Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre admonished for calling bridge accident 'terrorist attack' without confirmation

Two people died on the American side of the Niagara Falls border, but the FBI quickly ruled out terrorism as a cause.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre rises during Question Period, in Ottawa, Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre rises during Question Period, in Ottawa, Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre is being dubbed "irresponsible" for calling Wednesday's Rainbow Bridge accident a "terrorist attack" in the House of Commons before authorities could confirm or rule that out.

Two people died on the American side of the Niagara Falls border when a speeding car crashed and exploded at the checkpoint. Hours later, the FBI's Buffalo office identified “no terrorism nexus” at the scene and handed over the case to local police for a “traffic investigation.”

Poilievre raised his concerns for the safety of Canadians in the House following the incident while demanding Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prepare an “action plan” to protect people.

“Mr. Speaker we’ve just heard media reports, a terrorist attack, an explosion at the Niagara crossing of the Canada-U.S. border. At least two people are dead ... Can the prime minister give us an update on what he knows and what action plan he will immediately implement to bring him security for our people?” Poilievre asked.

In response, Trudeau informed the House his government was following up to get “as many answers as possible” regarding the incident, but did not refer to it as a “terrorist attack.”

Poilievre asked by Canadian Press reporter about 'terrorist attack' remark

Following backlash to his seemingly rushed comments on the crash at Niagara Falls, the opposition leader was prompted by journalists on Thursday over his “terrorist attack” remark, asking if it was responsible of him to link the car explosion to “terrorism activity” in his House address.

Paola Loriggio of the Canadian Press asked Poilievre if he thought "it was responsible for you to call yesterday's explosion by the checkpoint at the Rainbow bridge 'terrorism' when no U.S. or Canadian authorities said that was the case and when the New York governor also said there was no evidence to suggest terrorism activity?"

Poilievre explained that his remarks were based on a CTV report that claimed Canadian government officials were operating under the assumption that Wednesday's vehicle explosion was terror-related.

“What I said, and I was right, was that there were media reports of a terror-related event. By your admission there were media reports of a terror-related event.”

“And that media report, according to CTV, unless you are questioning their integrity now, came from security officials in the Trudeau government,” Poilievre admonished.

Following Poilievre's heated exchange with the Canadian Press reporter, CTV wrote in its coverage later that day that the information Poilievre claims to be citing was reported approximately 15 minutes after he rose in the House to ask Trudeau about "media reports about a terrorist attack."

The opposition leader's director of media relations Sebastian Skamski told Yahoo News Canada it is "inaccurate" to single out Pierre Poilievre as a "lone irresponsible actor for asking about 'terrorism'" during Question Period when he says there were enough media sources already conjecturing the possibility of links to terrorism.

"There was extensive news coverage seriously speculating on terrorism prior to the Leader asking his measured, reasonable question, and a suggestion that the Leader was somehow being irresponsible or inflammatory is frankly disingenuous," Skamski said.

In an email response, Skamski cited media reports, including tweets from ABC News and Buffalo News, that laid the foundation for Poilievre's "terrorist attack" remark.

"Anyone watching developments at that time - a fiery car explosion at the border - was almost certainly thinking that terrorism was a very real possibility, as opposed to a dramatic and very unfortunate car accident. Indeed, the Prime Minister left Question Period early, and the Minister of Public Safety held a quick media scrum. Neither would normally do so for a car accident."

Canadians react: Poilievre called 'reckless' by users on social media

Poilievre was scrutinized by Canadians for calling the car explosion a “terrorist attack” soon after authorities investigating the scene rejected any such claims, which unfurled a string of criticism against the Conservative leader’s “leap to conclusions” on the matter.

Poll shows support for Trudeau and Liberals slipping, Poilievre and Tories surging

New polling from Leger and The Canadian Press show the majority of Canadians falling out of favour with Trudeau and the Liberals, with half wishing he would resign before the next election.

Only 30 per cent of respondents said they were satisfied with Trudeau and the Liberals, after eight years in power, and 63 per cent said they were not satisfied.

Meanwhile, 27 per cent of respondents said they would back Poilievre as prime minister, versus 17 per cent who said the same for Trudeau.

— With files from The Canadian Press