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Amal Attar-Guzman: Anaida Poilievre is the Conservative Party’s secret weapon


On September 10, 2022, after the Conservative party leadership race results were announced and the winner was declared, I didn’t necessarily plan on watching Pierre Poilievre’s speech. It was obvious he would win. Nevertheless, I am glad I decided to check it out—and not because of Pierre. I hadn’t expected to see something completely new burst onto the Canadian political stage, and yet I did.

That “something new” came in the form of Anaida Poilievre, a Venezuelan Canadian introducing her husband as the next leader of one of Canada’s oldest political parties. She immediately grabbed my attention as she began her speech. 

She spoke about how her family left Venezuela, arrived in Canada as refugees and settled in a working-class neighbourhood in East Montreal in the mid-’90s. Her father, formerly a bank manager back home, worked in Canada “jumping on the back of a pickup truck to collect fruits and vegetables” to provide for the family. Eventually, he became a small business owner and she and her siblings went on to make lives for themselves. 

Her experiences were relatable to me and the more than a million other Canadians who grew up in Latin American households; whose families immigrated and settled in Canada for a better, secure life. 

But that wasn’t the only interesting thing about Anaida’s speech. Not only was it in Canada’s two official languages of English and French. She also spoke in Spanish, a language that is rarely heard on any major Canadian political stage. Her tone, rhetoric, and storytelling technique also sounded so familiar to me. This was not a quintessential “Canadian” speech. It was a Latin American one. 

In just four minutes, Anaida stole the room. I was no longer looking at Pierre.

Some Latin American Canadians, especially Venezuelan Canadians (of which there are approximately 20,000), responded positively to Anaida’s performance. For many, it was the first time they felt heard and seen in Canadian politics. 

Afterward, when Anaida appeared on Quebec’s TVA program Le Bilan, Le Journal de Montréal’s Yasmine Abdelfadel commented that she is “self-confident,” “intelligent,” and “passionate.” She concluded that Anaida’s story is of an “accomplished Québécoise of Venezuelan origin that could become la prochaine dame of Canada.” 

It became obvious then that her triple identity as a Canadian/Québécoise/Venezuelan, alongside her professional experience, makes her a potent political asset for the Conservatives and a threat to the Liberal government, which often paints the Tories as anti-immigrant. She was an intriguing new voice in our public life.

Now that polls show the Conservatives are favoured to win the next federal election, we could not only have the first-ever Latin American Canadian spouse of a prime minister, but also the first one who arrived here as a refugee. It is time to consider what having Anaida Poilievre in that role may mean to Canadians and public policy at large.

Her speeches, interviews, and political ads tend to cover certain themes like social and economic mobility and meritocracy that appeal to Conservative voters. The foundation of her rhetoric is something not really seen before in Canadian politics, but it is widely known amongst us Spanish-speaking Latin Americans. It’s called “Ponte las pilas.”

The literal definition is “Put on your batteries,” but its figurative meaning is “get it together, “don’t give up,” “work harder,” or “keep pushing forward.” It’s much more than a motto you would see on a Spanish-language tote bag. It is a promise. The idea is that despite all the challenges we face, we will overcome them. We will not let anything or anyone hold us back, and we will ultimately get to a place where we are not just surviving but thriving.  

As Anaida said on the Latin American Canadian program TLN Connects, “We [Latin American Canadians] don’t want to be given any handouts; we want to get ahead on our own merits [and] want the opportunities to get ahead.” 

This mentality is not without its criticism. Some say it can breed toxic positivity and be used to even invalidate mental health challenges. Still, others find it aspirational. It’s a perspective that could be enticing to the Conservative base but also potential voters. In times of political and socioeconomic malaise, ponte las pilas could be seen as an antidote, especially for younger Canadians who are currently the least happy demographic in Canada

How Anaida’s presence could highlight Canada’s Latin American community remains to be seen. Some Venezuelan-Canadians believe she will make a difference. A man named Carlos, interviewed by New Canadian Media, said that while he had never heard of Anaida before and he does not generally align with the Conservative Party, her speech moved him to tears.

