The leader of Canada's Conservative party declined to comment on Tuesday as at least three members of his caucus, including the deputy leader, moved to distance themselves from a far right website facing denunciations and resignations over its coverage of a deadly white supremacist rally.
The silence from Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer came after he had previously condemned acts of racism, violence and hatred following a violent confrontation involving white supremacists and other extremists in Charlottesville, Virginia on Saturday that left Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old woman who was protesting racism, dead.
The controversial Canadian media outlet, The Rebel, has earned praise from white supremacists and neo-Nazis for its work critical of immigration and multiculturalism. One Conservative MP, Michael Chong, said Monday that he was no longer granting interviews to the outlet since he believed its “editorial direction” has morphed into the “promotion of anti-Semitism” and “white supremacy,” according to a statement posted on Press Progress.
The Rebel's top boss, Ezra Levant made light of Chong's criticism with what appeared to be a joke.
“I am inspired by Michael Chong and I will issue a statement that I will not date Gisele Bundchen,” said Levant, referring to the Brazilian supermodel, in an email to National Observer.
“Chong came in 10th in the Conservative leadership race. I can’t imagine what we’d interview him about now that his 15 minutes of fame are up,” he added.
“But it sounds like he’s sitting next to his phone, in case we ever do call him, and he’s ready to say, ‘No!’ Me too. If Gisele Bundchen ever calls me up, I’m going to tell her, ‘no!’”
Chong went 10 rounds in the Tory leadership race, before being eliminated in the 11th round of voting in fifth place. Chong's office did not respond to requests for comment before publication.
His boss, Conservative Leader Scheer, has appeared multiple times on The Rebel, and Scheer’s former campaign manager, Hamish Marshall, is also listed as a director of The Rebel on government corporate records.
Conservatives condemn these acts of racism, violence and hatred. Prayers are with victims, their families, and people of #Charlottesville.— Andrew Scheer (@AndrewScheer) August 13, 2017
Scheer tweeted Sunday after a "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia turned violent and deadly that “Conservatives condemn these acts of racism, violence and hatred.”
National Observer asked Jake Enwright, media relations director for Scheer, what his position on The Rebel was, given Chong’s statement.
Enwright was reached but did not provide comment before publication.
Lilley, Kay, Robson quit, Alberta ministers attack
Chong’s disavowal came the same day Rebel co-founder Brian Lilley announced he was leaving the website, saying he no longer felt comfortable with the website’s association with “alt-right” figures and decrying a “lack of editorial and behavioural judgment.”
The so-called "alt-right" is a conservative-leaning political movement made up of people "whose central organizing principal is race," Levant said in a memo to staff that was published on Monday. Levant also said that they were also made up of white supremacists and neo-Nazis, attempting him to distance Rebel from the group.
"There were actually some Nazi swastika flags in Charlottesville," Levant continued in the memo. "Sorry, that's not conservative, that's just racist, and I think it's unpatriotic to mimic one of America's greatest historical enemies."
Late Tuesday, The Rebel contributor Barbara Kay joined Lilley in announcing that she was resigning from the website. In a statement, Kay said Levant has "brought on contributors whose message and tactics have tarnished the Rebel brand." John Robson, a documentary film-maker and political columnist, also announced on Tuesday that he was "parting ways with the Rebel."
"The Rebel has drifted too far from its mission of covering the news from a refreshing perspective," Robson wrote.
Parting ways with The Rebel https://t.co/YxYYYvKMqG— John Robson (@thejohnrobson) August 15, 2017
And while Scheer, the Conservative leader, wasn't available to comment, other MPs in his caucus rallied behind Lilley's decision to move on from the Rebel.
Lisa Raitt, a former cabinet minister and leadership candidate who represents an Ontario riding in Parliament, praised Lilley for his decision.
"I admire a man who speaks what he believes," Raitt, the deputy Conservative leader, wrote on Twitter. "I wish you the best."
Calgary-area Conservative MP Michelle Rempel also wrote on Twitter that Lilley's decision "took some serious stones."
