OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer brushed off concerns this week about associating his party with "Yellow Vests Canada" — a populist group known for stirring up xenophobic sentiments and promoting violence.
The group is associated with the "United We Roll" protest that took place on Parliament Hill last week. Scheer said Monday the event was was organized by "people who have lost their jobs who are facing a tremendous amount of anxiety about what the future will bring."
"United We Roll" drew a few hundred protesters, including a convoy of truckers who travelled from Red Deer, Alta. to rally against government policies that affect the energy sector.
Watch: "Yellow vest" protesters explain what brought them to Ottawa
When asked if he had any regrets for not distancing himself from anti-immigrant elements expressed at the rally, Scheer sidestepped the question. He focused instead on the protesters angry about Liberal government "roadblocks" thrown in their industry.
"That is what those events were about," he said. "I know the Liberals would love to distract from their own failures by pointing to other elements that tried to associate themselves with the event."
Scheer addressed a crowd of "United We Roll" protesters last week and focused his speech on the concerns of oil and energy workers. He also advocated for more support for Canada's oil industry.
"I am sick and tired of watching people, you know, chaining themselves to trees and laying down in front of bulldozers trying to block Canadian energy from reaching markets," he said at the time. The Tory leader also called for an end to the import of foreign oil.
People's Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier also appeared at the rally and posed for pictures with attendees.
Conservative Sen. David Tkachuk also attended and sparked controversy when he asked the crowd of truckers to "roll over every Liberal left in the country."
Tkachuk's comments earned him a high-profile rebuke from Michael Wernick, clerk of the Privy Council, when he testified before the justice committee on the SNC-Lavalin affair. Wernick accused the senator of inciting violence, noting the van attack that killed 10 people in Toronto last spring.
The Tory senator later defended his words as a "figure of speech" and refused to apologize. He labelled criticism as "manufactured outrage" from the Liberal Party "to distract from the real plight of our oil and gas industry and the harm they are doing."
Liberal MP Ali Ehsassi represents the riding that was affecting by the Toronto van attack. He issued a statement Monday urging Scheer to boot the senator from his caucus.
"If Mr. Scheer continues to fail to take action, Canadians will have little choice but to assume that Mr. Scheer endorses the politics of hate and the incitement to violence espoused by his caucus member," Ehsassi wrote.
Not just a pipeline protest
"United We Roll" was not a single-issue protest about the plight of Canada's oil and energy workers. Those who attended made signs that had common themes opposing Bills C-69 and C-48, the carbon tax, and the United Nations' global compact for migration.
Bill C-69 is government legislation that proposes to rehaul the pipeline approval process. Bill C-48 proposes introducing an oil tanker ban in northern British Columbia.
Protesters gathered in the capital to voice concerns that the government's approach to building pipelines and energy projects is hurting their livelihoods.
Organizers of the Ottawa "United We Roll" rally are associated with the "Yellow Vests Canada" group, which has a record of violent, inflammatory, and xenophobic comments on social media.
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A common theme at the protest was opposition to Canada being a signatory to the UN's global compact for migration, which is a non-legally binding framework that reaffirms nations have sovereign rights to set their own migration policies in accordance with international law.
Opposition against the compact has become a rallying point for Conservative Party and People's Party supporters. At the the "United We Roll" rally, one speaker took to the main stage to say, "You cut that head of the snake off, we get our country back."
Liberal MP Iqra Khalid likened the Conservative leader's support for "United We Roll" to fear-mongering. Tory deputy leader Lisa Raitt then accused Khalid's of being "inflammatory and over the top."
The group is a spinoff from the yellow vests movement that's behind months of anti-government protests in France after an outcry over a fuel tax hike. French protesters broadened their asks to include an increase to the minimum wage — whereas the Canadian group has not.
The "United We Roll" convoy was originally named the "Yellow Vets Canada" convoy before organizers rebranded it.