“I felt very identified as an immigrant, I identified 100 hundred percent,” he said.

Others are not convinced Anaida’s presence will change much. Cristina Pulido Vielma, a Venezuelan Canadian interpreter also interviewed by New Canadian Media noted that when she signed up for a Canadian politics course for the Latin American Canadian community, Conservatives did not participate. She criticized the party’s lack of Latin American Canadian outreach.

“All the federal parties except the Conservatives sent guest speakers. This shows how little they cared about making us part of their movement,” she said. “Now that Mr. Poilievre has a Venezuelan wife, it might make a difference to some…but I don’t think it will make any difference to others.”

Conservative Party of Canada Leader Pierre Poilievre and his wife Anaida wave on stage after he was announced as the winner at the Conservative Party of Canada leadership vote, in Ottawa, on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022. Justin Tang/The Canadian Press.

Canada’s Latin American community, typically hailing from places like Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean, sits at just over a million people, representing 3.3 percent of the population as of 2021. While it has experienced considerable growth in the past several years,  it is much smaller than the United States’ whopping 62.5 million Latin Americans, accounting for 19 percent of their population that same year. 

These demographics matter. Latin American Canadians don’t carry anywhere near the same political weight as their American cousins, whose votes have the power to make or break presidential elections. 

“[Canadian governments] don’t feel that pressure to understand the Latin American Canadian community,” explained Ana Karina Rizo, a Venezuelan Canadian lawyer and president of Ladies of Liberty Alliance Canada, in an interview with The Hub

The community’s political representation is minuscule. Minister of Transport Pablo Rodriguez is the first and currently only Latin American Canadian MP in a cabinet position and in the House of Commons. Across Canada, there are no serving Latin American Canadian politicians at the provincial and territorial levels of government, with the exception of Alejandra Zega Mendez and Andrés Fontecilla in Quebec. 

Because of this, certain inequities are underreported and under the radar. While there is limited research, studies have shown that Latin American Canadians are lagging behind other ethnic groups in terms of wages and education. In Toronto, because they were more likely to work in front-line jobs during the pandemic, they were seven times more likely to be hospitalized from COVID-19 than any other ethno-racial group. Most troubling, they had the second-highest mortality rate among immigrant communities affected by the virus. 

Latin American Canadians’ political participation is, however, generally quite high. Nearly 85 percent of eligible Latin American Canadians voted in the 2019 federal election, according to Statistics Canada

The community’s political views are varied and diverse. Some, having left countries ruled by socialist regimes, feel ideologically drawn to the Conservative Party. Others associate it with the U.S. Republican Party and automatically assume it is anti-immigrant, Rizo explains. 

Even though Latin American Canadians tend not to get deeply involved in Canadian politics outside of voting, in large part because they view it as stable compared to Latin American politics, Rizo says that the tides are changing. With rising inflation, health-care challenges, high housing prices, and broader affordability issues looming, Latin American Canadians may be mobilized to run for political office themselves.  

“[A]s you have more issues, people are feeling more invested to get involved,” explains Rizo.  

One Latin American Canadian who will no doubt be involved is Anaida. While spouses of Canadian prime ministers hold no official title or office, they do accompany their spouse abroad and meet other world leaders, give speeches, and most importantly can use their position to champion causes. For example, Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau focused on mental health issues and eating disorders during her time by Justin Trudeau’s side. 

Anaida has mentioned that she would focus on women’s issues, immigration, and, most strikingly, human trafficking. 

Overall, Anaida’s presence in federal politics will surely bring new energy and influence to the Conservatives, helping to attract and energize not only Latin American Canadians but other immigrant groups more broadly to see themselves at home in the CPC. And if my experience watching her a couple of years ago is illustrative, we’d be wrong to dismiss her. 

