Hundreds attend Pakistani celebration in park targeted in Conservative MP Bernier tweet

Members of Winnipeg's Pakistani community say a Conservative MP's controversial tweets helped draw hundreds to their Pakistan Independence Day celebration on Sunday.

Celebration in Jinnah Park comes after sign vandalized

Members of Winnipeg's Pakistani community hold up Pakistani and Canadian flags during a celebration of Pakistan Independence Day at Jinnah Park Sunday. (Rudy Gauer/CBC)

Members of Winnipeg's Pakistani community say a Conservative MP's controversial tweets helped draw hundreds to their Pakistan Independence Day celebration on Sunday.

The celebration at Jinnah Park came just days after Conservative MP Maxime Bernier took to Twitter to criticize the decision to name the park after Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of the modern state of Pakistan.

In the tweet Tuesday, Bernier suggested it was odd that Victoria, B.C. recently removed a statue of Canada's founder John A. Macdonald from the front steps of its city hall, while the City of Winnipeg dedicated the park to Jinnah, calling it an example of "extreme Liberal multiculturalism."

The park's sign was vandalized after media reported on the community's reaction to the tweet.

Masroor Khan helped organize Sunday's celebration at the South Pointe park. He says Bernier's tweet helped bring attention to Sunday's event and attract attendees from outside the city's Pakistani community.

"We can make new friends, we can educate them," he said. "We can create bridges and eliminate differences.

"It's a perfect opportunity to create new relationships strengthened on the basis of trust and respect."

Masroor Khan, who helped organize Sunday’s celebration, says Maxime Bernier’s tweet actually helped bring attention to the event. (Rudy Gauer/CBC)

Khan said the event — which was also held to celebrate diversity after Bernier's tweet — focused on multiculturalism, unity, harmony and peace.

"It will be a melange of different cultures here, not only Pakistani culture," he said. "It is a strictly Canadian event."

That inclusion was important for some living in the community like Melanie Stuve, who attended the park's naming ceremony earlier this year and says she felt out of place because most of the speakers spoke in the Pakistani language of Urdu at the event.

Melanie Stuve, who lives near the park, says she would have rather seen it named after a Pakistani-Canadian. (Rudy Gauer/CBC)

She says she would have rather seen the park named after a Pakistani-Canadian.

"The fact that it was named after someone in another country really doesn't make any sense to me — I don't feel a connection to that," she said.

"If they did want to name it after someone Pakistani, it would have been nice to be named after someone who had, you know, made a difference here in Canada."

Others, like area resident Sheng Lu, said they don't have a problem with the park's name.

What he does take issue with, said Lu, is Bernier's tweet.

South Pointe resident Sheng Lu says he takes issue with Maxime Bernier's tweet. (Rudy Gauer/CBC)

"I don't think it's fair, if you're the person that represents a lot of people, for you to express your own views that may not align with the people you represent," said Lu.

"I personally think that doesn't represent the majority of people that live down here. On this street alone, every house is a different culture, different race, and we're all friends."

The celebration was attended by politicians including Winnipeg South Liberal MP Terry Duguid, city councillors Janice Lukes and Brian Mayes, and Ontario Conservative Sen. Salma Ataullahjan, who is Pakistani-Canadian.

Ataullahjan is among members of the Conservative party who have tried to distance themselves from Bernier following his tweet about the park and others he made last weekend, roundly disparaged for stoking racist and xenophobic tensions.

Ontario Conservative Sen. Salma Ataullahjan, who is Pakistani-Canadian, attended the event and has been critical of Maxime Bernier's tweets. (Rudy Gauer/CBC)

She called Bernier's tweets an "effort to create divisions amongst Canadians," and said she was heartened to see the turn out at Sunday's event.

"The fact that this is called Jinnah Park, how does this spoil anyone's enjoyment of this park?" she asked.

"I am thrilled [at the turn out] because it's a show of strength. We are Canadians and we chose Canada… we love Canada."

With files from Erin Brohman