Power & Politics

Conservative senator apologizes for tweet citing Liberal MP's Saudi background

Conservative Senator Denise Batters apologized to Liberal MP Omar Alghabra Thursday for her choice of words in what some have interpreted as a racist tweet.

Tweet by Denise Batters, which she deleted, has led to calls for her resignation

Senator Denise Batters experienced a backlash on social media over what some have interpreted as a racist tweet about Liberal MP Omar Alghabra. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Conservative Sen. Denise Batters apologized to Liberal MP Omar Alghabra today for her choice of words in what some interpreted as a racist tweet.

"My intent was to suggest Mr. Alghabra's experience living in Saudi Arabia would give him unique insight about the difficult situation in which Canada and KSA find themselves," Batters wrote today in a follow-up to an earlier tweet questioning why Alghabra appeared on CBC's Power and Politics to address the diplomatic conflict with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

"I absolutely did not intend to suggest that Mr. Alghabra's birthplace or background has any impact on his ability to represent Canadians on this, or any issue. That is not what I believe, nor what I meant to convey.

"I apologize to Mr. Alghabra and to Canadians for my choice of words."

Batters deleted her tweet shortly after issuing the apology.

Senator Denise Batters said on Twitter that it may have been "interesting" for Power & Politics host Vassy Kapelos to ask Liberal MP Omar Alghabra whether "his birthplace being #SaudiArabia impacts this file for him." (Twitter)

Alghabra tweeted just after this post appeared that he had accepted her apology. "As the Senator told me, 'this is a lesson to all of us,'" said Alghabra.

"The senator called me and explained what she meant by it. I take her for her word," Alghabra said in an interview with CBC News.

Alghabra, who is a parliamentary secretary to Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland, appeared on Power & Politics Wednesday to discuss the ongoing diplomatic spat between Canada and Saudi Arabia.

Shortly after his appearance, Batters retweeted a clip of the interview, accusing the Mississauga MP of using government talking points and saying it may have been "interesting" for host Vassy Kapelos to ask Alghabra whether his birthplace "impacts this file for him."

Asked Thursday how he initially interpreted the tweet, Alghabra said, "I assumed that my place of birth, in her words, had an impact on my judgment.

"When she and I talked, she said that's not what she meant and that she said it had given me a certain perspective, which is obviously accurate. My background does give me a certain perspective."

Alghabra was born in Saudi Arabia to a Syrian family.

In response to Batters's original Twitter message, Alghabra tweeted, "Senator, I'm a proud Canadian who is consistent in defending human rights. How about you?"

Batters replied to Alghabra, saying she meant no offence and that she simply thought Alghabra would have "a unique perspective to offer."

The exchange quickly caught fire online, with several Twitter users condemning Batters. Liberal MP Adam Vaughan described the tweet as "straight up xenophobic bigotry" and called on Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer to expel Batters from caucus.

"Casual racism from a sitting senator. Unacceptable," tweeted Michael Solberg, son of former Conservative MP Monte Solberg.

"It is truly a sad day for the Senate, Canadian Politics and the country as a whole," said Twitter user Ray Leech. "You have the privilege of being a member of the Senate. It's the Upper Chamber not a Trump rally."

Further fallout

Batters wasn't the only Conservative to take heat for a controversial tweet about Alghabra today.

Conservative MP Blaine Calkins replied to Batter's initial tweet with a screen grab of a 2005 blog post that insinuated that Alghabra is an Islamist.

Conservative MP Blaine Calkins replied to Batter's controversial tweet with a screen grab of a 2005 blog post that insinuated that Alghabra was an Islamist. (Twitter)

On Twitter, Alghabra said he expects "this type of garbage from an online troll or bot" but not from an MP.

Calkins has since deleted his tweet and apologized for "any consternation" it caused.

"Thanks to everyone for pointing out the poor source I posted. I was unsure about what I was reading, and that was the information I found. I apologize for any consternation this tweet caused, and I was happy to take it down," said Calkins.

Alghabra told CBC News that Calkins tweet was "unbecoming" of a member of Parliament and that he did not expect a sitting MP to post such "garbage."

Conservative MP Blaine Calkins apologized for "any consternation" his now deleted tweet caused. (Blaine Calkins/Twitter)

"I was quite disappointed to see a sitting member of Parliament, somebody who has one of the highest offices in our country, tweet a message, unverified, that is known to be false that is known to be laced with innuendo and ignorance," said Alghabra.

"I hope that Blaine and other MPs realize the ramification of the words that they use and the weight of the office that they possess."