Maryam Monsef Brought Justice Minister's 'Race' Into Debate: Tory MP

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A Liberal cabinet minister has been accused of suggesting her colleague's racial identity might be behind a Conservative push to have her apologize for a controversial fundraiser.

On Tuesday, MPs debated an opposition motion to have the House of Commons "urge" Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to admit attending a Toronto law firm's private fundraiser earlier this month was wrong.

The motion asks Wilson-Raybould to return all the funds, as Tories did when former heritage minister Shelly Glover faced similar scrutiny for an event in 2014.

maryam monsef
Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Feb. 2, 2016. (Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

With a Liberal majority in the House, it's all-but-certain the motion will fail. A number of Liberals spoke in the House about how the gambit was "frivolous," and time would be better spent debating other pressing matters.

Many also defended the personal integrity of Wilson-Raybould, who also serves as Canada's Attorney General.

In her speech on the motion Tuesday afternoon, Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef accused Tories of "spreading rumours despite (the) facts," calling it an example of the behaviour Canadians rejected in the last election.

jody wilsonraybould
Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould speaks during question period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on April 11, 2016. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

"The motion is a vicious and unfounded attack on an indigenous leader, a woman who has and continues to serve her nation honourably," Monsef said of Wilson-Raybould, a former regional chief of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations and Crown prosecutor.

"The motion is not helping Canadian democracy. I urge members to put an end to this unhelpful practice of using valuable House time to pursue baseless accusations that do nothing to promote a healthy democracy."

"The motion is a vicious and unfounded attack on an indigenous leader, a woman who has and continues to serve her nation honourably."
— Maryam Monsef

The remark did not sit well with Tory MP Todd Doherty, whose emotional speech on the Attawapiskat suicide crisis recently earned kudos for the rookie member from B.C.

Doherty rose minutes later to say that he was both alarmed and offended.

"She brought race into this, and I am absolutely, 100 per cent offended," he said. "Whether the minister is indigenous or not has nothing to do with it.

"She brought race into this, and I am absolutely, 100 per cent offended. Whether the minister is indigenous or not has nothing to do with it."
— Todd Doherty

"As somebody who has strong indigenous women in my family, I am absolutely offended and, through you, Mr. Speaker, I demand an apology."

'Nothing to feel outraged about'

Monsef made it clear that no apology would be coming, though she didn't intend to violate Doherty's "sensibilities."

"The fact is that our Attorney General is a woman. The fact is that our Attorney General is of proud indigenous descent," she said.

"That is nothing to feel outraged about. Instead, I urge the member to consider celebrating it."

Doherty did not take Monsef's remarks lightly.

"Mr. Speaker, the honourable colleague from across the floor did not apologize but inflamed the situation by making further comments about racism," he said.

Assistant deputy speaker Anthony Rota determined that it was a matter of debate and not a point of order.

Wilson-Raybould said event was about 'Canada'

Under fire in question period last week, Wilson-Raybould said the "primary discussion" with lawyers at the fundraiser was focused on the country, not her work as minister.

"It was about how far we've come as a country wherein we embrace diversity, ensure that all voices are heard, and recognize that in a country such as Canada, the justice minister can be an aboriginal person and also be a woman," she said.

The full text of the Tory motion, tabled by deputy justice critic Michael Cooper, can be read below:

That the House urge the Minister of Justice to:

(a) follow her government's own guidelines for Ministers and Ministers of State as described in Annex B of Open and Accountable Government 2015, that "Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries must ensure that political fundraising activities or considerations do not affect, or appear to affect, the exercise of their official duties or the access of individuals or organizations to government";
that "There should be no preferential access to government, or appearance of preferential access, accorded to individuals or organizations because they have made financial contributions to politicians and political parties"; and that "There should be no singling out, or appearance of singling out, of individuals or organizations as targets of political fundraising because they have official dealings with Ministers and Parliamentary Secretaries, or their staff or departments";

(b) apologize for the fundraising event on behalf of the Liberal Party with one of the top law firms in Canada; and

(c) return all funds collected from the event, as was done in 2014 for the event involving the former Minister of Canadian Heritage.

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