OTTAWA — The federal party leaders have spent the first days of the election campaign talking policy, as they’d like, and dismissing and defending candidates over old social-media posts, which they’d rather not.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer on Friday urged Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau to denounce controversial comments by an already-turfed Liberal candidate in Montreal, accusing the party of trying to keep anti-Semitic messages hidden from Canadians.
“I’d like to hear from Justin Trudeau why people who hold anti-Semitic views feel that their home is in the Liberal Party of Canada,” Scheer said Friday in Mississauga, Ont., after making an announcement about public transit.
Scheer grappled with questions about past controversial statements by his own candidates — one who was fired, and two who apologized and remain with the Conservative team.
Last month, the Liberals dropped Hassan Guillet as a candidate in the Montreal riding of Saint-Leonard-Saint-Michel after B’nai Brith Canada, a Jewish advocacy group, uncovered a series of old statements he made on social media that B’nai Brith described as anti-Israel and anti-Semitic.
Guillet later told reporters that he had discussed the old posts earlier that month with Liberal party officials, who reassured him they were convinced he was neither racist nor anti-Semitic.
The former imam also said he and the Liberals discussed a plan to head off any negative publicity should the posts be discovered, but when they were, he ended up being ejected as a candidate instead.
“(Trudeau) has refused to explain why he was working to keep those anti-Semitic messages hidden from the public and from Canadians,” Scheer said.
The Liberal party has said Guillet’s comments do not correspond to the party’s values. The party has not answered questions about when Liberal officials first learned of the posts.
Scheer brought up Guillet after responding to questions about troubling past statements by his own candidates.
Liberal candidate Ruby Sahota, who is seeking re-election in Brampton North, issued a tweet on Friday showing a Facebook comment from 2010 in which her Conservative rival, Arpan Khanna offhandedly used a homophobic slur apparently to tease a friend.
“I deeply regret the offensive language I used when I was a teenager,” Khanna, whom Scheer is expected to join in Brampton Friday night, said in a statement sent by a Conservative party spokesman.
“Over the past decade, I have come to understand that creating safer and more inclusive spaces for LGBTQ+ people in Canada happens in our homes, workplaces, on social media, and in the conversations we have every day,” he said. “I apologize unequivocally.”
Last month, the National Council of Canadian Muslims called on the Conservatives to drop Ghada Melek, who is running in Mississauga-Streetsville, over past social media posts they said were anti-Islam.
Melek has also apologized, saying that as a Coptic-Christian who cares for her homeland of Egypt, she allowed her passion to rule her in 2013.
“While these are almost entirely retweets from more than half a decade ago, I do understand how some of them may be offensive, and I do regret that as well as retweeting them,” she said in a statement issued alongside the one from Khanna.
“I will always stand with Muslim-Canadians.”
The National Council of Canadian Muslims also suggested she endorsed a speaker who supports conversion therapy for LGBTQ people.
She said the online activity in question was actually in support of Ontario’s review of its elementary-school health curriculum, over allegations it was too blunt about some topics with children who are too young to hear about them.
“As an MP, I will represent all of my constituents, including the LGBTQ community,” she said in the statement. “I absolutely oppose any so-called therapy or treatment that forces someone to try and change their sexual orientation against their will.”
Both of those candidates are still running for the Conservatives and when asked about that Friday, Scheer said they had apologized.
“It’s clear that the language they used was unacceptable and offensive to the LGBT community, so I’m glad they apologized,” Scheer said.