by Janice Dickson in Ottawa
Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch’s campaign says she did not know Ron Banjaree, an anti-Muslim advocate, or the organization Rise Canada would be at the event she attended Monday evening in Brampton.
“Kellie did not know this person or this organization would be there. Had she known she would not have attended,” Leitch’s campaign spokesman Michael Diamond told iPolitics in an email.
Diamond said Leitch attended a meeting organized by an organization called “Keep Religion Out of Public Schools” in support of secular and pluralistic public schools.
“Kellie does not believe that this long standing Canadian practice should be changed to accommodate one group. Other individuals and groups attended this meeting, there was no guest list sent to Kellie prior to the event. This meeting was about the place of religion in public schools,” wrote Diamond.
Leitch did address the anti-Muslim group, though, and the money raised at the event was to go toward fighting the construction of a mosque in Brampton.
Banjaree, director of Canadian Hindu Advocacy and an advisor to Rise Canada, spoke to the audience awaiting Leitch’s arrival on Monday. In a video of his address posted to YouTube — posted below — Banjaree says Rise Canada is connected to different groups, including the Jewish Defence League of Canada, the United Christian Federation and other groups he describes as “fighting the Sharia creep.”
He tells the audience that, five years ago, the group didn’t exist, but with the help of mostly Christian groups it was able to do a series of “large scale demonstrations regarding prayers, Islamic prayers, in Toronto District School Board public schools, specifically it was Valley Park School.”
“At the time they had taken over the cafeteria for school prayers. They’re still doing it, by the way,” he tells the group. He goes on to claim that those organizing the prayers have made female students sit behind the boys and in some cases have excluded them from prayers altogether.
A Caucasian man in the audience pipes up at this point: “Sometimes they do panty checks. It’s disgusting.”
Diamond wrote that the meeting was attended by “a number of people from a number of different groups, including people from Rise Canada. That is clear.
“It is also clear that Kellie was not at the event while a representative from Rise Canada was speaking.”
Banjaree recently attended a Toronto school board meeting on religious accommodation where someone ripped up a copy of the Qur’an. At that board meeting, someone else was distributing flyers from Rise Canada which called for the elimination all policies of ‘religious accommodation’ in schools.
On the recording, Banjaree welcomes Leitch as she slowly makes her way to the podium, stopping along the way to shake hands with Banjaree’s supporters.
Leitch takes questions from the audience, but it appears only one — from Banjaree — was captured on video.
Banjaree claims that India has the best human rights record in the world and should be considered a “safe country” for migration, like Canada, the United States and many countries in Europe. He says that there have been problems with people from India claiming refugee status in Canada and people involved in the 1985 Air India bombing were able to claim refugee status in Canada.
Banjaree asks Leitch to look into why India is not considered a “safe country”; she says she will.
Diamond said that while Leitch responded a question from the floor, “she did not know this person or this organization would be there. Had she known she would not have attended.
“She wants to be very clear that this guy and his opinions are repugnant and do not reflect her own views.”
Diamond said Leitch is supportive of secular and pluralistic public schools. She is committed to building a country that promotes the shared values of hard work, generosity, freedom, tolerance, equality of opportunity and equality of individuals. “That includes the freedom to practice your religion and the responsibility to be tolerant of other people’s religion.”
A blog called Anti-Racist Canada posted an exhaustive list of links to reports of controversial activity by Banjaree, including the video from the event Leitch attended with him on Monday.
At the end of the video, an attendee says that former Mississauga mayoral candidate Kevin Johnston collected $244 from supporters at the event that will go toward fighting the construction of a mosque that was recently approved by Mississauga City Council.
In early March, city council gave the Meadowvale Islamic Centre Inc. and the City of Mississauga a green light to move forward with the development of the mosque.
Johnston reportedly expressed his concerns about the mosque on his website, “Stop the Mosque”. According to Mississauga.com, Johnston wrote on his website that the mosque would drive up crime and vandalism, set back women’s rights and affect housing prices.
Some Tory leadership contenders came under fire for giving interviews to Johnston on his YouTube channel, FreedomReport.ca.
In one of his video rants, he warns Liberal MP Iqra Khalid, author of motion 103 condemning Islamophobia, that he’ll be there “with a big, fat smile” to film the moment when she’s shot by a “gun nut.”
Published in partnership with iPolitics.ca.
