Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said "there is an awful lot of room for intolerance" in Andrew Scheer's Conservative Party after one of the latter's caucus members made headlines for a second time for allegedly making Islamophobic comments.
Conservative MP Michael Cooper came under fire in recent weeks for reading a portion of the manifesto of a white supremacist terrorist during parliamentary hearings. In the wake of the controversy, new allegations have come to light in a CBC report, claiming that Cooper referred to Muslims as “goat herder cultures” during a conversation about Canadian democracy back when he was a law student.
National Observer has not independently verified the allegations reported by the CBC about Cooper's previous comments, while in law school.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has described the recent report as "unsubstantiated" while accusing media outlets of showing partisan bias in their reporting of the matter.
"I called Michael about it. He has a clear recollection of the event and he denies ever saying that. So I certainly take him at his word," Scheer told the CBC's Vassy Kapelos on Power and Politics. "It's disappointing that a news outlet would run with an unsubtantiated allegation, when there have been allegations about, for example, the prime minister that those same broadcasters didn't run with. But, as I've said, I take Michael at his word, and I believe him."
When asked by Kapelos how he knew that the allegations were unsubstantiated given that a number of people went on the record about the incident, including one person who wrote about it at the time, Scheer said he wasn't aware of any proof apart from the word of two people, including one whom the Conservative leader described as a political activist for another party.
"Again it's very disappointing that people can make these types of allegations, a decade after the fact, without anything to back it up and, of course, I'm going to take Mr. Cooper at his word."
"The allegations against him have been completely unsubstantiated,” said @AndrewScheer about a comment Conservative MP Michael Cooper allegedly made a decade ago. “I’ve taken Michael Cooper at his word and I believe him.” #cdnpoli Read more: https://t.co/HPKmGfdLTI pic.twitter.com/FtVKflEQr0— Power & Politics (@PnPCBC) June 20, 2019
Several Conservative MPs, including Pierre Poilievre and Peter Kent, also took the same position on Wednesday, criticizing the CBC's editorial decision to report on the allegations.
But there was no denying what Cooper said during a May 28 House of Commons justice committee hearing, when he rebuked an Edmonton-based Muslim activist, Faisal Khan Suri, for suggesting a link between "conservatism" and violent extremism.
Suri, who is the president of the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council, was telling the committee about the online history of Alexandre Bissonnette, a white nationalist who was sentenced in February to life in prison with no chance of parole for 40 years for shooting six people in a Quebec City mosque in January 2017.
"The evidence from Bissonette's computer showed he repeatedly sought content about anti-immigrant, alt-right and conservative commentators, mass murderers, U.S. President Donald Trump, and about Muslims, immigrants living in Quebec," Suri said. He added that two other shooters in recent history — including the man who killed 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue in October 2019, and the man accused of killing 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand — were also influenced by the spread of hate from alt-right networks.
During Cooper's round of questions, the Conservative MP said Suri "should be ashamed" of himself for making this connection and proceeded to read a passage from the Christchurch shooter's 74-page manifesto — which has been banned in New Zealand — wherein he rejects "conservatism.
The comments quoting the terrorist were later expunged from the parliamentary record.
Scheer also disciplined Cooper by removing him from committee, and Cooper apologized for his remarks.
Reading the name and quoting the words of the Christchurch shooter, especially when directed at a Muslim witness during a parliamentary hearing, is insensitive and unacceptable. Mr. Cooper has apologized. I accept his apology and I consider the matter closed. (2/2)— Andrew Scheer (@AndrewScheer) June 2, 2019
On Tuesday, CBC reported that, in 2008, when he was a student, Cooper derided Muslims as "goat herder cultures" while debating the roles of Islam and multiculturalism in Canadian democracy at a University of Alberta law seminar
Two lawyers who were Cooper's classmates at the time told CBC the now-federal MP said that some cultures were incompatible with Canada's "Judeo-Christian values" during the heated discussion.
In light of these reports, Trudeau voiced his concerns about the Conservative Party's values.
"I think what Mr. Cooper said at committee and what he is alleged to have said in media reports illustrates that there is an awful lot of room for intolerance in Andrew Scheer’s party and he needs to address that," Trudeau told reporters Wednesday.
Trudeau was asked if Cooper should be removed from the Conservative caucus following these two incidents.
"That’s a decision for Mr. Scheer," Trudeau told reporters.
Editor's note: This article was updated at 9:46 p.m. ET with additional comments from Andrew Scheer and background information.