Andrew Scheer can’t be tough on crime if he is soft on hate

The Conservative Party of Canada is “tough on crime.” Its website even has a section dedicated to this stance. 

Log on and behold the enormous black gavel pounding the bottom of the webpage, and right beside it, behold the capitalized phrase itself: “TOUGH ON CRIME” (in case you aren’t already convinced these guys mean business).

The strange thing is that for a party so tough on crime that it states its position in capital letters, its leader is arguably less than tough when it comes to a force that drives crime: hate.

Note that in February Tory Leader Andrew Scheer spoke at the same event as Faith Goldy — an Internet personality with white nationalist affiliations who once lent her voice to a Neo-Nazi podcast. 

Note that earlier this month Scheer neglected to include the words “Muslim” or “mosque” in his initial statement following the mosque attacks in New Zealand, when a white supremacist shot to death 50 Muslim people.

After a hefty dose of criticism (including some from the National Council of Canadian Muslims) Scheer produced a new statement that included both words, but it had the feeling of too little, too late. 

His initial decision to condemn the “attack on freedom” without specifically naming the faith group targeted was interpreted by some (myself included) to be a political manoeuvre by which Scheer could have his cake and eat it too: he could give the semblance of solidarity without offending the Islamophobes in his base. 

And then there’s Scheer’s legendary defensiveness. According to The Canadian Press, Scheer told attendees at the Manning Networking Conference this past weekend, that criticisms levelled at him on this issue are “completely baseless.” 

Ignoring the many ordinary Canadians who levelled those criticisms, he accused the Liberal party of inventing the controversy to “score cheap political points in a very disgusting manner.”

He also said: “When you look at statements I’ve made condemning hateful ideologies, those who would promote any type of superiority of one race or religion over the others, I condemn that unequivocally.”

When asked about his apparent refusal to use the word “Islamophobia” he denied that this is true and referenced a recent motion condemning the mosque attack that passed in the House of Commons. 

He said: “I reject anyone who would speak out based on Islamophobic principles, whether or not that’s somebody who’s trying to lump all people of the Muslim faith together or whether it’s people who are trying to antagonize elements of society to have a more negative reaction to those who practice that faith.”

It’s interesting: he rejects them and yet he speaks directly to them and on the same stage as them. February’s United We Roll event where Scheer and Goldy spoke respectively wasn’t only about pipelines and economic anxiety. 

According to the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, a non-profit that monitors hate groups, the rebranded United We Roll movement (previously Yellow Vest Convoy) is also home to many members who peddle in racist conspiracy theory and hate speech about Muslims, immigrants, government, and media.

None of this is to say that Scheer is responsible for any attack against any group. Crazy hateful people do crazy hateful things all the time absent the influence of politicians. 

But when they do these things it’s imperative that our leaders name and embrace the communities they target. 

It’s imperative that leaders do this immediately — not hours later after everybody else tells them to. And this one should be obvious: it’s imperative that they decline to speak at the same events as Neo-Nazi sympathizers. 

Scheer’s defensiveness in the face of wholly legitimate criticism this month is not only inappropriate; it undermines any genuine statement he does make condemning white nationalism. 

If he truly wants to prove to Canadians that he isn’t courting racist voters he should do what the Toronto Maple Leafs did earlier this month when defenceman Morgan Reilly was accused of uttering a homophobic slur on the ice. 

An NHL investigation cleared Reilly of the charge but Leafs management held a press conference anyway devoted entirely to the problem of homophobia in hockey.

Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas and Morgan Reilly weren’t defensive in the face of these accusations. They were appalled. The notion that people believed a member of the Leafs organization was capable of such behaviour was reason enough to make a heartfelt, formal statement supporting its LGBT fans. In Dubas’ words:

“Every time it’s even thought that those types of words are uttered in our facility or anywhere, we have to do our part to use this situation …to get rid of casual homophobia, vulgar homophobia, things that make people of any sexuality or sexual orientation feel unsafe or uncomfortable in our facilities.”

This is how you clear things up. Not by going on the defensive and certainly not by saying one thing and doing another. 

If Scheer is genuinely tired of people accusing him of turning a blind eye to bigotry it would serve him well to hold a press conference of his own where he ditches the attitude, condemns white nationalism in crystal-clear terms and apologizes for taking the same stage as Goldy. 

And if he doesn’t do this then he might want to remove the Tough on Crime stance from the Conservative party’s platform. 

Because in a world threatened by white supremacist violence, you can’t be tough on crime if you’re soft on hate.