Commentary by Fred Maroun in Ottawa
Kellie Leitch is one of the candidates seeking the leadership of Canada’s Conservative party, and she attracted much attention with her proposal for “screening immigrants, refugees, and visitors, for anti-Canadian values”. There are two parts to Leitch’s proposal.
First, there is the concept of Canadian values then there is the screening.
Leitch is simply advancing widely accepted principles. She lists six values, which belong in three categories:
· Nice-sounding but unenforceable character traits: “helping others”, “hard work”, and “generosity”.
· “Freedom and tolerance”, which she elaborates to mean “equality of men and women, freedom of religion, and equality of all under the law”. These values are already covered in further details in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is part of our constitution.
· “Equal opportunity”, less a moral value than a political belief because it affects the functioning of government rather than the actions of individuals.
Canadian values are not a Conservative or even a Liberal idea even though we owe our charter to former Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. The term “Canadian values” is not widely used, yet the values are widely accepted by Canadians and even enshrined in our constitution.
On this basis, Leitch’s proposal should not be controversial, but it has become a lightning rod because there is the suspicion that it targets Muslims.
Are Canadian Values Islamophobic?
If Canadian values are seen to be hostile to Islam, it is because they are, at least when it comes to Islam as practised today by the vast majority of Muslim-majority countries. Those countries have no democratic freedoms, lesser rights for women and some ethnic groups, limited freedom of religion, and limited legal rights for non-citizens.
Islam is often used as justification for terrorism and other forms of violence in many parts of the world.
It is natural to be concerned about whether Muslims who come to Canada will negatively affect our values in the long term by adopting some of the same practices used in their countries of origin. This fear exists among much of the population of the Western world, including Canada, yet few mainstream politicians dare raise it or, even less, propose solutions.
Although Leitch does not state it, it is clear that her proposal is a way of addressing the fear of Islam. Her refusal to make the connection may be an attempt to avoid being labelled anti-Muslim. Leitch insists that her proposal is not anti-Muslim, and she is correct. Leitch is addressing legitimate fears of Islam in a positive way, by promoting Canadian values, which are consistent with the values of many individual Muslims, and not in a negative way, which would be to single out Islam as U.S. President Donald Trump has done through his recent executive order.
Our charter contradicts some of the widely practised Muslim principles, but it also contradicts some Christian and Jewish principles. For example, some Christian and Jewish denominations do not support gender equality.
If our Charter, and by extension our Canadian values, were anti-Muslim then they would also have to be considered anti-Christian and anti-Jewish, which is not the case. The Canadian Charter explicitly protects freedom of religion, while it expects Canadians to abide by our Canadian values. This is a recognition that individuals can think for themselves and can believe in a faith without blindly applying each of its stated principles.
Highly Desirable Policy
In this light, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is Pierre Trudeau’s son, should be even moral vocal than Leitch in promoting Canadian values, but instead, he is choosing to support a motion that condemns “Islamophobia”. Muslims and all other minorities must be protected against discrimination and violence, but politicians are hypocritical when they pretend that Islam is not a legitimate concern for many Canadians.
Canadian values should be a source of pride, not a source of partisan debate. If newcomers to Canada can be screened to protect our values, such a policy should be welcomed by everyone, including by Muslims who are here to escape the tyrannical regimes of their countries of origin.
Leitch’s proposal is still at a very early stage, and there are valid questions on how it would be implemented to avoid discrimination on the basis of religion. It is on such practical aspects that the debate should center. It may turn out that her proposal is not feasible, but it does not necessarily follow that this is a needless debate.
Commentary by Susan Delacourt in Ottawa
The good news for Kellie Leitch — and she might need some right now — is that many Canadians believe this country needs young, female political leaders.
The bad news is that most Conservatives — the people who make up the party Leitch wants to lead — do not share that view.
These findings come from new research by Abacus Data. By sheer happenstance, Abacus and the Leitch leadership campaign were out in the field in late August, doing some survey work that touched on Canadian values. The two surveys dovetail in some fascinating ways.
The Leitch survey asked, controversially, whether respondents would support screening immigrants for “anti-Canadian values.” This was quite the surprise coming from the MP for Simcoe-Grey, once the federal labour minister, who only months ago was apologetically backtracking for her role in the infamous “barbaric cultural practices” tip line proposal of the 2015 election campaign.
