Manitoba MLA calls asylum-seeker claims a 'drain on society' in Twitter reply

A Manitoba MLA is facing criticism for a comment he made on social media in which he referred to claims made by asylum seekers in Canada as a "drain on society."

Emerson MLA Cliff Graydon offered 'sincere and unequivocal apology,' will take sensitivity training

Manitoba PC MLA Cliff Graydon appears to have since deleted the comment, in which he said "drain on society" in response to a tweet about asylum seekers in Canada. (Thomas White/Reuters)

A member of the Manitoba Legislature is facing criticism for a comment he made on social media in which he referred to claims made by asylum seekers in Canada as a "drain on society."

Shortly before 5:30 a.m. on Jan. 31, Progressive Conservative MLA Cliff Graydon (Emerson) replied to a tweet about asylum seekers' claims in Canada that referred to claimants as "illegals."

Graydon replied to the tweet, saying, "Drain on society."

The comment appears to have since been deleted.

Graydon made the comment in a Twitter response on Jan. 31. (CBC)

In an email to CBC News, Progressive Conservative caucus chair Wayne Ewasko denounced the remark.

"We have been made aware of some unacceptable comments made or retweeted by Mr. Graydon. These tweets do not reflect the views our caucus and our government," Ewasko wrote Tuesday.

Shortly after 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, Graydon tweeted about the issue, saying he would take sensitivity training.

"Above all political debates must be respected. This is a standard that I've not met on social media, as a result I will be taking some sensitivity training while limiting social media activity. I wish to offer my sincere and unequivocal apology for any offensive I've made."

Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew said both Graydon and Premier Brian Pallister should come forward to address the remark.

"I'm surprised that the premier would invest a lot of confidence in somebody who would say something like that. I think it's important for the MLA to clarify whether they hold these alt-right views, and more importantly the premier ought to let Manitobans know whether or not there's a place in his caucus for these alt-right statements," Kinew said.

He also pointed to some comments retweeted by Graydon that he described as "unbecoming," including criticism of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Some of the retweets on Graydon's page include a description of Trudeau as a "traitor," and one referring to him as "Turdeau."

Kinew said he didn't want to legitimize Graydon's statement by getting into an argument about the facts.

"I think the better response is just to say that's not who we are as Manitobans. I know that's not who we are as NDP, and I would like to hear the premier say that's not who they are as PCs."

'It's totally wrong'

The most recent public data from the Canada Border Services Agency suggests RCMP intercepted almost as many people crossing the Manitoba-U.S. border in late 2017 as they did in 2016. Many people cross near Emerson, about 98 kilometres south of Winnipeg.

A total of 67 and 38 people were picked up in October and November 2017 respectively, down from 66 during each of those months in 2016. Just under 1,000 asylum seekers crossed into Manitoba between January and November of last year. At least 435 crossed in 2016.

Carol Husband, the woman who posted the original tweet, told CBC News in a message she's never met Graydon, but said she's "grateful he is an [MLA] who takes Canadians' tax dollars into consideration." She also expressed concerns about security as asylum seekers arrive.

Tom Denton, executive director of administration and sponsorship at Winnipeg's Hospitality House Refugee Ministry, said people who walk across the border aren't breaking the law if they make a refugee claim, based on Canada's legal obligations under the Geneva Conventions.

He said it's unfortunate Graydon responded to the tweet the way he did.

"It's not accurate, because people come here as refugees, as immigrants, many other ways they arrive here in Canada and they make their contributions as they always have," he said.

"We're dealing here with a complex issue, and it has moral implications. You can't manage things like that with a tweet."

Denton said the party caucus had the proper response.

Raymond Djimasee Ngarboui arrived in Canada as a refugee and now works for Winnipeg's Community Education Development Association. He is also a student at University of Winnipeg. (Julianne Runne/CBC)

Raymond Djimasbe Ngarboui arrived in Canada as a refugee and now works for Community Education Development Association, in addition to studying project management at the University of Winnipeg and volunteering in his community. He said Graydon's remark left him speechless.

"Because what he said, I can say that it's totally wrong. But I also have to be tolerant with him, to say that it's maybe because of some ignorance," he said.

"If I take my case, or I take any refugee case who ... arrived here, and if that person was not deported or if that person was accepted to remain in Canada, it means the person, that person, does deserve to be here, on this land."

When refugees arrive in Canada they bring their skills and education with them, he said.

  "When they come here and they go back to school maybe for one year or two years in order to update their knowledge and then to be ready to serve the country or to serve the province or to serve the city, I think it's a plus."

Greg Janzen, reeve of the Rural Municipality of Emerson-Franklin, said large groups of asylum seekers were a strain on community resources in early 2017, but that changed after the community, the CBSA and the RCMP developed a system to respond.

"Maybe some of the wording [in Graydon's tweet] was wrong, or maybe not 100 per cent right," Janzen said. "I can only speak to Mr. Graydon's constituents and our municipality — it has been a strain on resources here but I think things have been handled quite well overall. So to say it's draining us, I wouldn't go to say that far."

At one time, some people in the community shared the sentiment expressed in Graydon's tweet, Janzen said. He feels that's not the case anymore, although residents still don't want to see people crossing the border in cold temperatures.

Janzen said he and Graydon communicate often but he hadn't spoken to him about the tweet.

"I think that might be a little bit of frustration on maybe the MLAs, because maybe they feel that … they have to foot the bill for all the medical expense," Janzen said.

"I don't know. Maybe it's a little bit of frustration that nothing has changed in a year … federally, any laws or anything."

With files from Holly Caruk, Rignam Wangkhang and Bryce Hoye