GATINEAU, Que. — Islamic extremists are infiltrating Canadian political parties, Maxime Bernier told reporters Sunday, alleging that political party leaders are playing footsie with them to get votes.
The leader of the People’s Party of Canada (PPC) was responding to questions about whether he shares views espoused by the guest speaker at his party’s inaugural conference. Benjamin Dichter contended that the Liberal Party of Canada is “infested with Islamiscists” and that Canada is suffering from “the stench of cultural relativeness and political Islam.”
Standing shoulder to shoulder with Dichter, a last-minute 2015 Conservative candidate stand-in in Toronto–Danforth, Bernier offered some of his own views.
“If we don’t talk about this now, and we don’t talk about immigration at the same time, our country risks become something it isn’t, in 25 or 50 years,” he said, in French.
“Look at Andrew Scheer. He went out of his way to meet Islamist extremists to get their votes,” Bernier asserted, offering little evidence.
“You reproached me for having my picture taken with someone at a public event that I didn’t know,” Bernier told journalists, referring to pictures he has posed for with a white nationalist and members of an alleged hate group. “But Andrew Scheer, he went to meet an Islamist extremist who tells people how it is good to beat your wife, and how to beat them.”
WATCH: Maxime Bernier tells party faithful he will make it into the leaders’ debates. Story continues below video.
Bernier, the party said, was referring to Omar Subedar, a Toronto-area imam who has been the subject of controversial conservative Rebel Media videos as well as a recent posting in Jihad Watch.
Subedar told HuffPost Canada Monday that Bernier’s allegations are untrue and he is just waiting for “the right moment to use the Canadian system against him” and bring him to court.
The Rebel’s videos, Subedar said, distorted the message he was sharing. “Am I teaching men to go out there and beat their wives? No!,” said the imam.
Subedar was explaining the prophet’s teaching and contextualizing them, he said. “Almost every major imam who is in Canada has been found saying something with respect to this particular verse, because it is something that you do have to deal with,” he said, explaining a Qur’an passage that appears to suggest men may beat their wives lightly.
The Muslim cleric said he has no idea what Bernier is talking about regarding Islamist extremists infiltrating political parties, calling the suggestion “completely ludicrous and unjustified.”
“My personal opinion is he is trying to create a base that is hostile to people of colour,” Subedar said, of Bernier.
The imam said the first attack against him on the Rebel came when he posted a picture with then Liberal leader Justin Trudeau in 2014. The second happened this spring after he was photographed with Scheer. Subedar said he spoke with the Tory leader about the party’s relationship with the community and white supremacy.
“"My personal opinion is he is trying to create a base that is hostile to people of colour."”
He wanted to know how Scheer planned to treat Muslims, adding that the community did not begin to organize until after former prime minister Stephen Harper “started targeting” them and using them as “scapegoats,” pointing to the ban on niqabs during citizenship ceremonies as an example.
The Conservative party did not return a request for comment.
Liberal spokesman Braeden Caley called Bernier’s comments “another disappointing example of today’s conservative politicians doubling down on divisive politics and completely ignoring the facts.”
Standing ovation at PPC event
Ditchter gave a rousing speech Sunday, bringing the crowd of approximately 340 to their feet, as the delegates — candidates from across the country — appeared to enthusiastically greet his message with one standing ovation after another while waving PPC flags and the Canadian maple leaf in the air.
“Despite what our corporate media and political leaders want to admit, Islamist entryism, and that is the adaptation of political Islam, is rotting away at our society like syphilis,” Dichter told them.
Canada has a choice to make, he said. “Option 1, do we go the direction of Europe? Do we give up our sovereignty to dangerous ideologies that have infiltrated and influence where the country is going to go?”
Or, “... Option 2, Do we say enough! This ends now,” he bellowed, to loud cheers. “Do we rediscover our roots as Canadians and do we resist the ghettoization of our society?”
North Vancouver candidate Azmairnin Jadavji told HuffPost he was uncomfortable with Dichter’s speech but shares some concerns about ghettoization and welcoming numerous newcomers who may not have the skills needed to climb the socio-economic ladder.
“I’m looking forward 20 or 30 years, and I feel that the way our Liberal and Conservative governments have been pushing our country isn’t what I want to leave for my children,” he said, explaining why he decided to get involved with the PPC.
“I’m all for immigrants; I’m an immigrant myself,” said Jadavji, who came to Canada from Tanzania when he was a boy. “I’m concerned by the level of immigration that we are bringing in, and the quality of the immigrants, because only 26 per cent are economic immigrants,” he said.
“I’m looking forward 20 or 30 years, and I feel that the way our Liberal and Conservative governments have been pushing our country isn’t what I want to leave for my children.”
