Alberta politicians distance themselves from far-right German politician event
Christine Anderson spoke at private Calgary club while on cross-country tour of Canada
Elected MPs and MLAs in Alberta are distancing themselves from a German member of the European Parliament who attended an event in Calgary this month at one of the city's most prominent downtown venues.
Christine Anderson, a member of Germany's Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, went on a cross-Canada tour that ended last Friday in Montreal. She made a stop in Calgary and made an appearance at a dinner event held at the Calgary Petroleum Club on Feb. 18.
Anderson gained a profile, especially among anti-vaccine Canadians, after she accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of civil rights violations during the trucker convoy protests when he attended the European Parliament in Brussels.
At the event at the Petroleum Club, Anderson was presented with a white cowboy hat by Artur Pawlowski, a Calgary-based preacher whose clashes with authorities over pandemic health rules have made news in recent years.
Anderson's cross-Canada tour has made waves, especially within the federal Conservative caucus.
When photos emerged last week of Anderson posing with three Conservative MPs — Niagara West MP Dean Allison, Oshawa MP Colin Carrie and Haldimand–Norfolk MP Leslyn Lewis — Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre's office issued a statement calling Anderson's politics vile, racist and hateful.
The statement added "it would be better if Anderson never visited Canada in the first place."
In Calgary, Mayor Jyoti Gondek also raised questions about the visit.
"Please allow me [to clarify] that neither [Tourism Calgary] nor [Calgary Stampede] gave a white hat to Christine Anderson. And I think it's pretty clear that I don't endorse her views in any manner," Gondek wrote.
"It'll be interesting to see what [the Calgary Petroleum Club] has to say about hosting the event."
The Calgary Petroleum Club did not respond to requests for comment on Monday, but in a statement shared with CBC News on Wednesday, its president said it was not the host of the event.
"Although we provided the facility for that event, we did not host the event, but we still acknowledge the concerns that have been raised," Carey Arnett said in a statement.
The Calgary Petroleum Club is a downtown private social club that often plays host to events and meetings which number in the hundreds. The club initially offered membership primarily to members of the area's local oil and gas industry, though it has since broadened its membership base.
"The Petroleum Club shares the deeply-held values of our members and our community. We have never, and will never, tolerate any form of discrimination, and we encourage respectful freedom of expression," Arnett added.
"The Petroleum Club will be accountable for reviewing the concerns expressed and for reviewing how decisions about future events will be made. Any new event-screening guidelines or policies will be transparently communicated and responsibly applied."
Please allow me clarify that neither <a href="https://twitter.com/TourismCalgary?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@TourismCalgary</a> nor <a href="https://twitter.com/calgarystampede?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@calgarystampede</a> gave a white hat to Christine Anderson. And I think it’s pretty clear that I don’t endorse her views in any manner. It’ll be interesting to see what <a href="https://twitter.com/Calpeteclub?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Calpeteclub</a> has to say about hosting the event.—@JyotiGondek
A spokesperson with the governing United Conservative Party says its caucus members didn't attend the event, and that Alberta Premier Danielle Smith has never spoken with Anderson. A spokesperson with the Alberta NDP said its members had also not attended the event and Alberta Party Leader Barry Morishita confirmed to CBC News that no candidates from his party were there.
CBC News also requested comment from all nine sitting Calgary-area MPs (one seat is currently vacant).
Four Conservative Party MPs — Jasraj Hallan, John Barlow, Ron Liepert and Len Webber — responded to confirm they, too, had not attended the event, though others did not respond to a request for comment.
Duane Bratt, a political scientist at Mount Royal University in Calgary, said it was important for Alberta politicians to distance themselves from Anderson for much the same reasons that federal politicians did.
"I just find it appalling that any Canadian politician would be unaware of who the AfD is, and would support something like this," Bratt said.
Alternative for Germany has long been controversial
Anderson is a member of the Alternative for Germany Party (AfD).
The group has been accused of downplaying the crimes of the Holocaust and, sometimes, employing rhetoric "tinged with Nazi overtones."
In widely publicized comments from 2018, AfD founder Alexander Gauland said Hitler and the Nazis were only "a speck of bird poop in more than 1,000 years of successful German history." The group has also been placed under surveillance by Germany's intelligence agency as a suspected extremist group.
Anderson was pictured during her time in Canada posing with members of the far-right Diagolon organization, which has been described by the Ontario Provincial Police as an extremist group.
"I had a blast doing it. I was told, they are comedians and literally made a mockery of this whole government agenda," she told the right-wing media group Rebel News last week.
James Turk, director of the Centre for Free Expression at Toronto Metropolitan University, said the Calgary Petroleum Club, as a private organization, has every right to invite a speaker like Anderson in a democratic society, though that will mean bearing criticism.
"The Calgary Petroleum Club is welcomed in our democratic society to host whomever it wants. I think it's a terrible idea for them to do it," Turk said in an interview.
"That's the other part of freedom of expression. You can do things, but then you have to deal with the consequences of your choice."
With files from Colleen Underwood and Alistair Steele