Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff went ahead Thursday with an interview by a Sikh newspaper editor who once printed editorials praising the near-fatal beating of Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh.
The controversial editorial, however, written by Sikh editor and radio host Sukhminder Singh Hansra, was never discussed during the brief interview, with topics focusing instead on immigration and the so-called "ethnic vote."
Earlier Thursday, Ignatieff was questioned about the planned event at a press conference, on a day devoted mainly to taking his message to regional media. He said his campaign would evaluate the matter and then decide.
A statement was issued later in the morning, saying Ignatieff would be interviewed as planned by Hansra.
"To be sure, Mr. Hansra has said controversial things in the past, but he has an established mainstream presence both in his capacity as a journalist, [and] as a regular contributor in other mainstream media, including the CBC radio (As it Happens, The House and The Sunday Edition ) and other respected media outlets," the statement said.
The CBC's Terry Milewski asked Ignatieff about Hansra during a campaign stop in Gatineau, Que., Thursday.
Hansra wrote an editorial praising the brutal beating of Ujjal Dosanjh in 1985 and calling his attackers "the Guru's Beloved" for giving him a "good thrashing," Milewski reported.
Dosanjh, now a Liberal MP, called in the RCMP.
Hansra was editor of the weekly Sanjh Savera newspaper when it ran a front-page colour illustration of Sikh bodyguards' 1984 machine-gun assassination of former Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi under the headline, "honour the martyrs who killed the sinner," Milewski said.
"In other words, he explicitly endorsed the assassination of India's prime minister," Milewski added, reporting later on CBC News Network.
Hansra has met with Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, Conservative candidate and former immigration minister Jason Kenney. There are pictures of him meeting NDP Leader Jack Layton and Ontario Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty, Milewski said.
The Conservative campaign insisted Harper only met with Hansra for a photograph and not an interview.
During Thursday's interview, Hansra asked Ignatieff why he was criticizing Harper for targeting ethnic voters.
"What I don’t like is the distinction between ethnic and very ethnic Canadians," Ignatieff said. "We're all Canadians here."
"Mr. Harper wants to chop people up into little groups. I just think that’s the wrong way to go."
Ignatieff repeated a campaign claim that the Tories have cut back on family-reunification immigration.
"Family-class immigration ought to be the core of our immigration policy, because it’s tough to immigrate here sometimes," Ignatieff said. "You know, you’re on your own. And families look after each other. When families look after one another, they succeed together."
Harper and candidate's alleged Tamil Tiger links
Ignatieff's Conservative rival also found himself in an ethnic thicket Thursday, as he faced a question about his party's candidate in Scarborough Southwest. The Globe and Mail reported Thursday that television personality Ragavan Paranchothy, now known as Gavan Paranchothy, had taken steps to obscure his Tamil origins.
"It was as Ragavan Paranchothy that he hosted broadcasts on Tamil Vision International television and Canadian Multicultural Radio in Toronto," the Globe reported. "And … just last November, Mr. Paranchothy hosted a televised tribute to the Tamil Tigers."
Asked about the Tamil Tiger connection, Harper didn't address the candidate issue directly, but he said the Conservatives have strongly opposed the organization.
"We have taken a strong position against the Tamil Tigers, and we have made them a banned group under the [Anti-Terrorism) Act .… Our position is clear on [this]."
All parties are "searching for the ethnic, or as the Tories call it the 'very ethnic,' vote, particularly in close swing ridings of British Columbia and the Toronto region," Milewski noted.
In his response to the question, Ignatieff criticized the Conservatives over an email sent by a party organizer asking for people in "national folklore costumes" to appear in a photo-op with leader Stephen Harper at an event in Toronto Thursday.
Ignatieff said that ethnic groups do not like being treated as if they are going to "Disneyland."
"Canada isn't Disneyland. These are ethnic groups who do not want to be treated in this way. They want to be treated as Canadians first, last, and always," Ignatieff said.
"They take enormous pride in the dress that they bring from their homelands, but I think it's entirely inappropriate for Mr. Harper to say show up at my meetings in your colourful costumes, and we'll have a little Canadian Disneyland for the purpose of the press."
The Conservative Party distanced itself from the email on Wednesday afternoon. Then, addressing a reporter at a televised press conference in Beaupré Thursday, Harper added:
"We have never done that, and you've been to our rallies, and we have great representation. And we're getting better support than ever across all cultural communities in this country, and that is not how we do business. So, you know, I think that is just bizarre, and that's not our approach."