"We need voices who can criticize government and dogma. Messages that flirt with white supremacy delegitimize those voices," Rempel wrote. "So peace out. You know who you are and I'm pretty sure you know what you have to do, but I'm not lending my name or my platform to you."
5/ Flirting with or giving a wink and a nod to Nazism and white supremacy for clicks and likes is disgusting.— Michelle Rempel (@MichelleRempel) August 15, 2017
7/ So, peace out. You know who you are and I'm pretty sure you know what you have to do, but I'm not lending my name or my platform to you.— Michelle Rempel (@MichelleRempel) August 15, 2017
Alberta Finance Minister Joe Ceci and Economic Development Minister Deron Bilous have also called out the outlet, which has been organizing political events to protest against the provincial NDP government's policies.
Ceci tweeted Sunday that “those who fan racism's flames, like the Rebel, have no place in our society” and Bilous tweeted, “I unequivocally denounce the racism and hatred in #Charlottesville. Anyone who feels the same should denounce The Rebel. Period.”
Those who fan racism's flames, like the Rebel, have no place in our society. (2/2) #ableg— Joe Ceci (@joececiyyc) August 14, 2017
I unequivocally denounce the racism and hatred in #Charlottesville. Anyone who feels the same should denounce The Rebel. Period.— Deron Bilous (@DeronBilous) August 14, 2017
Alberta has been a hot spot for The Rebel. A December 2016 rally hosted by the outlet against the provincial government’s carbon tax culminated in chants of “lock her up!” directed at Alberta Premier Rachel Notley.
After the provincial government banned The Rebel from government news conferences in February 2016, the Canadian Association of Journalists defended the right of the outlet to access the Alberta legislature, on the grounds that “no government gets to decide who can hold it to account.”
CAJ President Nick Taylor-Vaisey was reached for comment but could not respond before publication.
The Rebel’s coverage of the event, by host Faith Goldy, described “white racial consciousness” as driven by “decades of identity politics which underscored non-white identities."
Goldy also tweeted of a “double standard” at the rally of “antifa,” or anti-fascists, being “allowed to march.” In another video, Goldy said a statement written in part by "alt-right" leader Richard Spencer, who has been described as a white supremacist "icon," had "well-thought out ideas."
Those and other comments led media critic outlet Canadaland to question Goldy’s coverage. A leadership candidate for Alberta's United Conservative Party, Doug Schweitzer, also tweeted in response to Goldy’s “double standard” comment that The Rebel “is defending Nazis.”
Levant and Goldy have both put out statements distancing themselves from the racism and white supremacy displayed in Charlottesville over the weekend.
Levant has in the past described Breitbart News, the right-wing American news outlet that former chairman and White House strategist Steve Bannon once described as the platform for the alt-right, as “an inspiration and role model.”
On Monday, Levant said in his “staff memo” that the Rebel was “not alt-right” as the term had “changed into something new” and now “effectively means racism, anti-Semitism and tolerance of neo-Nazism.”
Goldy said in her own statement that “I am not a damn neo-Nazi.”
“When I said there is a rise in white racial consciousness, it is because I believe that to be true,” she wrote. “It is an observation I have made and one that laid bare on the streets of Charlottesville this weekend...I am not endorsing it, only pointing to the fact that it exists.”
Schweitzer calls on opponents to denounce outlet
Levant’s statement wasn’t good enough for Schweitzer, who is calling on other candidates to condemn Rebel for its coverage. He told CBC News after Levant’s staff memo that “they're trying to do damage control over their current actionism.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Alberta Premier Rachel Notley both issued statements on Sunday that strongly condemned the racist attacks in Charlotteville.
We know Canada isn't immune to racist violence & hate. We condemn it in all its forms & send support to the victims in Charlottesville.— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) August 13, 2017
"Many of you have pointed out that in Alberta we are not immune to the kind of racism and bigotry we are seeing south of the border," she wrote on her Facebook page.
She said the government had tasked Education Minister David Eggen to lead discussions on combating racism and promoting inclusion, and encouraged people to contact [email protected]
Editor's note: This article was updated at 8:20 a.m. ET on Wednsday with additional comments from Conservative MPs and background information.