Politics

Scheer says he didn't hear question about Clinton 'pizzagate' lie during town hall

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said today he "didn't hear" a question about an infamous — and debunked — conspiracy theory connecting former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to a child sex ring during a town hall event in Kitchener, Ont. last night.

During a town hall Thursday, questioner linked Clinton Foundation to 'child sacrifice'

Federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer speaks during a press conference in Toronto on Thursday, March 7, 2019. He said he only heard certain parts of the man's question regarding the Clinton Foundation. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said today he didn't hear a question asked at a town hall event about an infamous — and widely debunked — conspiracy theory connecting former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to a child sex ring.

At one point during the event in Kitchener, Ont. last night, a member of the audience rose to ask Scheer a two-minute question touching on several subjects, including immigration funding and international aid. He then linked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to the mythical conspiracy known as "pizzagate," which gained traction around the 2016 United States presidential election.

"Trudeau gave $600 million to the Clinton Foundation. The Clinton Foundation is part of child trafficking and child sacrifice, if you study it. It's in the pizzagate," he said.

"The PM, if he knows about the foundation, should he be in jail for that one? Also, he needs to pay back the $600 million plus his trips to the Canadians."

Watch the townhall exchange

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer was asked about the government's contribution to the Clinton Foundation during a townhall. He later said he didn't hear a reference to "pizzagate." 5:12

The conspiracy theory accuses Clinton and her team of running a child sex ring out of Comet Ping Pong, a pizza shop in Washington, D.C.

Pizzagate is often cited in discussions about the real-life dangers of false news online. In 2016, a North Carolina man fired an assault rifle inside the restaurant as he attempted to "self-investigate" the unfounded internet rumours about Democrats hiding child sex slaves there.

While no one was injured in that incident, a U.S. judge told gunman Edgar Welch that his actions "literally left psychological wreckage."  Welch was sentenced to four years in prison.

Pizzagate — which the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia has called "a fictitious online conspiracy theory" — is largely believed to have gained momentum after WikiLeaks released emails from Clinton's campaign chairman, John Podesta, mentioning pizza parties and a fundraiser at the Comet restaurant. Some online communities theorized it was code for something more heinous.

In his response to the town hall questioner, Scheer did not say the pizzagate theory was false — although he did pick up on the Clinton Foundation angle to talk about Trudeau spending taxpayers' money on what he called "personal projects."

"Yes. Well, I appreciate your concerns on this," he replied.

"I can assure you that when you look at where Justin Trudeau has spent money, it's clear that a huge sum of the dollars that he is taken from Canadian taxpayers has gone to his own personal projects.

"You mentioned that the Clinton Foundation ... there are other examples where Justin Trudeau's government has given grants to hire people for groups that are, you know, advocating for their own particular ideology, specifically fighting against things like pipelines and building our infrastructure to be able to get our energy to international markets."

When asked why he didn't confront the conspiracy theory at the time, Scheer said he didn't hear that part of the question.

"I heard the question was related to the government's, Justin Trudeau's decision to give a grant to the Clinton Foundation. That was what I answered. I didn't hear anything about the other aspect that you just mentioned," he told reporters during a stop in Rosser, Man. today.

"I didn't hear that. I heard the Clinton Foundation part of the question, I heard other parts of the question, but I certainly didn't hear that."​

Watch: Scheer said he didn't hear pizzagate question

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer says he didn't hear a portion of a question about the Clinton Foundation mentioning "pizzagate." 1:05

The Liberal government has pledged $20 million over five years to the Clinton Health Access Initiative, which is affiliated with the foundation.

According to the Global Affairs website, the money is helping the initiative improve access to sexual and reproductive health services for women and girls in Nigeria.

A quick tally of the numbers posted to the government's website shows the previous Conservative government, of which Scheer was a part, actually contributed more to the initiative.

Going back to 2013, the Harper government spent nearly $19 million to help the initiative deliver vaccinations, $14 million on diarrhea treatment and about $460,000 to a fund tuberculosis research project on miners in African countries.

Scheer 'does not keep up with paranoid' theories

A spokesperson for Trudeau accused Scheer of promoting falsehoods, citing his attacks on the federal government's embrace of the UN Global Compact on Migration. Scheer has said he fears the document could exert an influence over Canada's immigration system — even though it is not a treaty and is not binding on the nations that support it.

Spokesperson Eleanore Catenaro also criticized Scheer for "sharing a stage" at the recent United We Roll protest with Faith Goldy, a former Rebel Media commentator who was let go from her job at Rebel Media after appearing on a podcast affiliated with the neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer.

Flowers and notes are left by well-wishers outside Comet Ping Pong pizza restaurant in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 9, 2016, where Edgar Welch, a North Carolina man, fired an assault rifle multiple times as he attempted to "self-investigate" the conspiracy theory known in the Twitterverse as pizzagate. (Jessica Gresko/Associated Press)

"It's no surprise Andrew Scheer refused to condemn this, given his clear history of promoting conspiracy theories and spreading misleading information, including his comments on the UN migration compact," said Catenaro. "He has also refused to condemn the hateful language at recent events on Parliament Hill at which he shared the stage with far-right groups."

Scheer's press secretary told CBC News today the Conservative leader "does not keep up with paranoid, American alt-right conspiracy theories and as such was not familiar with the term until it came up in the questioning today."

"Since learning about the pizzagate conspiracy, Mr. Scheer obviously believes it is ridiculous and dangerous, and that such conspiracies have no place in our political debate," said Daniel Schow in an email.

Trudeau also has been confronted with false allegations during his town hall tours.

During a stop in Saint-Hyacinthe, Que. in January, one questioner asked what the prime minister is going to do to prevent Shariah law from being imposed in Canada

"I can tell you sir that the law in Canada, even in Ontario, is not the Shariah law and will not be Shariah law," he said.

With files from the Associated Press

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