It was slipped into the last paragraphs of a press release issued by Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet. I’m not accusing anyone, Mr. Blanchet said, before questioning whether new Transport Minister Omar Alghabra was too close to Islamic extremists to sit in the federal cabinet.
That’s a heck of a thing to just sneak in. But it’s the sort of innuendo that’s been tossed around about Mr. Alghabra more or less since he was first elected as an MP in 2006.
Mr. Blanchet’s I’m-not-accusing-anybody was a particularly cowardly way of pretending he wasn’t really spreading the notion that Mr. Alghabra is an Islamist extremist.
For the record, he is not.
Mr. Alghabra is a mild-mannered Mississauga MP whose views are as fair game as any other politician’s. But he is not an extremist. He’s been an MP, in two stints, for eight years, and put a lot of those views, mainstream and secular, on the record.
Yet some commentators, notably The Rebel’s Ezra Levant, have trumped up claims he is an extremist. Others repeated them.
“How long does a person of colour like me need to keep repeating what I believe, either verbally or by action, for people to judge me by my actions and beliefs rather than to impose suspicions on me?” Mr. Alghabra asked in an interview Thursday.
Conservative Senator Denise Batters repeated the extremism allegation in a tweet in 2018, but to her credit, she retracted and apologized. Not Mr. Blanchet. He issued a new statement Thursday, claiming he had a right to raise questions.
Mr. Alghabra was once, in 2004 and 2005, president of the Canadian Arab Federation. He was succeeded by other folks, once his critics, who made more inflammatory statements, and the Conservative government cut off its funding in 2009. But that was after Mr. Alghabra left, and he was critical of what it became. “I actually condemned it,” he said.
As CAF president, Mr. Alghabra wrote a letter to police chiefs criticizing their decision to send a delegation to Israel to learn about police tactics. He also supports the long-standing Canadian policy of a two-state solution for Israel and Palestinians, and has argued in the Commons against the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel.
“We do not believe his appointment to cabinet is inappropriate,” said David Cooper, vice-president of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, which is no fan of Islamist extremists. “We are not aware of any substantive or proven links Mr. Alghabra has to Islamist or political extremism. We are of course aware of allegations that amount to charges of guilt by association, but have never seen any substantive evidence that would trigger any concern.”
So why does the Bloc think there is? On Wednesday, a spokesman told The Canadian Press the Bloc didn’t have much, but is concerned with the “separation of church and state.”
That’s weird. Mr. Alghabra is not an imam. He sports no religious symbols. He wears a beard as closely trimmed as Mr. Blanchet’s. Over years in politics, he has given no particular sign he is especially religious. On Thursday, he said he doesn’t want to address a question that implies people should be judged by their religion or how or whether they practise it.
One allegation, that Mr. Alghabra supports sharia law, was repeated in two 2016 columns in Le Journal de Montréal, which Mr. Blanchet cited Thursday. But that allegation, like most of the others in the two columns, had been artfully promoted by Mr. Levant a month earlier.
It was drawn from an interview that Mr. Alghabra gave to an Arabic-language newspaper, after Dalton McGuinty’s Ontario government abandoned a proposal to extend a 1991 law that allowed religious mediations in family law to Muslims, with sharia principles. Mr. Alghabra, then head of CAF, said it failed because it was developed without the majority of the Muslim community, which was divided – and Mr. Levant claimed that showed Mr. Alghabra favoured sharia.
But Mr. Alghabra noted Thursday that the quote was about how polarizing the debate had been, and lamented that it was dominated by small elements of the community – and that he did not support the use of sharia. “I am not in favour of government enforcing anyone’s religion,” he said.
If Mr. Blanchet wants to criticize Mr. Alghabra’s actual views, he can fill his boots. Instead, he joined in the repetition of unsubstantiated claims, making an accusation out of rumour without making a case.
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