Kristopher Kinsinger: The Liberals still have no good justification for their thought crime law


Bill C-63, the federal government’s so-called Online Harms Act, continues to be the subject of vigorous debate across the political and legal spectrum. Numerous civil liberty organizations and legal scholars have expressed alarm over what they describe as the bill’s draconian restrictions on expression that will discourage legitimate political speech. Critics contend that the law places unjustifiable limits on freedom of expression, which is constitutionally guaranteed by section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

One of Bill C-63’s most problematic provisions would allow for the issuing of peace bonds (referred to in the Criminal Code as “recognizances”) against hate crime offences. When there are “reasonable grounds” to fear that someone is likely to commit such an offence, provincial court judges would be empowered to, among other things, place the offender under house arrest, or order that they refrain from communicating with certain people. 

Officials with the Department of Justice and spokespeople for the federal government have downplayed the risks to free expression posed by these peace bond provisions. In one op-ed, a senior advisor with the Prime Minister’s Office dismissed criticism of these provisions, framing it as “right-wing” fear-mongering to convince Canadians that “peace bonds are a novel concept created by the Liberal government to appease the woke overlords while punishing regular Canadians with pre-crime offences, like thinking the wrong thing.” 

These defenders of Bill C-63 contend that peace bonds against hate crime offences are justified because the Criminal Code already allows for similar peace bonds against terrorist offences, as well as sexual offences and offences involving serious personal injury. It’s a seemingly witty retort. After all, the Harper Government lowered the threshold to obtain a peace bond when it is feared that someone is likely to commit a terrorist offence. Doesn’t this expose the Conservatives as political hypocrites for now opposing similar legal tools in the Online Harms Act? 

On closer examination, this argument fails to withstand scrutiny. Simply put, the existing legal justification for issuing peace bonds against terrorist and other offences is actually much stronger than for hate crime offences—even though civil libertarians may credibly oppose both.

Establishing “reasonable grounds” that someone is likely to commit a terrorist offence or an offence involving serious personal injury is a largely objective analysis. For example, if someone has been gathering materials that could be used to assemble a bomb, and has been posting threatening messages online against a particular group or venue, it may be reasonable to conclude they intend to commit a terrorist offence in the near future. 

Notably, the Criminal Code prohibits not just terrorist acts, but also “conspirac[ies], attempt[s] or threat[s] to commit any such act or omission.” Thus, actively planning to commit a terrorist offence is itself a criminal act that our law already prohibits. In these cases, a judge issuing a peace bond will consider actions that may themselves prove to be criminal, even if law enforcement still needs to gather additional evidence before charges can be laid. In this regard, peace bonds against terrorist offences are broadly consistent with existing prohibitions on conspiracies or attempts to commit these kinds of offences. 

However, these same justifications can’t be given for the Trudeau government’s proposed peace bonds against hate crime offences. Merely intending to say or do something hateful does not, on its own, constitute a criminal act. Moreover, as I recently wrote for these pages, “The evidence that judges will consider when deciding whether to issue the peace bonds envisioned by Bill C-63 will, invariably, include the allegedly hateful content that the individual in question is expected to express.” In other words, assessing the likelihood that someone will commit a hate crime offence demands (contrary to what certain PMO advisors would suggest) an investigation into that person’s very thoughts. 

How else can a judge assess what someone will say before they say it? Where no actual expression has taken place, all that’s left is what it’s believed that person intends to say. This sort of assessment would necessarily require an investigation into the “internal forum” of someone’s thoughts. This raises the deeply troubling prospect that Bill C-63 not only imposes limits on freedom of expression but also on one of the forgotten freedoms also guaranteed by section 2(b) of the Charter: freedom of thought. 

Indeed, legal scholars like Brian Bird have suggested that limits on freedom of thought may never be constitutionally justified. Although conventional wisdom holds that no right or freedom is absolute, this is not what the Charter actually says; rather, section 1 states that limits may only be imposed on Charter rights and freedoms where they can be “demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” Against this rigorous standard, the question must be asked: under what circumstances could restrictions on a person’s very thoughts—before those thoughts have even been expressed—be justified in a society that purports to be free and democratic? 

The Trudeau Government has yet to offer a compelling answer to this unsettling question.