Saskatoon

2 PPC candidates tweet cartoon of Jagmeet Singh wearing turban with bomb on it

Saskatoon-Grasswood candidate Mark Friesen says he didn't notice the bomb and says it looks like a tuque. Fellow PPC running mate Rob Lussier says he doesn't remember sharing the cartoon.

Saskatoon-Grasswood candidate Mark Friesen says it looks like a tuque

Mark Friesen, left, poses with PPC Leader Maxime Bernier. Friesen said he didn't notice NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is wearing a bomb in a cartoon he tweeted, and won't take the tweet down. (markfriesen.ca)

A People's Party of Canada candidate in Saskatoon is coming under fire for sharing a cartoon photo on Twitter that depicts NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh wearing a turban with a bomb on it. 

Mark Friesen, the PPC candidate for Saskatchewan's Saskatoon-Grasswood riding, said he didn't notice the explosive device when posting the illustration to his feed Tuesday. 

"I explained this to a few of the people that are calling me a racist now: I didn't realize there was a bomb in Singh's turban," Friesen said Thursday. "If you just look at it, it just looks like a tuque, right?" 

The cartoon features four major party leaders, with Singh alongside Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and PPC Leader Maxime Bernier in a grassy field split with a line that demarks "left" and "right."

Trudeau is wearing a skirt and high heels, a Scheer speech balloon exclaims "Max is splitting the vote!" while Bernier, clad in lumberjack clothing, stands as the only candidate on the right, holding an axe.

On the far left, Singh is shown wearing a yellow turban with a black ball and a burning wick sticking out of it. 

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh attends a campaign event in Burnaby, B.C., on Sunday. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

"Here's a statement: This cartoon is obviously unacceptable," a spokesperson for the Singh campaign team said.

"Of course it's racist," said Evan Balgord, the executive director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, which tracks the comments made online by groups including the PPC. 

Social media users also responded to the post with alarm.

Fellow PPC candidate Rob Lussier, who is running in Manitoba's Brandon-Souris riding, retweeted the cartoon two weeks before, although he said he doesn't recall doing so now.

"I don't remember the cartoon. I could have just shared it without even thinking about that," Lussier said. "I'm usually quite attuned to that kind of thing because I'm a minority myself. Being a Métis and a gay person myself, I get a lot of hate and threats."

Explaining his intention

Friesen, a retired corrections officer, said he didn't know who created the cartoon before he shared it. 

"I wasn't really giving it much thought," he said. 

Friesen said he responded to the cartoon's larger message about the PPC being the only party on the right end of Canada's political spectrum. 

Friesen said he's keeping the post on his Twitter feed because it stokes discussion on Singh's initial reluctance to denounce a Sikh separatist group responsible for the 1985 Air India bombing.

"Let's have that discussion," Friesen said.

Balgord of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network said the cartoon appears to have first surfaced in a post on the "metacanada" Reddit thread in August 2018  

"It came out of and was trafficked by alt-right, neo-Nazi circles and did not originate with any commentary about [Air India] or anything of the sort that Friesen is using as his defence," Balgord said. 

'Now that's disgusting' 

Friesen's post came on Tuesday, a day before a video of a Montreal man telling Singh to take off his turban went viral. 

A man in Montreal told NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh he would 'look like a Canadian' if he removed his turban. After shaking hands the man said he hopes Singh wins. 0:27

"Now that's disgusting," Friesen said of that encounter, adding that the incident won't prompt him to remove his post.

"Two completely different situations."

Singh is scheduled to make an appearance in Saskatoon Friday.

It's not the first time a Saskatchewan PPC candidate has come under scrutiny for remarks made on social media in recent months. 

"Our country could use more hate speech, more offensive comments, more 'micro-aggressions', more violation of safe spaces with words and more critical thinking," Carlton Trail-Eagle Creek candidate Cody Payant wrote on his Facebook page and Twitter account on July 16.  

Bernier defended Payant and said he would not be removed as a candidate, adding that he felt Payant had been quoted out of context during media coverage of the post. 

Bernier's campaign office did not respond to requests for comment about Friesen's post Thursday.