Pierre Poilievre, a high-profile contender in the Conservative party's leadership race, on Monday denounced the "white replacement theory," which was believed to be a motive for a mass shooting in Buffalo, N.Y., as "ugly and disgusting hate-mongering."
In a statement provided to The Canadian Press, the longtime Ottawa MP, who has been attracting massive crowds as he campaigns across the country, condemned the attack, in which police say a white gunman shot up a supermarket in a majority Black neighbourhood, killing 10 people and wounding three others.
U.S. law enforcement is investigating the shooter's online posts, which include the conspiracy theory that there’s a plot to diminish the influence of white people.
Believers say so-called "white replacement" is being achieved both through immigration and demographics, with white people having lower birth rates than other populations, and some claim this has been orchestrated by Jews.
Poilievre was responding to a tweet by fellow leadership contestant Patrick Brown pointing out that Pat King, a leader of the February "Freedom Convoy" that clogged up the streets surrounding Parliament Hill for weeks, which Poilievre and many other Conservative MPs supported, has spread the conspiracy theory online.
Brown called on his rival to "condemn this hate."
"For Patrick Brown to use this atrocity is sleazy — even for him," Poilievre said in his statement Monday. "I supported the peaceful and law-abiding truckers who protested for their livelihoods and freedoms while simultaneously condemning any individuals who broke laws, behaved badly or blocked critical infrastructure.
What people are reading
"I also condemn Pat King and his ugly remarks."
In response to Poilievre's remarks, a spokesman for Brown accused him of "reluctantly giving a statement when asked, rather than shouting denunciation from every platform you have."
"Flirting with these dangerous elements does a disservice to the vast majority of Conservative Party members and will cost us the next election if it is allowed to stand,'" Chisholm Pothier wrote.
Interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen also issued a statement Monday calling racism repugnant.
"The ‘white-replacement’ conspiracy theory is peddled by racists and bigots, Conservatives unequivocally condemn this kind of thinking," she said.
Bergen went on to say that "while Canadians are free to protest and demonstrate, that does not include illegally blocking or occupying infrastructure, nor does it include illegal hate-speech.”
How much support each of the six Conservative leadership candidates running for Erin O'Toole's former job showed to the protesters who descended on the nation's capital as part of the convoy has been a reoccurring feature of the race.
Poilievre discussed his position on the demonstration – which was characterized by local police and political leaders as an occupation – during an hour-and-a-half interview with controversial Canadian psychology professor and bestselling author Jordan Peterson, which aired Monday.
In the interview, which was conducted virtually, Poilievre defended the protest near Parliament Hill as a mostly peaceful endeavour, saying he believed truckers who travelled there would have left had Trudeau acquiesced and removed the federal mandates.
"The media depiction was total nonsense. If you watched it on television you would think that it was Armageddon," Poilievre told Peterson, pointing out MPs who condemned the protest were not blocked from accessing the Hose of Commons.
"It was peaceful. It was most of the time sort of a jubilant-type celebration."
Poilievre did, however, acknowledge the pain it caused to some businesses. Some in the area decided to close during the convoy for reasons that included protesters flouting public health rules and reports of staff being harassed.
"Some businesses were inconvenienced and lost money. They should be compensated."
Poilievre suggested he's also looking at proposing changes to the federal Emergencies Act, telling Peterson he was consulting with legal scholars around curtailing its use, which Conservatives contend was unnecessary to dismantle the Ottawa protest.
Peterson rose to fame after refusing to call trans students by their preferred pronouns and opposing transgender human rights legislation.
These topics were not discussed in his wide-ranging interview with Poilievre, which covered everything from the MP's burgeoning interest in conservativism as a teenager in Calgary and having a sense of humour in politics, to his pledge to defund the CBC and insights into why his rallies were drawing such large crowds.
After the interview aired, fellow Conservative leadership candidates Leslyn Lewis and Roman Baber said on Twitter that they too wanted to be interviewed by Peterson.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 16, 2022.
-- With files from The Associated Press