Politics

Liberal MP apologizes for tweet implying professor was racist

Liberal MP Chris Bittle is apologizing for implying that University of Ottawa professor Michael Geist was racist during a Twitter dispute.

Comments stemmed from dispute over recent funding controversy

Ontario Liberal MP Chris Bittle said he implied something that was unfounded and inappropriate in a moment of anger. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

Liberal MP Chris Bittle is apologizing for implying that University of Ottawa professor Michael Geist was racist during a Twitter dispute.

The tweet stemmed from an argument the two were having about a recent controversy over funding the government had provided to the Community Media Advocacy Centre (CMAC) for an anti-racism project.

Housing, Diversity and Inclusion Minister Ahmed Hussen pulled CMAC's funding earlier this week after one of the group's senior members, Laith Marouf, made antisemitic comments on social media.

In a series of tweets on Thursday, Geist, the grandson of Holocaust survivors, called on Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez to also take responsibility for the controversy, arguing Rodriguez is ultimately responsible for the program.

In response, Bittle accused Geist of being misleading, saying that the program fell under Hussen's portfolio and the minister had taken action and apologized for the controversy.

But in doing so, Bittle seemed to imply that Geist was being deliberately misleading because Hussen is black.

"At this point you are now deliberately misleading your followers… Is it because the Minister responsible looks like this?" Bittle wrote in a tweet that included a photo of Hussen.

Geist told CBC he was "stunned" to see Bittle's reaction and said it was "unbecoming of a member of Parliament."

"When Jews bring up concerns around antisemitism ... to have the inference that they themselves are somehow racist is incredibly troubling," Geist said.

Michael Geist said Bittle's comments were unbecoming of a member of Parliament. (Guillaume Lafrenière/CBC)

Bittle posted an apology to Geist on Friday and deleted the original tweet.

"Yesterday, in a moment of anger, I made an implication about [Geist] that was unfounded and inappropriate. I hold myself to a higher standard for the office that I hold and I apologize to Professor Geist," Bittle wrote.

When CBC reached out to Bittle's office for further comment, a spokesperson said the Ontario MP had admitted his comment went too far.

Geist said he would have preferred to see Bittle apologize to him personally but is happy the MP did so publicly.

"I'm at least glad that there seems to be a recognition that he went far past the line," he said.

CBC reached out to Hussen but his office declined to comment, pointing to Bittle's apology tweet. CBC also reached out to Rodriguez's office but didn't receive a response in time for publication.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Darren Major

CBC Journalist

Darren Major is a senior writer for CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. He can be reached via email darren.major@cbc.ca or by tweeting him @DMajJourno.

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