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Conservative MP attacked online after praising police for arrest in alleged homophobic crime

Conservative MP Michelle Ferreri is praising the Peterborough Police Service for arresting a man who allegedly hurled homophobic slurs and burned a Pride flag — a move that drew the ire of some social media users who condemned her as a “fake” Conservative.

Michelle Ferreri applauded arrest of man after Pride flag was torched.

A Pride flag flies on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday, June 8, 2023, during a Pride event.

Conservative MP Michelle Ferreri is praising the Peterborough Police Service for arresting a man accused of hurling homophobic slurs and burning a Pride flag — a move that drew the ire of some social media users who condemned her as a “fake” Conservative.

A 48-year-old man was arrested last week on two charges of criminal harassment after he was accused of stealing a Pride flag, burning it and — according to police — “screaming” anti-gay epithets.

The arrest demonstrates that “hate has no place in our community and our country and will not be tolerated,” Ferreri said in a post on X, formerly Twitter, on Friday.

“Thank you to Peterborough Police for arresting this man,” she said, adding that one individual’s actions don’t speak for her constituents in this mid-sized city about 120 kilometres northeast of Toronto.

At the time of his arrest, the accused was on probation and under a court order instructing him not to utter words, wear clothing or hold signs that are racist, antisemitic or homophobic.

Peterborough police did not respond to CBC News’ request for the individual’s name and bail status.

Dozens of social media users responded to Ferreri’s praise of the arrest with a stream of homophobic slurs. Others said the man’s arrest was unjustified and that as a member of a party that supports free speech, Ferreri was out of line.

One social media user, Shawn Quenneville, told Ferreri in an online post that “they’re pedophiles” — an apparent reference to members of the LGBTQ community.

The decades-old claim that gay men molest children at far higher rates than heterosexuals has been repeatedly debunked.

Conservative Member of Parliament for Peterborough—Kawartha and Member of The House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women (FEWO), Michelle Ferreri, speaks during a press conference on The House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women (FEWO) report titled "Responding to the Calls for Justice: Addressing Violence Against Indigenous Women and Girls in the Context of Resource Development Project" in Ottawa, on Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022.

“The liberal agenda with Bill C-16 has gone to far. They want to walk around naked in front of kids. And the cops let them. They want to go to schools in drag costumes and read story time. Thankfully I never had kids,” Quenneville said.

Ferreri fired back at Quenneville, saying that gay people are “not pedophiles. Pedophiles are pedophiles, don’t lump the radical woke with them.”

“The movement supports them,” Quenneville said in response, with his tweet drawing more than 100 “likes” on X.

Quenneville did not respond to a request for further comment.

Bill C-16 is Liberal government legislation that extended certain protections to trans people and made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender identity or expression.

MP called a ‘fake Conservative’

The legislation was a lightning rod during debate in Parliament. Some observers claimed it would allow trans women to infringe on “female-born” spaces or somehow punish people who don’t use a trans person’s preferred pronoun — something that wasn’t explicitly mentioned in the legislation.

Other social media responses to Ferreri called her “pathetic,” a “fake Conservative,” some accused her of being a “groomer” who holds “liberal, red tory values” and suggested police ignored other offences to go after this “woke, vote getting ‘crime.'”

Another X user asked if Ferreri had ever considered “going to bat for the straight white people who voted you into office.”

Kristopher Wells, a professor at MacEwan University and a Canada Research Chair who researches public attitudes toward sexual and gender minority youth, said moderate and progressive conservative politicians are routinely “coming under attack” from individuals who have been “radicalized” by anti-LGBTQ content circulating online.

“There’s this sort of far-right mob mentality that anyone who speaks out in favour of the 2SLGBTQ community or even expresses a notion of supporting human rights — that’s seen as part of a woke agenda. It’s all part of a backlash to progress,” Wells told CBC News.

He said some people are determined to snuff out “centrist values” in conservative parties and drag them to the far right on sexuality.

“What politicians need to realize is that this is a very small minority in Canada — and they’re being allowed to have an outsized voice and influence through social media,” he said of anti-LGBTQ advocates.

Kristopher Wells plans to speak before council on Monday. The professor and well-known LGBTQ advocate is pushing local governments to pass conversion therapy bans in the absence of provincial action on the file.

Wells said the backlash against Ferreri could discourage other leaders, particularly conservative-minded ones, from speaking out against hate.

“That’s what can happen — you bully people into silence. But we have to remember, silence has a cost,” he said. “Populism and fascism are creeping into Canada.”

Ferreri did not respond to a request for an interview.

Ferreri’s comments come after Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre last month distanced himself from MP Arnold Viersen, a social conservative member of his caucus, who said he’d vote against same-sex marriage if given the opportunity.

Poilievre said gay marriage “is legal and it will remain legal when I am prime minister, full stop.”

He also promised to lead a small government that “minds its own business, letting people make their own decisions about their love lives.” He has also condemned anti-gay discrimination abroad.

While surveys suggest Canadians are among those most supportive of LGBTQ rights in the western world, a recent Ipsos poll found there has been regression in some areas.

The polling firm, which has tracked support for some LGBTQ issues over time, found there’s been a notable decline — an 11 per cent drop in three years — in the number of people in Canada who support having openly LGBTQ athletes on sports teams.

About 54 per cent of Canadians surveyed said there should be laws banning discrimination against LGBTQ people in employment, education, housing and social services — a nine per cent drop from the figure reported in 2021, Ipsos found.

Ipsos surveyed 1,000 people in Canada for an online survey of more than 18,000 people in 26 different countries. The results are accurate within plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

Wells said the receding support is driven by the disinformation and dehumanizing rhetoric allowed to flourish online.

“If you chip away at something long enough, you’re going to start to see the damage … and that’s what is happening here,” he said.

Online abuse can have real-world consequences.

According to Statistics Canada data, the number of police-reported hate crimes that involve sexual orientation has more than doubled, from 186 in 2018 to 491 in 2022.

“People get into these disinformation loops, politicians fuel polarization and the consequence of that is a steady rise in hate crimes,” Wells said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

J.P. Tasker is a journalist in CBC’s parliamentary bureau who reports for digital, radio and television. He is also a regular panellist on CBC News Network’s Power & Politics. He covers the Conservative Party, Canada-U.S. relations, Crown-Indigenous affairs, climate change, health policy and the Senate. You can send story ideas and tips to J.P. at jp.tasker@cbc.ca

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