04/09/2014 17:22 EDT | Updated 06/09/2014 05:59 EDT

Trade Minister Ed Fast accused of targeting NDP MP with 'gun' gesture

With just days to go before Parliament is scheduled to shut down for a two-week constituency break, tempers flared after the New Democrats accused a Conservative cabinet minister of making 'an inappropriate gesture' at NDP member Niki Ashton.

Rising on a point of order after a particularly rancorous question period, New Democrat MP Dan Harris claimed that International Trade Minister Ed Fast had directed what he described as "an inappropriate gesture, a gun, while saying 'Boom'," in Ashton's direction.

House of Commons video shows Fast applauding with the rest of the Conservative caucus, and then putting out his right arm with his forefinger and thumb extended from his hand. It's not possible to see whether the minister said anything.

Noting that "everyone would agree this gesture has no place in the House," Harris challenged Fast to apologize to his NDP colleague.

Harris 'making that up'

Fast, however, categorically denied the charge and told the House that Harris "is making that up."

"It's completely false. I made no such gesture, I said no such words. I'm surrounded by my colleagues here, and none of them saw me make that gesture or make that kind of comment," he averred, demanding that Harris himself apologize "for misleading the House."

Speaker Andrew Scheer declined to wade into the dispute, which subsequently spilled into the opposition aisles, according to witnesses, who said they spotted Conservative backbencher Ron Cannan enter the NDP's section of the Chamber from behind the curtains.

After exchanging a few inaudible, but clearly heated words with Harris, Cannan was escorted back to his side of the aisle by New Democrat MPs Glenn Thibeault and Peter Julian.

Most of this was only visible to those inside the House, since strict rules prevent TV cameras and still photographers from shooting members who haven't been called on by the Speaker.

Outside the House, Fast told reporters that Harris' claim was false, although he refused to provide details of the allegation.

"I expect an apology from him," Fast said.

'No place in Parliament'

In a separate scrum, Harris said Cannan "was getting belligerent and yelling at me from across the way" before appearing on the opposition side of the House.

"He was coming down the row, yelling at me and he had to be physically restrained from coming at me…. He was challenging me to come outside. That kind of behaviour has no place in Parliament."

Harris told reporters that he was also approached by Fast.

"He came over afterwards, and he was very angry, denying it and putting his finger in my face from less than the distance that we are. He was basically saying he was going to make life very uncomfortable for me if I didn't apologize."

As for Fast's denial, Harris stuck to his story.

"I know what I saw, and I saw the minister for international trade make the symbol of the gun."

For her part, Ashton says she didn't see the alleged gesture herself.

"I sit on the very far side of the House, but one of my colleagues … saw it," she told reporters.

'Threat to security'

"I just don't know what to say. I'm shocked. I mean, women in this House, we often talk about the kind of harassment, the kind of heckling, the attitude we see. This is beyond that. This is a threat, frankly, to security."

Ashton had been questioning Environment Minister Leona Agukkaq over her claim to have been a member of the Nunavut cabinet when they had bought cameras to ensure people in remote communities would have proper photo ID in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York City and the Pentagon, when she hadn't been elected to the legislature until 2004.

In reply, Aglukkaq told the House that the decision wasn't made until after she had been elected, which prompted a standing ovation from her colleagues.