Sign vandalized after MP Maxime Bernier calls out Winnipeg park for 'extreme multiculturalism'
Pakistani group wants to send message to Bernier and his supporters after 'hurtful, saddening' act
Days after Conservative MP Maxime Bernier singled out a Winnipeg park named after a Pakistani leader in an attempt to demonstrate that multiculturalism has gone too far, the park's new sign was vandalized.
Masroor Khan, who campaigned to give the new park its name, was told Friday that the sign bearing that name — Jinnah Park — was knocked off its perch and left lying against a tree.
The discarded wooden stumps suggest the sign's poles were sawed off.
"It's very hurtful and saddening to see," said Khan, standing metres from where the sign once stood in Winnipeg's South Pointe community.
He wants to send a message to Bernier, his supporters and everyone else in Canada that hatred has no place in this country. The city's Pakistani community will host a celebration of diversity at the park on Sunday.
"We should be giving a message of peace and love as a revenge, as an answer," said Khan.
In a tweet posted Tuesday, Bernier suggested it was an odd dichotomy that Victoria would take down a statue of Canada's first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, as Winnipeg recently dedicated a park to Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of the modern state of Pakistan.
Bernier described it as an example of "extreme Liberal multiculturalism."
The former Conservative leadership contender also argued that the partition of India, which led to the creation of Pakistan in 1947, killed nearly one million people. Bernier's remarks, made on Pakistan Independence Day, came after a series of his tweets last weekend was roundly disparaged for stoking racist and xenophobic tensions.
He has since defended himself by tweeting he did not intend to criticize diversity itself, but rather "ever more of it."
Members of his own party have tried to distance themselves from the controversial MP, including Ontario Conservative Sen. Salma Ataullahjan, who is Pakistani-Canadian.
She said she's received hateful comments after suggesting her colleague's remarks were not merely offensive, but an attempt to divide Canadians of Pakistani origin from other Canadians.
Some detractors told her to leave the country and, in the worst comment, a newspaper columnist insisted she betrayed her great-grandfather, who fought for India's independence from British rule prior to the creation of Pakistan.
"People who follow Maxime, who have other agendas, are taking it to the next level and this needs to stop," she told CBC News on Friday.
"If a small corner in a park is named after somebody, how is that offensive? How does that lead to abuse? This has to stop somewhere."
After receiving pictures of the sign's damaged foundation on Friday, she blamed "divisive rhetoric" for prompting the vandalism.
Ataullahjan also said the untoward attention clearly inflamed some people who are critical of the country's diversity.
"There's a lot of people who will just get incited by this kind of stuff and that's exactly what happened," she said. "What I was afraid of has happened."
Bernier did not respond Friday to a request for comment.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer walked back from Bernier's comments earlier this week when he said the Quebec MP does not speak for the party on any issue.
Although Khan feels attacked by the targeted vandalism, he said is not threatened because he knows the act embodies the opinions of only a few people.
He says his neighbours are welcoming. Only days ago, Khan said he and other Pakistanis attended the inauguration of Shaheed Bhagat Singh Park in Bridgwater Trails, named after a revolutionary who fought for India's independence. Indian-Canadians who supported that naming bid attended the grand opening of Jinnah Park this May, he said.
"We're building in harmony for a better Canada."
Winnipeg police said as of late Friday afternoon, it has not received a police report about the vandalized sign, which has been cleaned up by city staff.
In response to Bernier's remarks, people of all cultural backgrounds have been invited to Jinnah Park, south of Tim Sale Drive at Northern Lights Drive, beginning at 4 p.m. local time on Sunday for a show of Canada's diversity, hosted by the Pakistani Students' Association and the Pakistani Association. The event will include live music, bouncy castles and ethnic foods.
Khan expects hundreds of people to attend. He said the formal ceremony will start at 6 p.m.
- An earlier version of this story said that Sen. Salma Ataullahjan's great-grandfather fought for Pakistan's independence. In fact, he fought for India's independence from British rule prior to the creation of Pakistan.
Aug 18, 2018 9:22 AM CT