OTTAWA—Andrew Scheer condemned “anyone who promotes racist ideology” after a Conservative senator questioned whether white supremacy was not a significant threat to Canadian communities.
Scheer told reporters Wednesday that he “100 per cent” denounces anyone who “promote white nationalism, promotes any type of extremism.”
“I do believe it’s a threat in Canada because we have seen, tragically, people lose their lives because of people who subscribe to these views,” Scheer said.
“I understand that the senator has issued a clarification … And I absolutely do believe that these types of threats are important for governments of all levels to protect Canadians.”
Scheer was responding to a question about Québec Conservative Sen. Leo Housakos, who suggested Tuesday that white supremacy is not a significant “threat to our way of life, to our communities, to our democracy.”
“With all due respect minister, I think that flies in the face of reality over the last two decades. I think over the last two decades western liberal democracies around the world would tell you that the biggest threats we’ve faced are extremist fundamentalism,” Housakos said.
“I can’t identify a single country in the world where governments are supporting white supremacist movements. I can’t identify governments around the world, democratic governments around the world, that are supporting that type of behaviour, certainly not in Canada.”
“I absolutely do think white supremacists and white supremacists movements are a very real, very grave threat to western liberal democracy. I think they are a grave and real threat here in Canada,” Freeland responded.
“The shooting in the Quebec City mosque is a tragic Canadian example of the same threat that we face here at home. So I absolutely believe we need to name that, we need to be aware of it, and we need to work hard to find ways to protect our societies and our people from it.”
In question period Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau demanded Scheer denounce white supremacy — which the opposition leader had publicly done only hours before in a press conference.
But the exchange makes clear that white nationalism and far-right extremism — once a fringe issue in Canada’s political debate — will likely remain front and centre in the lead up to the 2019 election. In March, Trudeau accused unnamed politicians of exploiting racism for political gain.
In a statement on Twitter Wednesday, Scheer shot back.
“Racism and white supremacy are threats in Canada and I condemn them unequivocally,” Scheer’s statement read.
“It is pathetic and disgusting that Liberals are inflaming these threats to divide Canadians and score cheap points.”
An aide for Housakos declined the Star’s request for an interview Wednesday afternoon, pointing to the senators comments on Twitter.
“No western, democratic politician condones extremism of any kind, including white supremacy,” he wrote Wednesday after Freeland released a video of their exchange.
“Extremism in all forms is a threat to our way of life, not just one (form) or the other.”
Alex Boutilier is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @alexboutilier