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Leader of the Opposition Andrew Scheer listens to a question during a news conference, April 23, 2020 in Ottawa.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

The Conservative Party, its departing leader, and prospective candidates are refraining from criticizing widely condemned comments made by leadership candidate and Tory MP Derek Sloan, who suggested Canada’s top doctor is a pawn for China.

Mr. Sloan, a rookie Ontario MP, called for Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam to be fired in fundraising e-mails and social media posts this week. In one video, he asks: “Does she work for Canada or for China?"

Those comments have been criticized by politicians including the Prime Minister, NDP Leader, and some Conservative MPs but not by current Leader Andrew Scheer, the party’s leadership committee executive nor the three other leadership hopefuls. People of Asian descent have faced a spike in hate crimes and slurs since the COVID-19 pandemic began in China last year and experts say the comments from an elected official give licence for the attacks to continue.

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“Words totally matter" and have a “real impact on people living in Canada,” Avvy Go, clinic director of the Chinese and South-East Asian legal clinic in Toronto, said Thursday.

Mr. Sloan’s “racist, xenophobic” comments exposes the racism that Chinese-Canadians have experienced for generations in Canada and that continues to this day, Ms. Go said. If his comments about Dr. Tam are allowed to stand, she said, the message is that it’s okay to treat Chinese-Canadians as foreigners.

“If she can be attacked, then people like me can be attacked,” Ms. Go said, “the 92-year-old Chinese senior can be attacked, the nurse working in Toronto can be attacked, ‘it’s all okay,’ that’s what they’re saying.”

Mr. Sloan won the party’s nomination to run in the 2019 election under Mr. Scheer’s tenure. Asked six times Thursday about the MP’s comments and whether they were welcome in the Conservative caucus, Mr. Scheer refused to answer.

“As a rule, I don’t comment on leadership candidates or on policy announcements or positions that leadership candidates have taken,” Mr. Scheer said. “Ultimately, it will be up to members to select the next leader of the party.”

Asked whether the Conservative caucus would review Mr. Sloan’s status in its ranks, Mr. Scheer said: “Any other questions?”

Conservative MPs Michael Chong, Eric Duncan, Eric Melillo and Michelle Rempel Garner all condemned Mr. Sloan’s comments, leaving them out of step with their party’s most senior officials. The Conservative Party did not provide comment nor did the party’s leadership committee co-chairs. None of the other three leadership candidates would criticize Mr. Sloan.

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Former cabinet minister and co-founder of the Conservative Party Peter MacKay, who was active on Twitter and Facebook on Thursday, was not available to provide a comment and his campaign also said it couldn’t send a written statement.

Ontario MP and former cabinet minister Erin O’Toole said he "would not impugn [officials’] motives without a clear justification to do so.”

Another candidate, Toronto lawyer Leslyn Lewis, said it’s not racist to be “critical of the government’s slow reaction to this pandemic.”

In a post on Twitter late Tuesday, Mr. Sloan, who did not respond to an interview request, said “Dr. Tam must go! Canada must remain sovereign over decisions.” He repeated his claims on Twitter on Thursday.

Dr. Tam told reporters the comments would not distract her.

“My singular focus is to work with all of my colleagues to get this epidemic wave under control. I don’t let noise ... detract me from doing that," she said.

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Mr. Trudeau described Mr. Sloan’s remarks and separate incidents of anti-Asian hate as intolerant and racist and said they have “no place in our country.”

Ms. Go described that response as “lip service” and said to truly have an impact, Mr. Trudeau should appoint an advisory board to address the issue.

Chris Lee, director of the Asian Canadian and Asian Migration Studies program at the University of British Columbia, said the scapegoating of Asians makes them more vulnerable and affects their well-being. He said to address it requires a “community-wide response, or a nationwide response."

The warden and chief administrative officer of Hastings County, which Mr. Sloan represents federally, sent a letter to Mr. Scheer on Thursday calling on him to show Mr. Sloan’s “cruel, racist and completely unbecoming” comments aren’t welcome.

"If this means expelling him from the Conservative Party, so be it,” the letter said.

Warden Rick Phillips told The Globe and Mail he hasn’t received a reply.

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