Now, we seem to be back in the middle of a debate we thought had been settled in the last election. Maybe it wasn’t.
The Abacus survey sounded people out on the traits and values they’re seeking in political leaders. Leitch and her supporters no doubt will be heartened to hear that 54 per cent of respondents to the Abacus poll said they would prefer a woman leader. Moreover, a whopping 65 per cent — nearly two-thirds — said they would rather have someone under 50 years of age. Leitch, 46, comfortably meets both criteria.
The problem for Leitch, however, is that her own fellow Conservatives aren’t as enthusiastic about young female leaders. Almost 60 per cent of Conservative respondents to the Abacus poll said that if they had their choice between someone over 50 and someone under 50 to lead a political party, they’d select the older candidate. Only 13 per cent said they would prefer a younger, female leader.
Those results are even more striking when compared to the views of Liberal and NDP supporters who participated in the Abacus poll. Nearly 70 per cent of Liberals and 77 per cent of NDP supporters said they’d opt for a woman leader given a choice between a man and a woman of equal qualifications.
The obvious conclusion, then, is that Leitch is running for the wrong party. Then again, she might have trouble selling Liberal or NDP voters on the idea of screening immigrants for potential anti-Canadian values.
Even some folks in her own party (her leadership rivals, anyway) are balking. Michael Chong called it “dog-whistle politics.” Maxime Bernier, taking a more practical approach, called it an “unworkable” idea.
Abacus conducted its poll online in late August, asking 2,010 Canadians of voting age all kinds of questions about their ideal political leaders. When they got around to the subject of leadership qualities, the results turned out to be highly interesting.
The top two traits? “Understanding different parts of the world” and “thinking about what’s right for the next generation.” Respondents also placed a high value on leaders who “think a lot about the future of the world”, are “open-minded about different lifestyles” and “care about the poor.”
Buried in the list, however, is a possible rationale for Leitch’s controversial survey question.
Only 18 per cent of the respondents to the Abacus poll said that a leader must embrace the idea that “immigration is good for Canada.” Understanding different parts of the world is one thing, apparently, while welcoming them here is another matter entirely.
Nick Kouvalis, Leitch’s campaign manager, has said that the survey was based on what the campaign had been hearing out on the road over the summer. Kouvalis, for those who may have forgotten, has not been shy in the past about courting controversy with provocative survey questions. His firm, Campaign Research, was scolded by the Commons Speaker several years ago for polling Montreal residents about Irwin Cotler’s allegedly imminent resignation. (Cotler, then the MP for Mount Royal, protested in the Commons that the survey breached his parliamentary privileges, though he did eventually step down before the last election.)
Kouvalis, let’s also remember, was one of the early backers and staffers for former Toronto mayor Rob Ford (he was also one of the first to walk away when things started to go crazy in Fordland). Kouvalis was on John Tory’s team in the last mayoralty election in Toronto and helped B.C. Premier Christy Clark pull off an unexpected victory in 2013.
On Twitter, Kouvalis has been predicting that all the leadership candidates eventually will perform some “world-class gymnastics” to embrace Leitch’s views on screening immigrants for anti-Canadian values. Clearly, her campaign manager believes this issue taps into a rich vein of support, at least in Conservative circles. Which could explain why Bernier called the idea “unworkable” rather than, say, “egregious.”
Among the other admirable leadership qualities cited by respondents to that Abacus poll were the ability to “ask for help when you need it,” to “seek advice from smart people everywhere” and to “apologize when you make a mistake.”
One can’t help but notice that Leitch hasn’t apologized for this survey question — perhaps on the advice she needed from people she considers smart.
“Oftentimes, debating and discussing these complex policies requires tough conversations — conversations that go well beyond media sound bites and simplified labels,” Leitch wrote in an emailed statement after the controversy.
“I am committed to having these conversations, to debating theses issues, and I invite Canadians to give their feedback.”
So, like it or not, immigration may become a hot-button issue in the Conservative leadership race. Consider this an early warning — especially for those complacent Canadians who say that Donald Trump’s rhetoric on immigration couldn’t possibly work here.
The people in Leitch’s Conservative party may not be the biggest fans of female leaders under 50, but this particular candidate could be giving them the campaign’s sleeper issue. In other words, the debate about “barbaric cultural practices” didn’t die in 2015; it’s simply been slumbering, waiting for an opening.