Online toxicity is a barrier to civic engagement. It is often noted as a key reason why Canadians might leave politics, hesitate from entering politics, or simply avoid the political conversation altogether. Elections entail heightened toxicity on the digital campaign trail providing an important opportunity to collect data and increase public awareness about a pressing challenge to our democratic culture. 

This circumstance prompted the deployment of SAMbot to track toxic tweets received by incumbent candidates and party leaders during the 2021 federal election. As a machine learning bot, SAMbot’s scale is powerful — it can review millions of tweets and distinguish between rude, threatening and sexually explicit content. For more methodology details, visit our About SAMbot page.

Here we present an overview of the toxic sentiment received by 298 public Twitter accounts monitored over the 36 day election period (August 15, 2021 at 12:00 a.m. ET to September 20, 2021 at 11:59 p.m. ET). 

 Find further details including a full list of candidates in our 2021 Federal Election SAMbot Data Release.  

SAMbot uses a natural language processing, machine learning model to assess toxicity. These models are ever-evolving and thus, everytime SAMbot is deployed it becomes more accurate and informed. Learn more about how SAMbot detects toxicity.

Download the full Snapshot


2,550,098 tweets analyzed over the 36 day election period

Averaging 70,836 tweets per day.

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476,819 tweets identified as likely toxic*

18.7% or over 1 in 6 tweets were likely toxic.

Toxicity Overview

Of the 2,550,098 tweets analyzed:

  • 144,177 were labelled as containing sexually explicit content
  • 200,785 were labelled as containing profanity
  • 212,059 were labelled as containing identity attacks
  • 291,393 were labelled as containing threats
  • 421,141 were labelled as containing insults

*Tweets can possess more than one toxicity attribute at a time (e.g. A tweet can be analyzed as both an insult and a threat simultaneously).

Party Leaders

Party leaders received a majority of all tweets during this election (70%). Together, party leaders also received a majority of all toxicity (approximately 70% of all likely toxic tweets).

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau received the highest volume of toxicity of any candidate with over 200,000 likely toxic tweets tracked during the election period. Over 1 in 5 (22%) of all tweets received by Trudeau were likely toxic. Trudeau alone received 42% of all likely toxic tweets.

While the volume of toxicity received by Green Party of Canada leader Annamie Paul was low compared to other party leaders. Proportionally, Paul received the second highest rate of toxicity of any party leader with over 1 in 5 (21%) of all tweets received being likely toxic.

Annamie Paul was also the only party leader to receive Identity Attacks as the most common form of toxicity. Identity Attacks were among the top three most common toxicity attributes received by Jagmeet Singh.

Party leader Most common toxicity attributes
Justin Trudeau Insults; Threats; Profanity
Erin O’Toole Insults; Threats; Profanity
Jagmeet Singh Insults; Threats; Identity Attacks
Maxime Bernier Insults; Profanity; Threats
Annamie Paul Identity Attacks; Threats; Insults
Yves-François Blanchet Threats; Sexually Explicit Content; Insults


SAMbot tracked 88 female identifying and 210 male identifying candidates.*

Female candidates were more likely to receive toxicity than male candidates. Approximately 21% of all tweets directed at female candidates were likely toxic while 18% of tweets directed at male candidates were likely toxic.

Female candidates were more likely to receive sexually explicit comments compared to their male counterparts.

Of the 88 female candidates tracked, 50 were from the Liberal Party of Canada and they received 82% of all likely toxic tweets directed at female candidates. Of this group, high levels of toxicity were tracked for Chrystia Freeland and Maryam Monsef who each received approximately 20% of toxic content sent to female candidates. 

Freeland received a high amount of toxicity from August 22 to 23, 2021 when she posted a tweet with a video conveying Conservative Party of Canada leader Erin O’Toole’s stance on healthcare. Twitter labeled the tweet as “manipulated media”, meaning that Twitter viewed the content to be “significantly and deceptively altered” to portray O’Toole in a way that contradicts reality. During this two day period, Freeland received 2,897 likely toxic tweets.

