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Anatomy of a manufactured election scandal

Anatomy of a manufactured election scandal
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Social media was ablaze all weekend with talk of a bombshell story about a sex scandal involving Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau . The only problem: there wasn’t one.

For the better part of four days, wild and baseless allegations of sexual impropriety by Trudeau during his time as a teacher at a Vancouver private school ricocheted from smart phone screens to computer monitors across the country.

There were those who fed the rumour mill, tweeting “I’m hearing…” and adding completely fabricated details, while others fanned the flames with innocent posts asking “could this be true?”

Then on Monday, with fake news sites pumping out the story and a nationally-televised leaders debate only hours away, the Conservative Party of Canada took an unfounded rumour and put their name on it, issuing a press release that asked the question: Why did Trudeau leave West Point Grey?

“What’s the real reason? Why has his story changed so many times?” it asked.

While the release didn’t mention sex, it pointed the way for anyone to go online and find the unsubstantiated rumour themselves.

Asked why the Conservatives put out the release, spokesperson Simon Jefferies referred to comments leader Andrew Scheer made on Tuesday, when he said: “Like on the SNC-Lavalin scandal , (Trudeau’s) story has changed multiple times and we believe he might have used that opportunity to come clean with Canadians.”

“We’re not making insinuations, we’re just asking why he can’t keep his story (straight).”

It is difficult to pinpoint the origin of the rumour, though the Star was approached several weeks ago by a right-wing activist with the story and invited to dig further. The Star thoroughly investigated Trudeau’s tenure at West Point Grey — devoting multiple reporters over multiple days — and found nothing to corroborate the tip. Other media have also been investigating.

That work of journalistic verification came out into the open on Friday, when Marieke Walsh, a reporter with the Globe and Mail, asked Trudeau about the rumour at a breakfast campaign stop in Quebec City.

“You and your campaign team are aware of unfounded rumours about why you left West Point Grey private school midway through your teaching term in 2001. Can you tell us why you left?” she asked.

Trudeau responded: “I moved on and I have great memories of an excellent time teaching in Vancouver in public and private schools.”

Later asked if he had signed a nondisclosure agreement when he left, Trudeau said simply: “No.”

That seemingly innocuous exchange was captured on camera and posted online as evidence that the Globe knew something and a big exposé was imminent.

“What does the Globe know?” tweeted Warren Kinsella, a Sun News columnist and former Liberal party insider, to his more than 41,000 followers.

While the former headmaster of the school put out a statement only hours after the exchange stating “I can tell you with complete certainty that there is no truth to any speculation that (Trudeau) was dismissed,” the rumour would only grow stronger.

Blogger James DiFiore trickled out unverified allegations, tweeting “I am missing key details, but the digging is real.”

Kinsella’s tweets — “” — set off wild speculation that the scandal would be in the Saturday edition of the Globe. But it was not to be.

“I was up all night waiting for the paper to hit the front door,” Kinsella tweeted the next morning.

Like many conspiracy theories, evidence that appears to disprove them is instead held up as proof of a coverup.

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“IF there was a story, the Globe … would’ve given Trudeau advance notice of it. IF there was a story, Trudeau would’ve taken legal action to shut it down,” one anonymous tweeter summarized.

While an injunction could theoretically have stopped the publication of a specific article, its existence would not be secret. No application for an injunction against the Globe and Mail has been filed by the Liberal Party of Canada or Justin Trudeau, according to a search of the Toronto court records. The Liberal party did not return a request for comment.

By Saturday evening, the rumour was picked up by right-wing provocateur and head of Rebel Media, Ezra Levant.

“Huge sex scandal brewing for Justin Trudeau. If proven, even his own party will call for his removal,” Levant tweeted to his almost 200,000 followers.

On Sunday morning, Kinsella poured cold water on the rumour, tweeting : “Notwithstanding their confrontation with Trudeau on Friday afternoon, there’s no Globe story. Dunno if someone got to them or there never was one. But there you go.”
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