Conservative leadership hopeful Kellie Leitch is defending a proposal to screen immigrants for "anti-Canadian values," saying it is a policy pitch she feels "very strongly about."
In a recent e-mail survey sent to people who signed up on her website, Ms. Leitch's campaign asked, among other topics, if the Canadian government should "screen potential immigrants for anti-Canadian values as part of its normal screening for refugees and landed immigrants."
The survey question was criticized by some Conservatives, including fellow leadership candidate Michael Chong, who compared it to "the worst of dog-whistle politics."
On Friday, Ms. Leitch defended her decision to provoke debate on the issue, saying "Canadians can expect to hear more, not less from me, on this topic in the coming months."
"In my bid to become the Prime Minister of Canada, I will be putting forward policies that will make Canada safer, stronger and that will enhance a unified Canadian identity," Ms. Leitch said in a statement.
"Screening potential immigrants for anti-Canadian values that include intolerance towards other religions, cultures and sexual orientations, violent and/or misogynist behaviour and/or a lack of acceptance of our Canadian tradition of personal and economic freedoms is a policy proposal that I feel very strongly about."
Other issues on Ms. Leitch's survey included legalizing recreational marijuana, using therapy and counselling for potential terrorists, supply management and electoral reform.
Mr. Chong, who along with Ms. Leitch is among four official candidates in the race to replace Stephen Harper, said his colleague's suggestion that some immigrants are "anti-Canadian" does not represent the Conservative Party or the country.
"In order to win in 2019, we need to build a modern and inclusive Conservative Party that focuses squarely on pocket-book issues that matter to Canadians, and not on issues that pit one Canadian against another," he said in a statement.
Mr. Chong also referenced recent Twitter comments from Mr. Harper's former director of policy, Rachel Curran, who equated values' screening to "dogwhistle racism."
"The language and context that Kellie used has led key Conservatives, including prime minister Harper's former director of policy, to criticize this move as the worst of dog-whistle politics. Conservatives need to unite around a fiscally conservative agenda that is inclusive of Canadians from diverse backgrounds," Mr. Chong said.
Conservative strategist Chad Rogers, a partner at Crestview Strategy, called on Ms. Leitch to withdraw her candidacy. "You don't get to apologize twice for the same mistake," he said.
Ms. Leitch made headlines during the 2015 federal election campaign for her role in promoting the Conservative Party's proposed tip line for reporting "barbaric cultural practices," which was intended to help the RCMP crack down on forced marriages and keep polygamists out of Canada.
Ms. Leitch later expressed regret for the announcement, and was even in tears last April on CBC TV's Power and Politics, saying she only wanted to end violence against women and girls and advocate for women's rights.
The Conservative Party's campaign also included a proposed ban on the niqab, a face covering worn by some Muslim women, during citizenship ceremonies.
With a report from The Canadian Press