OTTAWA — A Muslim anti-racism activist, who was berated by a Conservative MP last week, says Andrew Scheer’s response is far from adequate and that Michael Cooper should be booted out of caucus if the Tory leader is serious about showing racists the door.
Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council president Faisal Khan Suri told HuffPost Canada that while he hasn’t seen Cooper demonstrate any racism, he believes the way the St. Albert—Edmonton MP behaved “seemed that he had a very bigoted and extremist viewpoint.”
“I would request Mr. Andrew Scheer to make the right move and to really, actually, have Mr. Cooper removed from caucus. It is detrimental to have such leaders part of any party, and part of Parliament. It’s dangerous to have such a person there,” he said, in a phone interview Saturday night.
Watch: Andrew Scheer lays out his vision for Canada’s immigration system. Story continues below.
During a study on online hate at the justice committee last Tuesday, Cooper became infuriated after Suri brought up the internet patterns of Alexandre Bissonnette, the gunman who barged into a Quebec City mosque in 2017, and shot worshippers. Six people were killed and another 19 were injured, including one who is paralyzed for life.
Suri noted that evidence from Bissonette’s computer “showed he repeatedly sought content about anti-immigrant, alt-right and conservative commentators, mass murderers, U.S. President Donald Trump, and about Muslims, immigrants living in Quebec.”
Cooper took “great umbrage” with what he called Suri’s “defamatory comments.”
“To try to link, conservatism with violent and extremists attacks. They have no foundation, they are defamatory and they diminish your credibility as a witness.”
LISTEN: You can hear the justice committee audio recording here.
The MP went on to read out part of the 74-page manifesto of the Christchurch mass shooter, Brenton Tarrant. The document is banned in New Zealand. Cooper read how Tarrant wanted “no part” of conservatism and instead said his political and social values were more closely aligned with China.
Speaking to Suri, Cooper said he wouldn’t try to link U.S. presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders “to the individual [James T. Hodgkinson, a Sanders supporter] who shot up Republican members of Congress and nearly fatally killed congressman [Stephen] Scalise.”
“So you should be ashamed,” he said to the witness, unleashing outcries from a New Democrat and Liberal MPs on the committee.
“If the alt-right is limited to conservatism, that’s conservatism’s issue,” Liberal Edmonton MP Randy Boissonnault said.
The committee had to suspend its hearing before returning to the witnesses, after which Cooper offered a tepid apology. Due to his colleagues’ strong opposition to his choice of words, Cooper said he would withdraw his comment — saying the witness should be ashamed — “but certainly not the rest of what I said.”
On Saturday evening, Scheer said in two tweets that he had spoken with Cooper about his comments and had removed him from the justice committee.
Suri told HuffPost he thinks Cooper should have picked up the phone and apologized, and that the Alberta Conservative doesn’t deserve to have a seat in Parliament.
“He should start off by apologizing for insulting myself, that’s one thing, and not to repeat terrorist propaganda in the House of Commons, that’s [another] thing.”
Cooper had showed him, a guest invited to present at a standing committee, callous disrespect, he said.
“Then to have the audacity to read lines from a banned document that justifies a massive attack of a murder?” Suri said. “[To have him] still in caucus? That is an issue.”
That manifesto should not be in the hands of any Canadian whatsoever. That is the most grotesque thing that I could ever seeFaisal Khan Suri
The head of the Alberta Muslim anti-racism advocacy group questioned what Cooper was doing with the manifesto.
“That manifesto should not be in the hands of any Canadian whatsoever. That is the most grotesque thing that I could ever see… Why would I even want to have or read a document that somewhat dignifies and justifies the murder of 51 innocent people?”
Suri noted how Scheer had indicated last week that bigots, extremists, and racists were not welcome in the Conservative Party of Canada. “That is what his statement was. So then, how is a man of this character still a standing member?” Suri asked.
In a May 28 speech focused on immigration, Scheer noted that “there is absolutely no room in a peaceful and free country like Canada for intolerance, racism, and extremism of any kind.” The Conservative Party would always make that clear, he pledged.
“I find the notion that one’s race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation would make anyone in any way superior or inferior to anyone else absolutely repugnant,” the Tory leader added. “And if there is anyone here who disagrees with that,” he said, pointing his finger. “There’s the door. You’re not welcome here.”
Cooper issued his own statement Saturday, saying he had he interpreted Suri’s comments as linking mainstream conservatism with violent extremism. His response quoting words of a white supremacist anti-Muslim mass murderer, he said, was an “ill-advised attempt to demonstrate that such acts are not linked to conservatism.
“I absolutely should have not quoted these words nor named the perpetrator,” Cooper wrote. “This was a mistake. I apologize to Mr. Suri and to all Canadians. I reiterate that I unequivocally condemn all forms of racism.”
Cooper said he had spoken to Scheer and the two agreed he would no longer sit on the justice committee.
However, the MP is still listed as belonging to Scheer’s shadow cabinet as deputy justice critic.
HuffPost reached out to Cooper and his office for comment.