Federal Conservative Party leadership candidate Kellie Leitch says it is "ridiculous" to link her plan to screen immigrants for Canadian values with a deadly attack on a Quebec City mosque, arguing her proposal could equally be applied to white supremacists trying to enter the country.
Ms. Leitch was responding to criticisms from fellow leadership contenders and other party members who said her screening idea sows the type of hatred that could have inspired the Quebec City suspect, Alexandre Bissonnette, who is accused of murdering six Muslims during evening prayers on Sunday.
"This was an outrageous attack of violence," Ms. Leitch said in an interview Tuesday. "And there's no excuse, and no justification, for that type of act of terrorism."
She said she is sticking by her proposal to screen immigrants for Canadian values such as freedom, tolerance, hard work and generosity. "What I'm talking about is simply having face-to-face interviews with trained immigration officers that would apply to everyone," she said.
Her remarks come as the world grapples with the fallout of U.S. President Donald Trump's controversial executive order barring immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States for three months. The order also means the U.S. will not accept refugees for 120 days and has suspended the arrival of refugees from war-torn Syria indefinitely.
Ms. Leitch said Mr. Trump's ban is not part of her plan. "What they will do I assume they will do in the best interest of their nation," she said.
Fellow leadership candidate Michael Chong on Tuesday accused Ms. Leitch of being a demagogue – someone who exploits prejudice for political gain. He said he believes there is a direct link between demagoguery around the world and the rise of hate crimes, particularly against Muslim communities in both Canada and the United States.
"I cannot stand idly by and let this kind of demagoguery, this kind of rhetoric that plays to fears and prejudices about immigrants and refugees continue unopposed," Mr. Chong told The Globe and Mail. "I think it's really important that people speak up, make their voices heard, to say that this is not the way forward."
He said Ms. Leitch's screening proposal is "dangerous" because the real threat of terrorism has been shown to be from native-born Canadians who have been radicalized on the Internet.
Another candidate in the race, Deepak Obhrai, said the Quebec attack is the result of the anti-immigrant stance promoted by politicians outside of Canada.
"This feeds into this fearmongering and manifests itself into what happened in Quebec City," he said.
NDP MP Peter Julian, a registered NDP leadership candidate, compared Ms. Leitch on Twitter to Mr. Trump. "I unequivocally condemn @KellieLeitch's #Trump-like hatred and bigotry. This has no place in Canada," he wrote.
Ms. Leitch said her screening test is not geared toward any specific region and isn't even specifically about security. She said it would apply "whether you're a white supremacist … or people who think women are pieces of property … or people who believe violence is a legitimate way to get what they want, who don't share our Canadian values."
When asked why she has never referenced white supremacists before, she said, "Well, do you think that Canadians share those values? I don't."
Ms. Leitch has been endorsed by white nationalists – including in an opinion piece published on the Council of European Canadians website, which believes "the European heritage and character of Canada should be maintained and enhanced," and British Columbia's anti-immigration Cultural Action Party.
She said she has condemned the endorsements. "I didn't accept their support," she said.
Asked whether there is a link between what she is proposing and the extremist groups, Ms. Leitch said: "I think you're stretching that."