Andrew Scheer says he did not shoot down a town hall question touching on the debunked and dangerous "pizzagate" conspiracy theory because he did not hear the reference.
The Conservative leader was grilled by a reporter Friday on an exchange from his event the night before in Kitchener, Ont.
A man in the audience criticized the Liberal government's spending with inaccurate figures, claiming Prime Minister Justin Trudeau "gave $600 million to the Clinton Foundation," the charitable organization of Bill and Hillary Clinton.
In fact, Trudeau's government pledged $20 million over five years in 2017 to the Clinton Health Access Initiative to help women and girls in Nigeria have more access to sexual and reproductive health services.
Man falsely claimed Clinton Foundation is 'part of child trafficking'
"The Clinton Foundation is part of child trafficking and child sacrifice, if you study it," the man said. "It's in pizzagate. How do we get that money back?"
"Pizzagate" is a totally discredited smear from the 2016 U.S. presidential election that claimed Hillary Clinton and her campaign chairman were behind a child sex ring at Comet Ping Pong, a Washington pizza shop. A gunman opened fire on the restaurant that same year but did not hurt anyone. He was later sentenced to four years in prison.
Scheer told the man that he appreciated his "concerns," and that Trudeau has spent taxpayers money on his own personal projects.
He did not take the opportunity to dispel the myth that the Clinton Foundation is in any way linked to child trafficking.
"You mention the Clinton Foundation, you mention there are other examples where Justin Trudeau's government has given grants to hire people... groups that are advocating for their own particular ideology," Scheer said, accusing the government of supporting groups that oppose building pipelines.
Watch the exchange in the video below, starting at the 45:13 marker:
Speaking to reporters in Winnipeg Friday, Scheer was asked why he did not call out a debunked piece of fake news that has sparked violent incidents.
"I heard the question was related to the government's, Justin Trudeau's decision to give a grant to the Clinton Foundation. I didn't hear anything about the other aspect that you just mentioned."
When asked again, Scheer repeated that he heard the Clinton Foundation part of the question and "some of the other points the gentleman was making," but not the specific "pizzagate" reference.
Scheer's press secretary Daniel Schow reiterated to HuffPost Canada in an email Friday that he did not hear the term used during the question.
"Mr. Scheer does not keep up with paranoid, American alt-right conspiracy theories and as such was not familiar with the term until it came up in the questioning today," he said.
More from HuffPost Canada:
"Since learning about the pizzagate conspiracy, Mr. Scheer obviously believes it is ridiculous and dangerous, and that such conspiracies have no place in our political debate."
Cameron Ahmad, Trudeau's communications director, told HuffPost it is "no surprise Andrew Scheer refused to condemn this, given his clear history of promoting conspiracy theories and spreading misleading information." He pointed to the Tory leader's opposition to the UN migration pact.
"He has also refused to condemn the hateful language at recent events on Parliament Hill at which he shared the stage with far-right groups," Ahmad said, referencing how Scheer brushed off concerns last month about associating his party with the controversial "Yellow Vests Canada" movement.
Trudeau has dealt with fake news, too
This is not the first time fake news has disrupted a town hall event featuring a federal leader.
At a January event in Regina, Sask., Trudeau was pressed by a woman claiming that he wants to bring Shariah law to Canada and betray the country for his "globalist partners." She cited a "report" that she had read online.
Trudeau responded by bemoaning "games being played around misinformation for political, partisan reasons," and said he did not blame the woman for being misled.
"That's one of the good things about having the opportunity to engage and ask blunt questions about things you may have seen or heard on the internet, and I'm happy to tell you that that is simply not true," he said at the time.
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