Politics

Trudeau accuses Conservative MPs of standing with 'people who wave swastikas'

During a heated exchange in the House of Commons Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused Conservative MPs sympathetic to the trucker convoy of standing with "people who wave swastikas."

Jewish MP calls Trudeau's comment 'unbecoming as a prime minister'

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responds to a question during Question Period on Feb. 16. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

During a heated exchange in the House of Commons Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused Conservative MPs sympathetic to the trucker convoy of standing with "people who wave swastikas."

The comment came in response to a question from Conservative MP Melissa Lantsman, who is Jewish. Lantsman, the MP for the Toronto-area riding of Thornhill, said Trudeau "fans the flame of an unjustified national emergency."

"When did the prime minister lose his way?" she asked.

Trudeau shot back.

"Conservative Party members can stand with people who wave swastikas. They can stand with people who wave the Confederate flag," he said, defending the government's decision to invoke the Emergencies Act to quell unrest in the nation's capital.

"We will choose to stand with Canadians who deserve to be able to get to their jobs, to be able to get their lives back. These illegal protests need to stop, and they will."

Trudeau's statement earned a rebuke from Commons Speaker Anthony Rota, who said all MPs, including the prime minister, should "use words that are not inflammatory in the House."

Some Conservative MPs supported protest

The convoy demonstrating in Ottawa was launched originally as a protest against the federal government's vaccine mandate for cross-border essential workers, including truckers. The policy demands that all Canadian travellers show proof of vaccination at a border crossing or face a quarantine period.

Other groups have since attached themselves to the movement, including some far-right and white nationalist elements.

A small number of the assembled protesters have displayed Nazi insignia, including the swastika and yellow stars of David, while others have flown the Confederate flag during these anti-government demonstrations. These racist symbols have been condemned by MPs of all party stripes.

Some Conservative MPs have supported the anti-mandate movement, saying it's time for the federal government to drop all of its COVID-related restrictions.

The party's interim leader, Candice Bergen, has posed for pictures with some of the protesters in Ottawa, while caucus members have championed the activists as patriotic Canadians justifiably concerned about limits on freedom during this health crisis.

Conservative MP Dane Lloyd, the great-grandson of a Second World War veteran, twice used his time in question period to ask Trudeau to retract his swastika remark and apologize.

On both occasions, Trudeau ignored Lloyd's request for an apology and instead defended the government's use of the Emergencies Act to put down anti-mandate protests.

Lantsman, a descendant of Holocaust survivors, rose on a point of order after question period.

"I am a strong Jewish woman. I have never been made to feel less, except for today, when the prime minister accused me of standing with swastikas," she said. "I would like an apology, and I think he owes an apology to all members of the House."

Trudeau did not respond to Lantsman's request.

In a later appearance on Fox News, Lantsman said Canada is increasingly divided "because of the prime minister's rhetoric."

Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre, a candidate for the party's leadership and a vocal supporter of the convoy, also jumped on Trudeau's remark. In a social media post, Poilievre said the comment was a "new low, even for Trudeau."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Paul Tasker

Parliamentary Bureau

J.P. Tasker is a senior writer in the CBC's parliamentary bureau in Ottawa. He can be reached at john.tasker@cbc.ca.

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