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Michelle Rempel Garner Warns Against ‘Normalization’ Of Xenophobia During Coronavirus Outbreak

The Tory MP recounted an unsettling conversation she heard on the streets of Ottawa.
Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner rises in the House of Commons on Dec. 13, 2019.
Adrian Wyld/CP
Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner rises in the House of Commons on Dec. 13, 2019.

A Conservative MP is calling on Canadians to fight against the “normalization” of xenophobic attitudes toward people of Asian descent due to the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Michelle Rempel Garner rose in the House of Commons before question period Friday to share a conversation she heard in passing this week while walking the streets of Ottawa.

“One man said to another, ‘Yeah we’re going to a restaurant in Chinatown for lunch.’ The other guy said in response, ‘You mean coronavirus town,’” she recounted. “I gave him an earful.”


The Calgary MP also highlighted how CTV reporter Peter Akman apologized this week for tweeting a photo of himself with an Asian barber wearing a surgical mask. The caption read, “Hopefully ALL I got today was a haircut,” along with the hashtag #CoronaOutbreak.

Though Akman later apologized for what he called an “insensitive” tweet, Bell Media confirmed to Yahoo News Canada that he is no longer with the broadcaster.

“At a time when many Chinese Canadians are struggling with deep concerns for the welfare of friends and family in China, we must stand against the normalization of xenophobic mores against people of Asian descent,” Rempel Garner said. “They are our brothers and sisters and they deserve nothing other than support, compassion, and understanding.”

Rempel Garner’s call for everyone to stand in solidarity with Chinese Canadians yielded a standing ovation.

Tories accuse Grit backbencher of ‘spreading fear and panic’

When question period began minutes later, Conservatives kicked things off by criticizing a Liberal MP’s comments on national TV the night before.

Rookie Nova Scotia MP Lenore Zann appeared on CTV’s “Power Play” Thursday to discuss Canada’s coronavirus response in the wake of the World Health Organization’s decision to declare a public health emergency.

At one point, Zann said that it was her personal view that travellers in airports should buy masks and gloves and make sure they “don’t touch anything” — advice that appears to clash with the message from Canadian public health officials that the risk of contracting the illness in this country remains low.

Health experts have also said common paper masks will do little to protect people from the virus.

Deputy Tory Leader Leona Alleslev called on Health Minister Patty Hajdu to “stop the Liberal backbench from spreading fear and panic.”

Hajdu began her remarks with a tip of the hat to Rempel Garner for her “exceptionally eloquent reminder” about the “very real risk of spreading misinformation and fear.”

She said her department will work to make sure all MPs have accurate information about the outbreak, including members on the Liberal side of the Commons.

The novel coronavirus has now infected almost 10,000 people around the world, including four in Canada.

Health officials are calling on those looking for the most reliable, up-to-date information on the new coronavirus to consult Health Canada’s website or the sites of provincial health agencies.

With files from The Canadian Press

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