Liberals turf Que. candidate over aboriginal comments

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff turfed a Quebec candidate Wednesday after it was revealed the man made disparaging remarks about aboriginal people.
André Forbes, centre, met with Liberal MP Dénis Coderre, right, in the Manicouagan riding Jan. 29, 2011. (Métis de la Cote Nord)

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff turfed a Quebec candidate Wednesday after it was revealed the man made disparaging remarks about aboriginal people.

A news release by the NDP earlier Wednesday accused Liberal candidate André Forbes of making disparaging remarks about First Nations and Innu people. The release says he's a former leader of l’Association des Droits des Blancs, the Association for the Rights of Whites, in Sept-Iles, Que.

In a statement Wednesday afternoon, Ignatieff said Forbes has been informed he is no longer a Liberal candidate in the eastern Quebec riding of Manicouagan and that his comments "have no place within the Liberal Party of Canada."

"The Liberal Party of Canada has always stood for equality among all citizens, including First Nations, Métis, Inuit, and non-aboriginal Canadians," he said. "We categorically condemn any comments that seek to divide Canadians on the basis of their culture or ethnicity."

Forbes reportedly referred to aboriginal people as "featherheads" in an interview with L'actualité published in October, 2004.

"Do you know how much a featherhead costs?" Forbes is quoted as saying by the article's author, Jean-Benoît Nadeau.

"That’s the brutal question I was asked by André Forbes, president of the Association for the Rights of Whites of Sept-Îles, in September of 2002, at the height of the controversy surrounding the agreement in principle with the Innu community," Nadeau wrote.

"For you, it’s 25 grand; for a prisoner, 50 grand; for an Indian; 100 grand," he quoted Forbes as saying. 

In a 2002 story in Le Soleil, the paper reports Forbes said that governments recognized aboriginal rights over those of white people.

"This is heinous politics which brings social tensions, which leads to what is happening in Israel," the paper reported.

Tough, not racist: Forbes

In an interview with Radio-Canada, Forbes says the comments were tough, not racist. Asked specifically about some of the remarks, Forbes stood by them.

Asked whether he got the Liberal Party into hot water, Forbes said it was the NDP who got the party in trouble.

A spokesman for Ignatieff said the party "undertakes a thorough vetting of all candidates."

"In the case of Mr. Forbes, it is clear that an error occurred in this vetting process," Marc Roy said. 

NDP calls for Ignatieff apology

Earlier Wednesday, Ignatieff said he was shocked at the remarks, but that candidates deserved a chance to defend themselves.

NDP candidate Thomas Mulcair says it's totally unacceptable for Ignatieff to have a candidate with a track record like Forbes's. And he says Ignatieff shouldn't have been so surprised to find out about the remarks.

"I was in Manicouagan riding earlier this week and everyone up there knows what his history is and what the statements are he's made in the past," Mulcair said.

Forbes is now a member of the Cote-Nord Metis council. He joined the federal Liberal riding association in May, 2009, after four years with the provincial Liberals. Forbes was nominated as the federal Liberal candidate in August, 2009.

But Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe says if the reports are true, the remarks are unacceptable.

Forbes's name was removed from the list of candidates on the Liberal website Wednesday morning.