Monsef received a high amount of toxicity on August 25, 2021 after referring to the Taliban, a recognized terrorist group, as “our brothers.” This remark was made when the Taliban had seized control of Afghanistan; Monsef stated that the remark was intended as a cultural reference within the Muslim community, of which she is a member. On this day Monsef received 2,247 likely toxic tweets.

*Gender information was sourced from the Library of Parliament.

High Toxicity Moments

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September 7 to 9, 2021 were the most toxic days of the election period. On the evening of September 6, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had gravel thrown at him at a campaign stop in London, Ontario. The following three days were the most toxic of the election period.

  • September 7:    
    • 20,395 likely toxic tweets were tracked – the highest volume of likely toxic tweets in a single day during the election period.  
    • A coordinated bot attack targeting eight candidates also occurred on this day. 
  • September 8:
    • 15,434 likely toxic tweets were tracked on the day of the French leaders debate.
  • September 9:
    • 14,191 likely toxic tweets tracked on the day of the English leaders debate.


Coordinated Bot Attack

SAMbot can detect when there is a high volume of organized tweets in a short period of time with duplicative language. This indicates the coordinated use of bots to send tweets.

A coordinated bot attack was monitored from September 6 to 8, 2021. During this period there were at least 116,761 tweets (approximately 36 tweets per minute) with content about the civil war in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region. These tweets were received by eight of the federal election candidates being tracked by SAMbot.

The coordinated bot attack affected the results of different candidates to varying degrees.

Candidates that received the highest volumes of toxicity

Justin Trudeau*

  • Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada
  • Re-elected in Papineau
  • Prime Minister of Canada

Received 942,517 total tweets, of which 200,369 or 21.7% are likely toxic

Erin O’Toole*

  • Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada
  • Re-elected in Durham

Received 421,131 total tweets, of which 65,170 or 15.5% are likely toxic

Jagmeet Singh*

  • Leader of the New Democratic Party
  • Re-elected in Burnaby South

Received 220,136 total tweets, of which 30,999 or 14.1% are likely toxic

Maxime Bernier

  • Leader of the People’s Party of Canada
  • Was not elected in Beauce

Received 157,717 total tweets, of which 24,192 or 15.3% are likely toxic

Maryam Monsef

  • Liberal Party of Canada candidate
  • Was not re-elected Peterborough—Kawartha

Received 36,162 total tweets, of which 12,840 or 35.5% are likely toxic

Chrystia Freeland*

  • Liberal Party of Canada candidate
  • Re-elected in University—Rosedale

Received 62,709 total tweets, of which 11,999 or 19.1% are likely toxic

Marc Garneau

  • Liberal Party of Canada candidate
  • Re-elected in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Westmount

Received 48,737 total tweets, of which 11,906 or 24.4% are likely toxic

Pierre Poilievre

  • Conservative Party of Canada candidate
  • Re-elected in Carleton

Received 48,740 total tweets, of which 8,305 or 17.0% are likely toxic


Bill Blair

  • Liberal Party of Canada candidate
  • Re-elected in Scarborough Southwest

Received 25,153 total tweets, of which 6,524 or 25.9% are likely toxic

Annamie Paul*

  • Green Party of Canada candidate
  • Was not elected in Toronto Centre

Received 28,505 total tweets, of which 5,866 or 20.6% are likely toxic

Top 20 candidates that received the highest volume of toxicity

Download List

*Candidate was targeted by the coordinated bot attack between September 6-8, 2021
**Information sourced from Elections Canada’s official election results

Tracked Candidates By Party

Party Number of tracked candidates
Liberal Party of Canada 140
Conservative Party of Canada 105
Bloc Quebecois 27
New Democratic Party 21
Green Party of Canada 3
People’s Party of Canada 1
Independent 1

SAMbot attempted to monitor every candidate that ran for re-election in the 2021 federal election, however data for Chris d’Entremont, Conservative Party of Canada candidate for West Nova, and Earl Dreeshen, Conservative Party of Canada candidate for Red Deer—Mountain View were not tracked due to technical difficulties.

Download the SAMbot 2021 Federal Election Snapshot