Politics

NDP wants Steve Bannon debate cancelled

The federal NDP is calling on organizers of a Toronto debate series to cancel an event which is set to include U.S. President Donald Trump's former strategist Steve Bannon.

Appearance by 'provocateur' inappropriate after Pittsburgh shooting, MP says

A debate between former White House adviser Steve Bannon, left, and David Frum should be called off in light of the mass shooting in Pittsburgh, according to the NDP and MP Charlie Angus. (Joshua Blanchard/Sean Gallup/Getty images)

The federal NDP is calling on organizers of a Toronto debate series to cancel an event that is set to include U.S. President Donald Trump's former strategist Steve Bannon.

The party said having Bannon participate in the Munk Debates is inappropriate after the death of 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue this past weekend. 

"I ask the Munk Foundation to cancel its invitation out of respect for the victims in Pittsburgh," NDP MP Charlie Angus told CBC News, in French. 

"It isn't acceptable to give provocateurs like Mr. Bannon the opportunity to present their extreme views," he said.

An NDP spokesperson later confirmed Angus' views reflect those of the party. 

Bannon is scheduled to debate conservative commentator David Frum on Friday evening at Toronto's Roy Thomson Hall about "the rise of populism."

Bannon will be arguing in favour of the resolution: "The future of Western politics is populist not liberal." Frum will argue against. The event was announced in early September.

Angus said Bannon "feed[s] divisions in our society," contributing to a climate where Muslim and Jewish communities are being attacked.

Fellow NDP MP Nathan Cullen would not say if he's against Bannon's appearance, but noted it raises the difficult issue of protecting freedom of speech while mitigating the possible impact of harmful speech. 

"We've seen so tragically the effects of those in politics, in public discourse, when they spread hate that others pick up that language and turn it into actions," Cullen said.

Critics have attacked Bannon for stoking racial divisions and advocating for far-right ideas, both inside the White House and during his time heading the Breitbart News Network.

Bannon once described Breitbart as "the platform for the alt-right." But while admitting the website attracts racists, homophobes and anti-Semites, he has vowed he doesn't hold those views.

'Part of our democracy'

Despite the criticism, the organizers don't appear to be backing down.

Rudyard Griffiths, chair of the Munk Debates, sent a statement Tuesday morning saying the organization looks forward to the event. He added that substantive debate helps the public better understand society's challenges.

"For over a decade, the Munk Debates have provided a neutral public forum to discuss challenging issues and ideas. In this context, the rise of populist politics in western societies was an obvious topic to tackle at our upcoming debate," he wrote.

"We believe we are providing a public service by allowing their ideas to be vigorously contested and letting the public draw their own conclusions from the debate. In our increasingly polarized societies we often struggle to see across ideological and moral divides."

Liberal MP Adam Vaughan, who represents that area of Toronto, said he would have preferred if Bannon hadn't been invited, but added it's not for politicians to decide who can speak at events.

Vaughan said offering Bannon a platform won't help people understand populism. Rather, it "inflames problems and exaggerates issues."

"He's intentionally provocative. We've seen that dangerous people don't need much provocation to do some pretty serious damage," said Vaughan. "The attacks against religious institutions even in Toronto are intensifying."

Maxime Bernier, leader of the new People's Party of Canada, sided with freedom of expression.

"It's part of our democracy," he said in French. "People who we don't share the same opinion are nonetheless welcome to have a debate."

Bernier said he doesn't share all of Bannon's ideas and that the timing of the event is not very good in light of the events in Pittsburgh.

The interim leader of the Bloc Québécois, Mario Beaulieu, said freedom of expression should be given precedence — though there should be no invitation to hatred or violence.

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