Senator Romeo Dallaire has pulled out of a speaking engagement organized by a fringe Catholic group accused of anti-Semitism, but his name is still being promoted alongside those of anti-abortionists, conspiracy theorists and former U.S. presidential candidate Ron Paul.
A Dallaire aide said Monday that the retired Canadian Forces general was "embarrassed" and "really unhappy" to have been accidentally mixed up with a southern Ontario group called the Fatima Centre, which is organizing a conference next month in Niagara Falls, Ont.
The Fatima Centre is a Catholic organization whose publications include references to "the duty incumbent upon Catholics of... opposing Jewish Naturalism" and to "Satan's plans against the Church," which include "the granting of full citizenship to the Jews." The Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center, a non-profit that lists organizations it deems to be hate groups, says the Fatima Centre is part of a movement that is "perhaps the single largest group of hard-core anti-Semites in North America."
Other speakers scheduled for the conference include the president of the U.S.-based John Birch Society, a right-wing American group that campaigns against the U.S. Federal Reserve, says the UN is trying to control "all human activity" and claims Nelson Mandela is "carrying forward a communist program of terrorism and genocide."
The conference's keynote speaker is Paul, the former U.S. congressman and three-time candidate for president. Photos of Paul and Dallaire feature in ads for the conference on the internet and on a billboard near the Peace Bridge to the U.S.
"There is absolutely no way that General Dallaire would be associated with these speakers," his personal secretary, David Hyman, said in an interview Monday.
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Hyman said it stemmed from an oversight. The senator's appearance at the conference was booked last March through the agency that arranges his speaking engagements, the National Speakers Bureau.
But when the agency called, they named a different group that was seeking to have the former lieutenant-general come and speak about the Rwandan genocide.
"It was called the National Pilgrim Virgin of Canada. We didn't have a clue that this other organization that were sponsoring his talk had anything to do with Fatima," Hyman said.
In fact, National Pilgrim Virgin of Canada is the official name for the Fatima Centre.
Dallaire's staff only found out last week through a civil rights lawyer.
"He said, 'Do you know who this group is? I'm really disappointed that the senator is going to this conference,' " Hyman said. "And I looked, I went to their site, I downloaded the list of other speakers and started to look at them."
Hyman blames himself for the lack of due diligence.
"I should have Googled."
'Not against the Jews'
A conference organizer said there was absolutely no intent to deceive because "everybody knows us as the Fatima Centre."
Coralie Graham, who is also one of the centre's directors, said they've been assured they will be refunded Dallaire's appearance fee, but they're still out the cost of their Dallaire advertising, which they will have to scotch.
Graham also affirmed that the Fatima Centre is in no way anti-Semitic and has been the victim of smear campaigns and guilt by association.
"We are not against the Jews and never have been and never will be," she said by phone.
"It doesn't matter whether it's Jewish, it's Catholics, it's politics: There's always good guys and a couple bad guys, so when you're speaking about some wrongs, you're not painting the whole race with the same brush."
As for the conference speakers from the John Birch Society, Graham said the Fatima Centre isn't affiliated with the group, but just booked lectures on the conference theme of peace.
"It's just a case of our speakers have been selected that have something to say to the people that this is happening in the world, and take off your rose-coloured glasses and see it, people. Because we have a crisis in the world. I've heard that all the generals are saying there's going to be World War III."
Responding to the incident, the Toronto-based Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs said in a statement that it was "concerned by anti-Jewish content" on some websites affiliated with the Fatima Centre and that "it’s important that people of good will — particularly public officeholders — distance themselves from such extremism."