservative volunteers who uttered obscenities at a Justin Trudeau event.

  5. Gilbert says:

    I believe this is intentional. The idea is to portray the protestors as people who might vote Conservative and who don’t represent the values of most Canadians. I hope voters don’t fall for this.

    • Gilbert,

      For us to fall for this, we’d actually all have to be monumentally stupid, you know, about at the same level as the guy who’s spreading this each day as if his very life depended on it.

  6. Fred J Pertanson says:

    “A shower of rocks and gravel” More like a handful of sand.

    Still doesn’t make it right, though.

    Shame on JT and crew for milking it for all it’s worth.

    • Fred,

      It’s really hard to shake the TRUDEAU Liberal way of doing things. I finally did after the SNC and WE disgraces. He just laughed at all of us. Now it’s our turn to smile and chuckle as we cast our ballots.

  7. A. Voter says:

    Justin Trudeau was dragging the Liberals down, the protesters are pushing the Liberals back up. Look at the polls.

  8. My question would be where were the local authorities? I doubt these “protestors” would be so quick to throw things and scream profanities if there were phalanx of uniformed police standing there watching. The person throwing the gravel should have been arrested.

  9. Angus Reid: Conservatives +3

    EKOS: Conservatives +3

    Abacus: Conservatives Tie

    Mainstreet: Conservatives +3

    • The Doctor says:

      In other words, Liberal minority because of seat distribution and vote efficiency. The least exciting result, and the result most of us would have predicted at the outset.

  10. Doug says:

    So aggressive protesters are a problem when they disrupt Liberal campaign events but not when they stormed Energy East hearings or block rail lines. The Liberals reap what they sow.

  11. PJH says:

    An open letter to Erin O’toole:

    Mr O’toole: I’d like to remind the Conservative Brain Trust that JT’s father won an election due in no small part by facing down a barrage of rocks and bottles at a St. Jean Baptiste parade in 1968….

    I know Sir you have personally condemned the protesters, but quite frankly I hope you have read the riot act to candidates, campaign managers, and organizers about decorum and controlling the yahoo elements within the party (they belong in the PPC anyways) who attend your opponent’s rallies. All leaders and candidates of political parties within Canada deserve the right to appear in public, safely and securely, without fear of violence. Hooliganism has no part in the Canadian electoral process.

  12. Steve T says:

    I am not a Liberal, and I was not supportive of the Chretien government when they were in power. However, I was supportive of Chretien personally when he perfected the Shawinigan Handshake.
    Aggressive protesters nauseate me, and I’m glad when anyone – of any political stripe – puts them in their place.

    • Doug says:

      Would a Conservative politican have gotten away with an equivalent to the “Shawinigan Handshake” or anything potentially viewed as interfering with “righteous” protests? I doubt it. The C-51 proposal during the Harper days was widely deridided as too restrictive on public protests. I’ll re-iterate my previous post: The Liberals didn’t care about aggressive protestors until they became targets

      • The Doctor says:

        Ya think? Harper got criticized over a communion wafer FFS.

        You’re right – Clennett was a lefty activist, so you can see how the narrative would have gone: Evil Meanie Harper assaults righteous lefty dissident etc. “Why does Harper hate freedom of expression and freedom of assembly?”

        BTW I love the fact that “Shawinigan Handshake” has its own Wikipedia entry.

  13. Ipsos: Conservative +3

    Léger: Conservative Tie

    EKOS: Conservative +2

    Mainstreet: Conservative +4

    Nanos: Conservative +2

    • A. Voter says:

      The trend is away from the NDP and Conservatives in Ontario. 338Canada has the Liberals ahead in projected seats, by one. It was fun to think Trudeau was going down, for a while.

  14. It will be, at minimum, a CPC minority primarily for two reasons: first, we will outvote them as a sizeable chuck of Liberal supporters vote with their ass. Secondly, these polling trends are clearly indicative of at least a Trudeau malaise, evident dislike or even in insignificant percentages outright hatred for this guy. In short, they won’t break through next week — it’s up to us to hold the line until election day and we should do alright and form government. Now, how long we can command the confidence of the House is another story, but I digress.

  15. If we get in, that’ll be Erin’s meeting with destiny and his personal political skills will determine how long we last in office. I’ll bet he’s up to the challenge. Don’t discount him in relatively calm waters or even in a political crisis. O’Toole is bound to surprise more than once.

  16. Ronald O'Dowd says:

    A far less irritating debate than the last one. They are better prepared and are all doing well. Right now, Trudeau is at the very least consolidating his support in Quebec and at best, stealing the Bloc’s thunder. Liberals needed to do this tonight and they have. The Bloc must be uneasy.

  17. Ronald O'Dowd says:

    WOW! That’s the newscast clip for tonight and tomorrow. No question. Blanchet should have been smart enough not to go there. Trudeau ran over him like a buzzsaw. Yes, somewhere his Dad is beaming from ear to ear. Frankly, didn’t think Trudeau had this in him. One hell of a surprise for a lot of people, not just those like me who will never vote Liberal as long as Trudeau and his team are leading that party.

  18. Ronald O'Dowd says:

    Contrast that with Trudeau’s comments about Quebec sovereignty and remaining in Canada while Harper remained prime minister. Got to try and dig up that alleged quote. Tomorrow.

    • Ronald O'Dowd says:

      Got it:

      “I always say that if ever I believed in Canada was really Stephen Harper’s Canada – that we were heading against abortion, against gay marriage, that we were going backwards 10,000 different ways – maybe I would think about wanting to make Quebec a country.”

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