A Hamilton lawyer who has been suspended as an adviser on Muslim issues and security for the federal government says his removal is politically motivated because he is supporting Justin Trudeau and the Liberals.
Minister of Public Safety Steven Blaney suspended Hussein Hamdani from the Cross-Cultural Roundtable on National Security this week.
Blaney's office is looking into questions raised by the French TVA network about politically charged statements it alleges Hamdani made as a university student, and allegations about radical organizations that it says Hamdani had associations with.
Blaney's office did not explain why it was taking the action now, when it acknowledges it has known about the allegations for "some time."
'That's not the Mr. Hamdani that I know.' — Dr. Myrna Lashley, Cross-Cultural Roundtable chair
But Hamdani told CBC News he believes the decision is politically motivated, and denies all the allegations outright.
"I've been vetted and I've received various levels of security clearance over the years. So to have this come out now, to me, it clearly has political motivations that are attributed to it," he said. All members of the roundtable are vetted by CSIS and the RCMP, he said.
"Perhaps they're not pleased that I'm very critical of Bill C-51," Hamdani said. "Perhaps the government is displeased that I have been supporting Justin Trudeau and the Liberals." Bill C-51 is the Conservative government's controversial proposed anti-terror legislation.
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In a statement, a spokesperson for Blaney called the allegations against Hamdani "very concerning."
"This individual's membership on the Cross-Cultural Roundtable on National Security has been suspended immediately pending a review of the facts. While questions surrounding this individual's links to radical ideology have circulated for some time, it was hoped that he could be a positive influence to promote Canadian values. It is now becoming clear this may not have been the case."
The suspension is a blow to the reputation of a lawyer who has been a prominent Hamilton leader, considered a moderate voice on Muslim issues and whom a local business magazine named in its 40 under 40 roundup in 2012.
Cross-Cultural Roundtable chair Dr. Myrna Lashley told CBC News she was shocked by the allegations.
"That's not the Mr. Hamdani that I know. I've never heard any of these things that was reported."
Former Hamilton mayor Larry Di Ianni also tweeted in support of Hamdani's work locally.
The TVA report says Hamdani's contribution to a 1996 document for groups hoping to start a Muslim Student Association on their campus was titled "Islamization [sic] of campus politics." He advocated for Muslim students to sway decisions on issues like same-sex marriage.
"It is the duty of the MSA to bring morality back into the campus. For example, the Student Union should not have to debate over endorsing legislation in favor of same-sex benefits, this issue should clearly be seen as immoral and thus voted against or ignored."
Hamdani told CBC Hamilton his views on that issue have evolved and the document is only about participating in the democratic process.
Lashley said he has said the same in previous discussions with her. "Back in his younger days, he might have thought that — but he's evolved," she said.
"He's very much for human rights on the roundtable."
'We need to look at the evidence'
The document raising allegations against Hamdani appears to have been originally circulated by French-Canadian Marc Lebuis, whose online magazine Point de Bascule, (the Tipping Point), targets what it calls Islamist activities in Canada, particularly in Quebec.
Lebuis told CBC News that Hamdani might be a "nice guy," but that doesn't mean he should be advising the federal government.
"This is not a personal issue and it's not about Hussein Hamdani per se. It's a national security issue," Lebuis said. "Right now, what we need is to look at the evidence. We need to have those in charge of the security of Canada to do due diligence and verify who they're dealing with and not qualify them because they're based on their character."
"It's not because somebody is nice that they're qualified to be able to give advice on the pulse of their own communities."
Lashley says the roundtable is made up of representatives from a wide swath of Canadian cultures, including Jewish, Muslim and aboriginal individuals, who "advise the minister on security issues."
Anyone who is on the committee is vetted, and has undergone a background check by both the RCMP and CSIS, she said, though she added she doesn't know the specific criteria used to clear someone.
Representatives from the minister's office did not immediately respond when asked that question.
Lashley said she couldn't speak about Blaney's decision to remove Hamdani from the roundtable, but she "obviously hopes he will be exonerated."