Politics

Ousted Liberal candidate says party was aware of his online comments for weeks

Ousted Liberal candidate Hassan Guillet admits to posting online about a Hamas-aligned activist, but says the party was well aware of his comments before they withdrew his nomination.

B'nai Brith, Conservatives allege Hassan Guillet posted anti-Semitic comments online

At a news conference Wednesday, Imam Hassan Guillet said he and his team are exploring all options after the Liberals terminated his candidacy in a Montreal riding. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Ousted Liberal candidate Hassan Guillet admits to posting online about a Hamas-aligned activist, but says the party was well aware of his comments and were even working on a public relations plan before they withdrew his nomination.

Last week, the Liberal Party dumped Guillet as a candidate in Quebec after a Jewish human rights group accused him of making a number of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel statements.

In a statement posted to its website Friday, B'nai Brith Canada alleges Guillett congratulated a Hamas-aligned activist, Raed Salah, upon his release from a "prison of occupied Palestine" and prayed that he would one day succeed in liberating "all of Palestine." The group said he described Salah as "frontier-fighter."

The group also said it found a since-deleted Facebook post from 2016 in which Guillet allegedly wrote "the Zionists control American politics."

The group said it reached out to the Liberal Party more than a week ago to make it aware of their allegations against him. The Conservative Party also called for his withdrawal. 

Later that day, the Liberal Party said Guillet's "insensitive comments" don't align with the party's values and revoked his candidacy in the riding of Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel.

Guillet held a press conference in the riding on Wednesday, sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with supporters. He said the party was aware of the contents of his Facebook page since at least Aug. 8 and already had discussed an action plan that involved reaching out to the Jewish community.

Guillet, a member of the Council of Quebec Imams who gained national attention after delivering a speech in Quebec City honouring victims of the Quebec mosque shooting, said he did congratulate Salah after he was released from prison because he had protested the closure of a Jerusalem mosque, but insisted he wasn't aware of his background.

Liberals say decision is final

"The party either knew or should have known what it contained. Why, then, if these words were so problematic, why was my candidacy ... accepted?" he said. "One is entitled to ask the question, was it incompetence or bad faith?

"I am not anti-Semitic. On the contrary, I campaigned and I will always campaign against all forms of racism, including Islamophobia and anti-Semitism."

Guillet said a member of the Liberal Party approached him Friday and said he could resign for personal reasons — or the party would withdraw its support.

The Liberal Party isn't changing its mind.

"Following an internal review, the Liberal Party of Canada took the appropriate steps to remove Mr. Guillet as the Liberal candidate for the riding of  Saint-Léonard—Saint-Michel. That decision is final," said party spokesperson Parker Lund in an email Wednesday.

Neither is B'nai Brith Canada.

"Today's press conference only confirms our position that Hassan Guillet is not fit to carry the Liberal Party banner," said Michael Mostyn, the group's chief executive officer.

"We are satisfied with our role in exposing his anti-Semitic statements, and disappointed that he spurned an opportunity to retract them."

With files from the CBC's Peter Zimonjic

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