Ousted candidate says Liberals knew about social media posts well before sacking him

MONTREAL — A federal Liberal candidate blocked from running in a Montreal riding last week over controversial social media posts said Wednesday the party was aware of the posts and had been working with him to head off negative publicity before they abruptly turfed him.

Hassan Guillet told reporters he met officials with the federal party on Aug. 8 to discuss the old posts, and the Liberals reassured him they were convinced he was neither racist not anti-Semitic.

But the party revoked his nomination in the Saint-Leonard-Saint-Michel riding last Friday after a Jewish advocacy group unearthed a series of old statements he made on social media that they described as anti-Israel and anti-Semitic.

He said he and the Liberals had already discussed an action plan that involved outreach to the media and the Jewish community in order to counter any bad press. Guillet says that action plan was to be set in motion the day he was sacked.

Guillet said his social media posts were public, and the party knew or should have known about them when they first approached him in 2017.

“One is entitled to ask the question: Is it incompetence, or bad faith?” he said at a news conference.

“Once I won the nomination against all odds, things known for more than two years were used to smear my reputation and reverse the democratic results of the nomination.”

The former imam said he wants to run in October’s federal election as a Liberal but doesn’t rule out running for another party or as an Independent if he’s not reinstated.

Jewish advocacy group B’nai Brith said last Friday it had uncovered “a pattern of disturbing anti-Semitic and anti-Israel statements” made by the candidate on social media that have since been removed.

In one of the comments, dated July 8, 2017, Guillet welcomed the release from prison of Raed Salah, whom the Jewish group described as a militant close to Hamas, which Canada lists as a terror group.

Guillet congratulated Salah on being freed from a “prison of occupied Palestine,” and prayed that he would one day succeed in liberating “all of Palestine.” He described Salah as a “resistance fighter” and a “jihadist.”

The Jewish group also found a since-deleted Facebook post from 2016, allegedly from Guillet, where he wrote “the Zionists control American politics.”

Guillet said Wednesday that he’d praised Salah’s release from prison because he had protested the closure of a Jerusalem mosque. He said he hadn’t been aware of other allegations against him. He declined to discuss his stance on Israel.

He repeatedly insisted he was neither racist nor anti-Semitic.

“On the contrary, I campaigned and will always campaign against all forms of racism, including Islamophobia and anti-Semitism,” he said.

In a press release sent after the news conference, B’nai Brith Canada said Wednesday that they rejected Guillet’s “excuses,” saying he hadn’t apologized or clarified many of his statements.

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