The government’s latest report to Parliament on immigration said more than half — 56 per cent — of the 286,000 permanent residents welcomed in 2017 were economic immigrants.
Jadavji said he worries that immigrants without financial means will “have trouble integrating and then they are going to be going into ghettos because housing is difficult, education is difficult, affordability is difficult…. I want people to set up to succeed in Canada, not set up for failure.”
Clifford Albert, the candidate for the Quebec riding of Pierre-Boucher–Les Patriotes–Verchères, said he thought Dichter’s speech included “characterization that was a little strong” but he agreed with the message. CSIS, he noted has highlighted the rise of violent extremism invoking Islam, and as a child of immigrants ― his mother Moroccan and his father Austrian, Albert said newcomers should integrate.
“It’s wonderful that we have people from all around the world who come here with ethnic differences, but they should be melded into the melting pot of Canada,” he said.
In his speech, Bernier noted his is the only party willing to talk openly about the “Islamist menace.”
To reporters, he said the People’s Party of Canada welcomes Muslims and those of all other faiths who want to live according to Canadian values: separation of church and state, the equality of women and men. The PPC wants fewer immigrants and a stop to irregular refugees.
“We are against mass immigration, but we are for immigration,” Bernier said, noting his party wants to increase the percentage of economic immigrants. Pointing to social cohesion problems in Europe and in Britain, Bernier said he doesn’t want the same issues replicated in Canada because of new immigrants who don’t share the same values. The PPC wants face-to-face interviews with all would-be newcomers to gauge their potential for integration.
“It’s time to have that debate.”
Bernier makes pitch to be in leader’s debate
Bernier took to the stage to address his candidates, who had come from across the country for the weekend meetings. They learned how to debate, raise funds, get out the vote, use social media and do media interviews, in private sessions at a Hilton casino across the river from Parliament Hill.
The PPC leader’s message seemed primarily directed at David Johnston, the former governor general and now the head of the Leaders’ Debates Commission, hoping to persuade him to change his mind and allow Bernier into the English and French debates in October.
Earlier this month, Johnston wrote to Bernier informing him that, based on current polling numbers and seat projects, he did not think that Bernier had any chance of electing more than one candidate and as a result, the PPC would be excluded from the national stage for failing to meet two of the three criteria for entry.
Johnston’s ruling isn’t yet final and he has asked the PPC to identify three to five ridings where it thinks it can win. Bernier told reporters that his party doesn’t poll and he has no intention of providing Johnston with such a list before week’s end.
Instead, he laid out arguments for why his party should be included on the debate stage.
Speaking to his supporters, he noted the party already has 40,000 members, and 312 candidates nominated in 338 ridings — more than any other party but the Conservatives.
His party is more relevant than the Greens, he argued, calling them a single-issue party run by a “climate alarmist who wants to destroy our economy.” He also contended that his party is more relevant than the Bloc Québécois, whose leader was invited to take part in the English debate despite being “irrelevant for the vast majority of Canadians.”
Bernier also took issue with the NDP — “a zombie party,” as he called them. The opposition party wrote to Johnston asking that the PPC be excluded from the debates, because it had “not earned the privilege of addressing Canadians directly.”
PPC leader calls Singh’s criticisms ‘rubbish’
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said in the letter that Bernier’s conduct would risk bringing the debates “into disrepute,” because the PPC, he contended, had courted racists and promoted far-right conspiracy theories. Including Bernier in the debates would give him a platform to promote his “ideology of hatred and intolerance,” Singh wrote.
Bernier dismissed the criticism as “rubbish.”
But without his presence on stage, Bernier told the crowd and journalists, there would be no real debate since the other parties have similar positions on many policies: immigration, running deficits at least in the short run, and support for supply management in the dairy industry.
His is a populist movement, he later explained, like the Brexit Party in Britain, which elected 29 members to the European Union Parliament four months after its foundation. Bernier should be judged not on whether his candidates can win seats today, but whether they can win seats on Oct. 21, he said.
WATCH: Rise of populism in Europe ahead of European Parliament elections
In his response letter last week, Bernier noted that Johnston seemed to ignore one of the criteria the commission was said to be weighing, namely evaluating the media presence and visibility of the party and the leader nationwide.
Bernier couldn’t yet prove it, he said, but he thought it could be demonstrated that the People’s Party of Canada’s national media presence was “superior to that of the NDP and the Green Party, and far superior to that of the Bloc Québécois.”
Bernier’s comments accusing Scheer’s Tories of canoodling with “radical Islamists who want to impose their barbaric values on Canada” may have helped achieve that objective and landed him more headlines.