03/17/2015 12:12 EDT | Updated 05/17/2015 05:12 EDT

Tory MP's remarks proof of politics taking a dangerous turn: opposition

OTTAWA - Prime Minister Stephen Harper's refusal to speak out against recent racially related comments by members of his own caucus opens a dangerous door, opposition MPs said Tuesday.

Ontario Conservative Larry Miller was the latest MP forced to apologize after suggesting those who wish to wear a niqab while swearing the oath of citizenship ought to "stay the hell where you came from."

His apology Tuesday came after that of New Brunswick MP John Williamson, who last week had to apologize for saying "brown people" were taking jobs from "whiteys."

Harper's office was silent on the substance of Williamson's remarks and on Miller said only that he'd strayed beyond their "clear" position that during a citizenship ceremony, a person's face must be shown.

But the issue is becoming much larger than the niqab, said the NDP's Jinny Sims.

"It's a trickle down of politics of racism and divisiveness," she said.

"A culture is being created by the prime minister and with some of the comments he's making and the kind of issues we're debating and at the same time it now creates that feeling of comfort for MPs to start expressing probably their long-held views."

Miller was commenting on the Federal Court decision overturning a ban on wearing a niqab during citizenship ceremonies.

"If you're not willing to show your face in the ceremony that you're joining the best country in the world then frankly if you don't like that or don't want to do that, stay the hell where you came from," he said on CFOS radio.

In his statement, he said his comments were inappropriate.

"I stand by my view that anyone being sworn in as a new citizen of our country must uncover their face," he said.

"However, I apologize for and retract my comments that went beyond this."

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said the apology rings hollow and proves his point that Harper is stoking fear and prejudice against Muslims.

"This is a prime minister who encourages and condones the politics of division and fear and that is very dangerous in Canada, in a pluralistic, strong, free society like ours," Trudeau said in a telephone interview.

A Forum Research poll, published by the Toronto Star on Tuesday, suggests almost two-thirds of Canadians agree with Harper that people should not be allowed to cover their faces while taking the oath of citizenship.

But the notion the Tories are just playing politics with these kinds of statements just lets them off the hook, said Sims.

"I think the message we have to send out is racist statements are just not acceptable," she said.

"It kind of demeans the whole debate here if we just take it down to maybe they're just feeling they have to do it to get a few votes. They are MPs in a multicultural country. You get elected in your riding, but you are there to represent all Canadians."

Trudeau last week delivered a major speech in which he accused Harper of advancing his tough-on-terrorism agenda by pandering to fears about Muslims.

He was heavily criticized by Conservatives, New Democrats and some Jewish groups for asserting that Harper is leading Canada down a path that led to some shameful episodes in Canada's history, including the "none is too many" policy towards Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany.

But he said Tuesday that Miller's comments bolster his argument.

"That was exactly my point. I brought up some very painful memories of our past because we mustn't make the mistake of forgetting about them and we mustn't pretend that we are somehow more (immune), not going to give in to the same kinds of mistakes," he said.