Federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra says a tweet from an Ontario politician labelling him a “terrorist” is just another example of the “unacceptable” aggressions Canadian minorities deal with everyday.
Randy Hillier, an independent MPP, issued the tweet Monday. Mr. Alghabra, a Muslim Canadian who was born in Saudi Arabia to a Syrian family, said he has faced these kinds of personal attacks his entire political life.
“I prefer not to talk about how it makes me feel but to remind everyone that there are so many people who experience this on a daily basis because of their background – Muslim, Jewish, other visible minorities – every day through either microaggressions, subtle aggressions or not so subtle aggressions and it’s really unacceptable and it needs to be called out,” Mr. Alghabra said in an interview.
The attacks don’t wear him down, he said, but rather strengthen his resolve to ensure others who aren’t as privileged as him don’t face this kind of discrimination.
The tweet from Mr. Hillier was in response to a clip from a television interview with Mr. Alghabra, where the Liberal cabinet minister expressed support for mandatory vaccines for cross-border truckers. Mr. Hillier said Mr. Alghabra is a “terrorist” speaking out to “condemn Canadians to starvation – in the name of being safe.”
Mr. Hillier, who represents the riding of Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston, has been a loud supporter of a convoy of truckers and other vaccine opponents on its way to Ottawa for a rally against vaccination mandates. Ontario Premier Doug Ford kicked Mr. Hillier out of caucus in 2019 after he mocked the parents of children with autism.
In a tweet Wednesday, Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said she would write to the Speaker and all members of legislature seeking their support in calling for the strongest possible consequences for Mr. Hillier.
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino called the tweet “flagrantly abusive, offensive and Islamophobic.”
“It’s hate speech, full stop. There’s no justification for it on this platform, or anywhere else. Over to you again, @Twitter @TwitterSafety @TwitterCanada,” read Mr. Mendicino’s tweet.
Cam Gordon, a spokesperson for Twitter Canada, said the organization does not comment on potential decisions regarding individual tweets. He did not say whether the website intends to take Mr. Hillier’s tweet down.
Mr. Alghabra said he was grateful to Mr. Mendicino for his support, but declined to say whether Mr. Hillier’s specific tweet should be removed.
“Social media needs to be more cautious and more careful about the type of ignorance and hate that they allow on their platforms,” Mr. Alghabra said, adding that the government, non-profit organizations and society as a whole all have a role in reducing online hate, racism and discrimination.
Mustafa Farooq, chief executive officer of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, said he was disgusted by Mr. Hillier’s tweet but unfortunately not shocked.
“I think when people feel that they can call a minister of the Crown a terrorist and just straight up feel like they can throw whatever Islamophobic garbage even at people who are in relatively prominent positions in our society, it tells you the degree to which people feel comfortable in espousing this kind of Islamophobia,” Mr. Farooq said.
Asked whether he will take down the controversial tweets, Mr. Hillier’s office referred to a section of the Criminal Code that defines terrorism as an act committed with the “intention of intimidating the public … with regard to its security, including its economic security” that intentionally “causes serious interference with or serious disruption of an essential service, facility or system.”
Last month, Mr. Mendicino called on Twitter to address an abusive tweet from a vaccine opponent threatening Canadian Medical Association president Dr. Katharine Smart for promoting vaccinations. Mr. Mendicino said the tweet was intended to intimidate Dr. Smart and interfere with her work on the pandemic. Dr. Smart referred the matter to police.
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