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UPDATE: Party leaders contend with social media posts from candidates in campaign

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer steps off a public transit bus in Mississauga, Ont., Friday, Sept. 13, 2019.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
September 13, 2019 - 9:47 AM

OTTAWA - Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer is urging Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau to denounce controversial comments by a former candidate in the Montreal area, accusing the party of trying to keep anti-Semitic messages hidden from Canadians.

"I'd like to hear from Justin Trudeau why people who hold anti-Semitic views feel that their home is in the Liberal Party of Canada," Scheer said Friday in Mississauga, Ont., after making an announcement about public transit.

The call came as Scheer was grappling with questions about past controversial statements by his own candidates — one who was fired and two who have apologized and remain with the Conservative team.

Last month, the Liberals dropped Hassan Guillet as a candidate in the Montreal riding of Saint-Leonard-Saint-Michel after B'nai Brith Canada, a Jewish advocacy group, uncovered a series of old statements he made on social media that they described as anti-Israel and anti-Semitic.

Guillet later told reporters that he had discussed the old posts earlier that month with Liberal party officials, who reassured him they were convinced he was neither racist nor anti-Semitic.

The former imam also said he and the Liberals had discussed a plan to head off any negative publicity should the posts be discovered, but when that eventually did happen, he ended up being turfed as a candidate instead.

"(Trudeau) has refused to explain why he was working to keep those anti-Semitic messages hidden from the public and from Canadians," Scheer said.

The Liberal party has said the comments made by Guillet do not correspond to its values.

It has not clarified when party officials first learned of the posts.

Scheer brought up Guillet after having to respond to questions about troubling past statements by his own candidates.

Liberal candidate Ruby Sahota, who is seeking re-election in Brampton North, issued a tweet on Friday showing a Facebook comment from 2010 that has her Conservative rival, Arpan Khanna, using a homophobic slur.

"I deeply regret the offensive language I used when I was a teenager," Khanna, whom Scheer is expected to join in Brampton Friday night, said in a statement sent by a Conservative party spokesman.

"Over the past decade, I have come to understand that creating safer and more inclusive spaces for LGBTQ+ people in Canada happens in our homes, workplaces, on social media, and in the conversations we have every day," he said. "I apologize unequivocally."

Last month, the National Council of Canadian Muslims called on the Conservatives to drop Ghada Melek, who is running in Mississauga-Streetsville, over past social media posts they said were anti-Islam.

Melek has also apologized, saying that as a Coptic-Christian who cares for her homeland of Egypt, she allowed her passion to rule her in 2013.

"While these are almost entirely retweets from more than half a decade ago, I do understand how some of them may be offensive, and I do regret that as well as retweeting them," she said in a statement issued alongside the one from Khanna. "I will always stand with Muslim-Canadians."

The National Council of Canadian Muslims had also suggested she endorsed a speaker who supports conversion therapy for LGBTQ people.

She said the online activity in question was actually in support of Ontario's review of its elementary-school health curriculum, over allegations it was too blunt about some topics with children who are too young to hear about them.

"As an MP, I will represent all of my constituents, including the LGBTQ community," she said in the statement. "I absolutely oppose any so-called therapy or treatment that forces someone to try and change their sexual orientation against their will."

Both of those candidates are still running for the Conservatives and when asked about that Friday, Scheer said they had apologized.

"It's clear that the language they used was unacceptable and offensive to the LGBTQ community, so I'm glad they apologized," Scheer said.

Shortly before a leaders' debate began Thursday night, the Conservatives announced they had dumped their candidate in Winnipeg North, Cameron Ogilvie, over "discriminatory social media posts." The party said he had kept the messages from view during the vetting process.

"The candidate in Winnipeg North hid those messages from the party, so we asked him to resign and we will have a new candidate in that riding," Scheer said when asked about it Friday.

The Conservatives, NDP and Greens returned to their national tours today after an evening spent sparring in Toronto, while Trudeau picked up his campaign in Quebec.

Trudeau began his morning by promising a suite of policies aimed at helping small businesses, including eliminating a portion of so-called "swipe fees" that merchants must pay to credit-card companies on each transaction. The Liberals would stop credit-card companies from charging that percentage on sales taxes.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was in Toronto, where he promised to put a price cap on cellphone and internet services, part of a campaign platform that is aimed at appealing to voters worried about being able to afford the things they need in their everyday lives.

Scheer, meanwhile, campaigned in and around the Toronto suburbs, kicking off the day at a bus garage in Mississauga. He promised to bring back the public-transit tax credit, a policy from the Stephen Harper era that's now a core element of the Tories' environmental plan.

Green leader Elizabeth May is heading back to family — joining her new husband, and fellow candidate, John Kidder for an event in the B.C. riding where he's seeking a seat. Kidder is running in Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon, a riding that sprawls in a vast crescent northeast of Vancouver.

People's Party Leader Maxime Bernier campaigns on his own home turf in Quebec's Beauce region, including a photo op as he submits his nomination papers to Elections Canada.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2019
The Canadian Press

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