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Tories mum on whether Rebel booths will be banned at future party events

Outspoken political commentator Ezra Levant arrives at the Law Society of Alberta in Calgary, Alta., on March 2, 2016.

Jeff McIntosh/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Prominent federal Conservatives, including leader Andrew Scheer, have vowed not to give any more interviews to the Rebel but will their party cut all its ties to the controversial far-right media outlet?

So far, the party isn't saying.

The Conservative party sold space in the corridors outside each of its last two conventions to the Rebel – in Vancouver in 2016 and at the leadership convention last May from which Scheer emerged the victor – so the outlet could set up a booth to promote its incendiary brand of conservatism and sell its wares to delegates.

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Among the items on sale at the leadership event were T-shirts emblazoned with "I Believe in the Separation of Mosque and State" and a book by Rebel contributor Lauren Southern entitled "Barbarians: How Baby Boomers, Immigrants and Islam Screwed My Generation."

A photo tweeted by the outlet from the 2016 convention showed contributor Faith Goldy at the Rebel's booth.

It was Goldy's sympathetic coverage of white supremacists and neo-Nazis protesting in Charlottesville, Va., where an anti-racism counter-protester was killed, that prompted Scheer and other Conservatives to disassociate themselves from the Rebel last week.

Goldy has since been fired and Rebel founder Ezra Levant has tried to distance the outlet from the so-called alt-right, even as he's derided the "cowardly conservative politicians" who've disavowed the Rebel.

Conservative party spokesman Cory Hann did not respond Friday when asked if the Rebel would be allowed to set up booths at future party events.

He did, however, explain that a tweeted photo of a panel of Rebel contributors, including Levant and Goldy, purportedly on stage at the Conservatives' 2016 convention was actually taken at a separate Rebel event held at a different location.

"Rebel had no part in our convention programming at all," Hann said in an email.

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In an interview this week, Scheer reiterated his view that the Rebel's coverage of Charlottesville crossed the "fine line between reporting on facts" and giving white supremacists "legitimacy or any kind of validation." Hence, until the outlet's editorial direction changes, he won't give it any more interviews.

He was pressed to explain why it took so long to disavow the outlet, which has pushed the boundaries since its inception in 2015. It has circulated false reports that a Muslim was the shooter who killed six worshippers at a Quebec City mosque in January, sponsored a rally at which participants chanted "lock her up" about Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, stoked outrage over a Liberal MP's motion condemning Islamophobia and published a piece by contributor Gavin McInnes originally titled "10 things I hate about Jews."

"I don't answer for everything that's on every news outlet or every media," Scheer told The Canadian Press.

He pointed out that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal government went to bat for the Rebel when it was denied media access to the United Nations' climate change talks in Paris in late 2015.

"I don't think we want to live in a country where politicians decide what is or what isn't a legitimate outlet. But in terms of exclusive interviews at that point (last week), I took the decision that until something changes, until there's a departure from what I viewed as crossing that line, I won't be granting interviews."

The Liberal party has been making hay with the Conservatives' discomfiture, starting an online petition last week calling on Scheer and his party to completely sever all ties to the Rebel. The petition has now been signed by more than 12,000 individuals.

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Liberals are evidently hoping for a reprise of the 2015 election, when the Tories campaigned against allowing Muslim women to wear the face-covering niqab during citizenship ceremonies and proposed creation of a "barbaric cultural practices" snitch line.

That gave Trudeau an opening to paint Stephen Harper's Conservatives as divisive and intolerant – a label the Liberals would like to stick to Scheer as well – and to rally support particularly among new Canadians, many of whom had backed the Tories in the previous two elections.

The governing party is now calling on the Conservatives to ban the Rebel from future conventions and return the money the Rebel paid to set up booths at the last two. That came to $915 per booth, according to information filed by the Conservative party with Elections Canada.

"Canadians are deeply concerned about the several ties that Andrew Scheer and the Conservative party have maintained with the Rebel despite its long-standing expression of far-right and hateful positions," said Liberal party spokesman Braeden Caley.

"Hate has no place in Canadian politics. The Conservative party should return any such funds immediately and we call upon Andrew Scheer to commit that Rebel Media won't ever again be provided similar spaces at future events with his party."

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