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Politics Liberals, Conservatives battle for immigrant vote in duelling attack ads

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper attends a campaign event at the J.P. Bowman tool and die company in Brantford, Ont., Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015.

JONATHAN HAYWARD/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Stephen Harper is making no apologies for attack ads and flyers being distributed in Punjabi and Cantonese that warn a Trudeau government would lead to "illegal drug injection sites in our neighbourhoods" and "brothels in our communities."

The battle for votes from new Canadians is intensifying in the final leg of the 2015 federal election campaign and the Liberals and Conservatives have been trying to sow fear about each other before election day on Oct. 19.

For instance, Tory ads warning of easier access to marijuana for children, of an expansion of drug injection sites for addicts and of brothels have appeared over the past week in the Richmond, B.C., newspaper the Ming Pao Daily as well as in the Vancouver and Greater Toronto editions of the Punjabi Parvasi newspaper.

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Toronto-area Liberal candidate Bill Blair, a former police chief, accused the Conservatives of "deceptive fear-mongering" as the campaign ends. "The Conservative campaign has given up on a positive vision for Canada and instead is launching over-the-top attacks and outright fabrications," said Mr. Blair, Liberal candidate for Scarborough Southwest.

Conservative Party spokesman Stephen Lecce said the party would continue distributing ads about Mr. Trudeau making marijuana easier for children to access, about drug injection sites and brothels "because they're true."

Mr. Harper defended the ads: "The other guys will claim it's fear when all we're trying to do is draw attention to facts – facts they are not willing to talk about."

His campaign tried to fill in the chain of logic in the attack ads, citing Mr. Trudeau's promise to legalize marijuana and a March, 2015, interview where he wants to see more safe injection sites for drug addicts across the country. Finally, the Tories base their brothels charge on the fact the Liberals have proposed no legislation to replace the long-standing laws on prostitution struck down by the Supreme Court in late 2013.

It's not just the Conservatives making what their rivals claim are outrageous allegations. The Liberals have been warning immigrant communities that C-24, a new law passed by the Conservatives, would mean new Canadians could see their hard-won citizenship taken away by the whim of a minister.

In fact, C-24 gives the government the power to revoke citizenship from dual citizens who are convicted of terrorism, high treason or other offences including committing an act of war against Canada. Ottawa is not allowed to render an individual stateless, though.

Liberal-branded flyers that have turned up in the Toronto-area communities of Vaughan and Brampton in recent weeks tell voters: "You took risks, made sacrifices and worked hard to become a Canadian citizen. Don't let Harper take that away."

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Calgary Tory candidate Jason Kenney, the leader of the Conservative Party's outreach campaign in immigrant communities, says he's constantly meeting voters who repeat this claim.

"This fear campaign on Bill C-24 has been a constant drumbeat by the Liberal Party and its candidates from the very beginning of the campaign," Mr. Kenney said. "They say repeatedly in their campaign that if you get so much as a traffic infraction you might be subject to citizenship revocation and deportation."

This is false, Mr. Kenney says.

The Liberals also stand by their approach.

"We are proud of our position on C-24," Liberal campaign spokeswoman Carlene Variyan said.

The Oct. 9 issue of Parvasi's main edition ran an ad stating in English that "Justin Trudeau wants marijuana sold in your neighbourhood 'similar to alcohol or cigarettes,'" and quoted a Sun News report from July, 2013.

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The original Sun News article ran this full quote from Trudeau explaining his rationale for supporting legalization:

"If we control and regulate it, then we have a better way to make sure anyone who buys it in a regulated environment is of age to make that decision, similar to alcohol or cigarettes. It's an easier way to keep it out of the hands of our kids where it does the most harm."

Rattan Mall, editor of Surrey, B.C.'s the Indo-Canadian Voice, said none of the Conservative ads showed up in his newspaper, but even if they did, he doubted it would sway many of his readers.

"In a way, they're looking down on ethnic communities because they think they're so stupid they'll be easily swayed by any scare tactics," Mr. Mall said. "The South Asian community here [in Metro Vancouver] has really matured. Every issue that affects the mainstream media affects them, because they're in every profession, in every sector."

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