Stephen Harper is defending a Conservative ad campaign targeted at Chinese and Punjabi-speaking voters in Vancouver and Toronto that claims Justin Trudeau supports the sale of marijuana to children, the expansion of safe injection sites and the establishment of neighbourhood brothels.

A spokesperson for the Conservative leader said the party doesn't comment on its advertising strategies, but Harper defended the campaign.

"Justin [Trudeau] refuses to acknowledge the damage that drugs do to families and communities," Harper, referring to the Liberal leader, said in a written statement from his office. 

"He wants to allow the sale of marijuana in corner stores and increase the number of heroin injection sites, dangerously misguided policies that would only make drugs more accessible to our children."

However, Harjit Sajjan, the Liberal candidate for Vancouver South, disputed the messages in the ad, saying: "It's absolutely not true.

"I find it very disturbing that the Conservatives would actually turn to a tactic that goes beyond their fear and divisive tactics."

Campaign messages hit election battlegrounds

The campaign is running in Chinese and Punjabi-language newspapers, and radio stations in Richmond and South Vancouver, as well as Richmond Hill and Markham in Ontario — Toronto-area ridings with a large percentage of Chinese and Punjabi-speaking residents. 

They also happen to be former Liberal ridings that are now election battlegrounds for Conservative seats for the Oct. 19 vote.

Sajjan said it's clear the Conservatives are targeting the ridings with specific messaging for voters in the Chinese and Punjabi communities.

"They shouldn't be targeting these ads to anybody," he said.

Insulting to the community, says Indo-Canadian journalist

Journalists for local South Asian and Chinese newspapers say the political ads are offensive to the community. 

"It is quite insulting to the community that the Conservative Party might think that people can be manipulated," said Rattan Mall, editor of the Indo-Canadian Voice newspaper and website.

Mall says the South Asian community cares for a variety of subjects and targeting just one issue won't go very far when it comes to getting votes. 

To hear the full interview, listen to the audio labelled South Asian, Chinese journalists say political ads aimed at their community are insulting with the CBC's Rick Cluff on The Early Edition.

"They really can't play on one," said Mall. "They are well aware of the [marijuana] issue, and it's not easy to manipulate them."

But the political attack ads might have more of an impact on the Chinese community, says another local journalist.

"It's all a matter of strategy," said said Wallace Chan, host of Open Line on Fairchild Radio. "pretty sure Conservatives know that majority of Chinese are very concerned about marijuana and use this kind of message to scare people off to get them to continue to vote Conservative." 

Checking the facts

Sajjan said he supports Vancouver's supervised injection site, Insite, but that doesn't mean those types of services would start popping up in neighbourhoods.

Trudeau has also spoken out in support of supervised injection sites in the past — backed Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre's call to open four of them.

The Conservative Party, on the other hand, has repeatedly tried to shut down Insite, despite a Supreme Court ruling that closing it down would be a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Similarly, the party's tough-on-drugs approach has seen Harper speak out against easing marijuana laws on several occasions, even though the majority of Canadians say they would support such measures.

The Liberals have stated that, if elected, they intend to legalize marijuana for people over the age of 18. The NDP similarly said it would ease laws around the drug, although it would favour decriminalization rather than legalization. 

As for the advertisement's claim about brothels, in a written statement, the Conservative Party pointed out that Trudeau voted against Bill C-36, an anti-prostitution bill that had to be amended in response to the Supreme Court of Canada ruling saying it was unconstitutional. The Liberals have made no proposals to legalize brothels.

With files from Richard Zussman and The Early Edition