POLITICS
04/10/2019 17:09 EDT | Updated 04/11/2019 07:22 EDT

Trudeau, Scheer Tangle In Heated Exchange About White Supremacy

One MP called the argument "shameful."

Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speak during question period in the House of Common on April 10, 2019.

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer traded heated barbs in the House of Commons Wednesday on the scourge of white supremacy.

Trudeau called on the Conservative leader to denounce white supremacists by name after a Tory senator's remarks about racism. Scheer accused the prime minister of using "typical Liberal smear tactics" to avoid talking about the SNC-Lavalin affair.

Watch Trudeau and Scheer's heated question period exchange:

It was the first question period featuring both leaders since it was revealed Trudeau has threatened a libel suit against Scheer over his allegations that the prime minister politically interfered with SNC-Lavalin's criminal prosecution. The Tory leader repeatedly goaded Trudeau to start court proceedings so that he will testify about the controversy under oath.

The prime minister returned fire by accusing Scheer of being soft on denouncing racism.

"On Monday, the Conservative leader refused to denounce white supremacists in this House," Trudeau said, referencing how the Government House leader claimed Scheer has an "affiliation" with Faith Goldy.

Liberal MPs pounced on Facebook's decision to ban Goldy this week over racist videos that violated its new policy; they blasted Scheer for having spoken at a rally in February that featured members of "Yellow Vests Canada." The populist group is known for promoting anti-immigrant sentiments.

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Goldy also addressed protesters that day, but not at the same time or from the same stage as the Tory leader.

"On Tuesday, a Conservative senator said 'I would find it disturbing to believe that there's a politician in this country that believes that white supremacy is a threat to our way of life in Canada,'" Trudeau said.

The prime minister asked when Scheer will "finally denounce white supremacists by name" and the comments from Conservative Sen. Leo Housakos.

Scheer responded: "I have always 100 per cent denounced white supremacy and racism and anyone who promotes those hateful ideologies." Scheer responded, adding that Housakos withdrew and clarified his remarks.

"And this is what is so disgusting about this. They are using the very real threat of hatred and racism in this country to cover up their corruption scandal," Scheer said of the Liberals and their leader. "That is disgusting and he should answer for it."

The exchange sparked a ruckus with shouting on both sides of the chamber.

"It's not a political thing though. It's real," Independent MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes could be heard yelling. Caesar-Chavannes, a former Liberal MP, is one of the few black MPs in the House.

She called the exchange "shameful" in a tweet that has since been deleted. HuffPost Canada has reached out to the Whitby MP for further comment.

Trudeau responded that he seemed to have "hit a nerve in the way Conservatives are misleading Canadians on intolerance," before then accusing Tory MPs of not being straight with Canadians on the new carbon-tax rebate in four provinces.

White supremacy 'a grave and real threat' in Canada: Freeland

White supremacism came up in question period after Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland shared a clip of her exchange with Housakos during a Senate committee meeting Tuesday.

Trudeau and other top Liberals, including Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussein, also shared the video with comments directed at Scheer and his party.

The Quebec senator had asked Freeland to clarify comments she made at the United Nations last month, calling white supremacism and Islamophobia among the "gravest threats" currently facing the world.

"With all due respect, minister, I think that flies in the face of reality over the last two decades," Housakos said, citing "extremist fundamentalism" to be a top concern to Western liberal democracies.

Watch the full exchange:

The foreign affairs minister doubled down, calling white supremacists and their associated movements "a grave and real threat here in Canada." Freeland brought up the deadly mosque shootings in Quebec City and Christchurch, New Zealand.

"I absolutely believe that as a minister of a white-majority country, of a Christian-majority country — I'm Christian myself — that there is a special responsibility to stand up and to denounce this ideology," she said.

Housakos responded to the clip on Twitter by calling it an attempt to "further divide Canadians." He said his point was that "no Western, democratic politician condones extremism of any kind, including white supremacy."