Expatriate Rwandans accused the Parti Québécois Thursday of fielding a candidate who denies the scope of the Rwandan genocide of 1994.
After learning of the allegation, PQ Leader André Boisclair said he would speak to the candidate. "I am stunned by these declarations," Mr. Boisclair told reporters. "It's clear to me there was a genocide."
Two hours later, the party issued a communiqué in which the candidate, Robin Philpot, denied being a genocide denier.
"Mr. Philpot never questioned the genocide that left nearly a million deaths in that Central African country," the statement said.
Mr. Philpot has written often about Rwanda, including a book, Rwanda 1994: Colonialism Dies Hard, originally published in French as Ça ne s'est pas passé comme ça à Kigali.
Expatriate Tutsis say Mr. Philpot, who acknowledges that slayings took place, minimizes the ethnic dimension of the tragedy and the fact that Hutu leaders systematically planned the massed killing of Tutsis.
"In none of my writings have I denied that there were mass killings, some even of an ethnic character. However, I categorically reject the abusive use of the expression 'genocide,' " Mr. Philpot wrote, for example, in a 2004 comment piece to Le Devoir.
In an interview earlier this week with La Presse, he was quoted as saying: "One cannot say there was a genocide in Rwanda the way there was a genocide against the Jews."
Mr. Philpot writes that the current perception of a genocide perpetrated against the Tutsis helps exonerate the Tutsi-led Rwandan Patriotic Front, the eventual winning side in the civil conflict, which also committed atrocities.
"We are absolutely angry about he is saying. We've been telling him for years about our unhappiness," said Jean-Paul Nyilinkwaya, an executive member of PAGE-Rwanda, a Montreal-based group for relatives and friends of genocide victims.
He said Mr. Boisclair should withdraw the candidacy of Mr. Philpot, who is running in the Montreal riding of Saint-Henri-Sainte-Anne.
Mr. Philpot's credibility is important to the PQ because he is also the co-author of another book that the party has used to attack Mr. Charest.
Published last year, the book - Les secrets d'Option Canada - alleges that a low-profile federalist group misused public funds during the 1995 referendum campaign.
Mr. Boisclair has said that as a leader in that referendum campaign, Mr. Charest had to have known know what was happening at Option Canada.
Retired Quebec judge Bernard Grenier has been appointed to investigate the allegations and the PQ has said that one reason Mr. Charest called a March 26 election was to pre-empt Judge Grenier's report, which is due no later than March 31.
Mr. Nyilinkwaya, who lost 75 relatives in the genocide, noted that Mr. Philpot's brother, Montreal lawyer John Philpot, represented Jean-Paul Akayesu, who was sentenced by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda to life sentences for inciting genocide against Tutsis and for permitting or participating in murder, torture and sexual assault.
"Anything that was Tutsi was slated to die. The lists were drawn up. We know the truth. My father died. My sisters were there. It's very emotional for me."
Mr. Boisclair said he had some familiarity with the Rwandan tragedy, in part because he travelled to neighbouring Burundi in the early 1990s.
"I've met women victims of rape. I've met people wounded by machete blows. I can tell you I am among those who back the work done by the International Criminal Tribunal."