The Conservative Party’s immigration critic said Wednesday that she drew attention to some of the views of a far-right activist who used intolerant language — without hearing what the woman had actually shouted during a testy exchange last week with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Michelle Rempel made the comments during a news conference in Ottawa after reporters asked her to explain why she had used the woman's questions as part of her party's political criticism of Trudeau.
Rempel, who represents a Calgary riding in Parliament, said she had only seen a 1:46-long clip on CTV News, where the woman shouts in French at Trudeau at an event southeast of Montreal, about repaying Quebec for the costs of "illegal immigrants.”
Rempel tweeted that clip on Sunday, and added that the woman’s questions “are the exact questions we have been asking him.” The next day, Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer tweeted that such questions were “legitimate.”
Federal Liberals say that the Conservatives are promoting intolerance by amplifying far-right views.
The full exchange, which lasted over six minutes, shows the woman — identified by La Presse Canadienne as Diane Blain, a member of an anti-immigrant, nationalist group — repeatedly ask a second question: “are you tolerant of Québécois de souche?”
“Québécois de souche” is a term used to describe “old-stock” Quebecers that is considered to be intolerant since it excludes visible minorities. Trudeau responded to the activist's use of the term by saying, “madam, your racism has no place here.”
Rempel on heckler: 'I don't know this woman'
On Wednesday, Rempel said she hadn’t seen that part of the exchange.
“I don't know this woman,” said Rempel to reporters in Ottawa. “The clip that I saw...showed this woman asking a question that the premier of Quebec himself has asked,” she said, referring to repaying Quebec for irregular border-crossers.
Asked whether she thought Blain was racist, Rempel referred back to the question about funding for Quebec, noting “people don’t like to have their concerns dismissed." She added questions around budgeting are “reasonable.”
But she quickly rejected the notion that the Conservatives had sided with the woman. "I was commenting on a video that (CTV News) posted."
In response to another followup question, Rempel again said she hadn't seen the full exchange.
"I haven't spent the last three days looking at what this woman said. This is the first time, to be honest with you, you're telling me this here," she said.
"I'm not Québécois so I don't understand the term writ large. But if it holds offence to people...of course I don’t support that.”
Rempel and the Conservatives’ Treasury Board critic Gérard Deltell were in town to announce a new suite of immigration policies that Rempel said the party would like to “explore” ahead of their policy convention this weekend in Halifax.
The policy list included closing what the Conservatives call a “loophole” in the Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States, to better supporting immigration uptake and retention in rural areas, reforming refugee resettlement programs and encouraging greater use of privately-sponsored refugees, among other issues.
The two critics also announced the party would be going on a listening tour this fall, called the Pathway to Canada tour, to hear people’s suggestions about immigration policy.
Hussen 'proud' to see Trudeau condemn 'neo-nazi'
In a speech Tuesday in Surrey, B.C., Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said he was "starting to feel that a portion of the Conservatives is about fear-mongering, pitting Canadians against newcomers, dividing communities and questioning the value of diversity."
On Wednesday, the minister reacted to the Conservatives' Pathway to Canada announcement by suggesting the party was playing catch-up.
"They finally figured out that in order to reach a good immigration policy, they're going to need to talk to Canadians," he told reporters.
"It's really sad to see that here, we had a chance to see the Official Opposition put together a real plan on immigration to address labour market challenges, skills shortages, demographic challenges, we haven't seen that this morning," added Hussen.
He also said he was "very proud" that Trudeau "called out racism when it reared its ugly head," referring to the incident with Blain, who he described indirectly as "a known member of a neo-nazi group."
"As someone who has experienced racism in Canada — although this has been the most generous country to me, this is my home, and this is the country I feel so much being able to belong to, and welcomed...I have experienced racist incidents, and when that happened, I wish there (had been) someone like the prime minister who stood up and called it out."
Editor's note: This story was updated at 1:50 p.m. ET on Aug. 22, 2018 to include additional quotes from Rempel and Hussen.