OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has accused Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet of using dangerous language to pander to his base by raising suspicions about the Syrian Muslim identity of Canada’s new transport minister.
Omar Alghabra was appointed to the ministerial role in Tuesday’s cabinet shuffle. The Mississauga MP previously served as the president of the Canadian Arab Federation (CAF) before he was first elected to the House of Commons in 2006.
Blanchet released a statement a day later to criticize the credentials of Trudeau’s new team. The Bloc leader made unsubstantiated claims that “questions arise” from Alghabra’s connections to what Blanchet described as “the political Islamic movement.”
“I was absolutely floored to see a federal party leader use insinuations and carefully coded questions,” Trudeau told reporters Friday outside his Ottawa home.
The prime minister referenced the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol last week, incited by U.S. President Donald Trump, as an example of what happens when leaders aren’t careful with their words and “play these dangerous games around intolerance and hate.”
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The Bloc leader has defended his comments as “legitimate questions” — an explanation Trudeau scoffed off as coy and inadequate.
“That’s ridiculous,” the prime minister said. “That kind of political pandering to the worst elements and to fears and anxieties has no place in Canada and all of us need to stand up strongly to push back against that anywhere it happens in this country.”
The Canadian Arab Federation lost federal funding in 2009 after then-Conservative immigration minister Jason Kenney cited the organization’s support for Hamas and Hezbollah and anti-Semitic sentiments expressed by its leadership.
Alghabra, who was president of the CAF between 2004 to 2005, told the National Post at the time that he has been “on public record disagreeing with the approach taken by the current administration” of the organization.
A 2014 Federal Court decision upheld the Conservative government’s decision to revoke government funding for the CAF.
New minister warns Bloc leader of ‘dangerous game’
Alghabra said Wednesday that he was “disappointed” by Blanchet’s innuendos and “expected better” than the Bloc leader’s “attempts to create divisions for mere political gain.”
“We know what such misinformation could lead to,” he said, adding Blanchet needs to consider the ramifications of making such insinuations, calling it a “dangerous game.”
The Bloc leader also faced questions about his past last summer when allegations accusing Blanchet of sexual misconduct were posted on a Facebook page named “Hyènes en jupon.”
An anonymous writer accused Blanchet of sexual misconduct stemming from an incident in a Montreal bar approximately 20 years ago when he was singer Éric Lapointe’s manager.
Blanchet denied the veracity of the claims of sexual misconduct at the time. He invited the anonymous person who made the allegations to file a complaint with police.
Political parties typically vet potential candidates before they seek public office or are appointed to senior leadership positions. In recent years, because of social media, sometimes flags are missed after scouring a person’s accounts.
After his appointment to cabinet, Alghabra’s ties with Fadi Younes, a Toronto-based content creator who operates a digital marketing agency, were revealed.
Younes is also a prominent YouTuber with more than 260,000 followers and has used that channel to espouse anti-LGBTQ views.
Alghabra told iPolitics Tuesday he was “shocked and disappointed” to learn about Younes’ YouTube channel. He said he hired the Toronto YouTuber to do some work for his constituency office, but the contract has since been terminated.
“We must combat ignorance, hate, or intolerance in our society. I will continue to support LGBTQ2 rights, as we continue to build a more inclusive and tolerant society for everyone.”
With files from The Canadian Press