Trudeau appears at Islamic rally despite human rights organization’s appeal
December 23, 2012 | Joanne Hill - Correspondent
TORONTO – According to Justin Trudeau, those who expressed concern over his appearance Saturday night at a controversial Muslim event taking place over the weekend in Toronto were doing it to spread fear and prejudice.
The Liberal Party leadership hopeful took a swipe at his critics in a veiled reference to B’nai Brith Canada, the Muslim Canadian Congress, Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney, MP Marc Garneau and others in his keynote address at the Reviving the Islamic Spirit (RIS) Conference Saturday night.
“There are already too many forces in the world that drive us into separate camps, that isolate us, and make us suspicious of one another. Yesterday, protesters tried to prevent me from speaking at a school because of my stance defending gay marriage and women’s rights. And as you know, some conservatives tried to stir up controversy about my appearance here today. They tried to appeal to people’s fears and prejudices, the very things that this gathering was founded to overcome,” Trudeau told hundreds of people at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.
“Now, I respect and defend their right to express their opinions, but I want you to know that I will always stand up to the politics of division and fear. It is short-sighted to pit groups of Canadians against one another. It may make some feel good for a little while, or even work politically in the short term, but it is no way to build a country, least of all this country. It is not who we are.”
Although the audience cheered and applauded when Trudeau criticized “the politics of division and fear,” they did not respond in kind to his comment about supporting gay marriage and women’s rights.
Some of the seating at the conference was segregated by gender. A woman named Mona Sharkawy complained on Twitter that she and her husband were ejected from the conference because they had sat in the men’s section. She wrote that they had only done so after discovering there were no seats available in the family section. In one of her Tweets, she said of Trudeau, “Wonder if he knows what he is supporting?!”
In the weeks leading up to the event, Trudeau had refused B'nai Brith's request for a meeting to discuss the Jewish human rights organization's serious concerns about some of the sponsoring organizations as well as some of the speakers featured at the conference such as one Islamic scholar who has written and spoken approvingly of wife-beating.
Trudeau’s snub of B’nai Brith reportedly took Kenney by surprise. According to the Toronto Sun, Kenney “told QMI Agency he was taken aback by Trudeau’s refusal to meet with B’nai Brith and urged the Liberal leadership hopeful not to ‘flippantly’ dismiss the group’s request to meet.”
The troubling positions that have been professed by some of the conference’s speakers in the past were not mentioned by Trudeau in his speech.
Nor did he mention the purported connections between one of the conference’s original sponsors and Hamas.
IRFAN-Canada withdrew its financial support from RIS after bloggers raised the alarm and Garneau told the media he would not attend the conference precisely because of IRFAN-Canada.
The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) revoked IRFAN-Canada’s charitable status in 2010 because, according to the CRA website, its “analysis of the audit information has led the CRA to believe that IRFAN-Canada provides support to Hamas, a listed terrorist organization. Our findings indicate that IRFAN-Canada provided over $14.6 million in resources to operating partners that were run by officials of Hamas, openly supported and provided funding to Hamas, or have been listed by various jurisdictions because of their support for Hamas or other terrorist entities.”
IRFAN-Canada is reportedly appealing the CRA’s decision.
In his speech, Trudeau spoke about Prime Minister Wilfred Laurier and emphasized that “a country can be great, not in spite of its diversity, but because of its diversity.”
Trudeau began his speech with, “As-salamu alykum,” and ended with, “may peace, mercy and blessings be upon you.”
When speaking about the people who have come to Canada throughout the country’s history and have worked to find common ground with people of other faiths, Trudeau also quoted from “the Holy Qur’an.”