Stéphane Dion's gesture in the House offends mother seeking kids' return from Iran
Foreign affairs minister accused of giving 'thumbs down' during Alberta MP's statement
Alison Azer, whose former husband is wanted by Canadian police for taking their children to Iran 14 months ago, says she was offended after Foreign Affairs Stéphane Dion made a "disrespectful" gesture Thursday while another MP was raising her case in the House of Commons.
"I was truly disappointed to see the foreign [affairs] minister exhibit such unbecoming behaviour on such an important issue to Canadians," Azer told reporters on Parliament Hill after the incident, choking back tears when asked about Dion's gesture.
I think we deserve some respect.- Alison Azer
Conservative MP Michael Cooper, who has been assisting Azer in her attempt to bring her kids back to Canada, rose in the House before question period to make a statement about her case and to urge the government ramp up its diplomatic efforts.
While he was speaking, Dion allegedly gave him two thumbs down.
A Canada-wide warrant was issued last August for Saren Azer — a well-known doctor of Kurdish-Iranian descent — after he failed to bring his four children home to his ex-wife in Comox, B.C., following a court-sanctioned trip to Europe.
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"Today was one of many days I've sat in the [Commons visitors'] gallery. It was the first time I felt truly disrespected and dishonoured, not just on behalf of myself, but my children and my parents," she said. "And I expect more from this government. They can do more and they must do more — if not action, at least I think that we deserve some respect."
Azer met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau five months ago, Cooper said. But since then, her efforts to elicit more information from government have been rebuffed, the Alberta MP said.
"It's been 14 months since these children have been in harm's way," Cooper said.
"Alison has received absolutely no indication that the prime minister has done anything to help, nor has there been any progress in the case. It's time for the prime minister to demonstrate leadership, take action and make the return of these four Canadian children a priority," he added, prompting Dion's reaction.
'I need more courage' from Trudeau: mother
Dion later explained he used the gesture because he took issue with the "cheap shots" Cooper was taking at the prime minister, saying he was not directing it at Azer.
"When we don't accuse [Trudeau] of not caring ... we have results. We want to have results for this family. We want the children to be in the arms of their mother. I urge all my colleagues to stop doing politics," Dion later said in question period.
Azer said she tried to meet with Dion yesterday to get an update on her case, but he did not have time.
"No, they're not doing everything that they can," she said. "This has been very disappointing and distressing time. I have been as reasonable as a parent could be under such circumstances."
"The prime minister has not taken the active leadership that he promised me back in May," Azer later added in an interview with Rosemary Barton on CBC's Power & Politics. "The fact that we haven't seen more progress on the case is the result of that vacuum in leadership right from the top. I need to see more political will and courage from this government."
B.C. Conservative MP Ed Fast later rose on a point of privilege to ask the Speaker to admonish Dion for his actions.
"There's a lot of back and forth that takes place in the House, most of it, as you know, is good-natured," Fast said.
"Today, we were gobsmacked when one of our members here made a gesture here that was offensive. [We] were absolutely horrified to see the foreign affairs minister ... use a gesture."
The Speaker moved along without acting on Fast's interjection.
Liberal MP Omar Alghabra, Dion's parliamentary secretary for consular affairs, said he was saddened to see the case politicized and turned into a partisan "football."
"This is not helping in dealing with the mother's anguish. I can only imagine what she's going through and to raise this to a partisanship level doesn't help reassure the mother that we're all working on the return of her children."