MP Cooper threatens to sue The Hill Times over column on House Justice Committee exchange; denies reading from Christchurch shooter’s manifesto

Conservative MP Michael Cooper, who is threatening to sue The Hill Times for defamation over an opinion column that strongly criticized his remarks to a witness during a House Justice Committee meeting on the Hill late last month, also denies that he read from the Christchurch shooter’s manifesto during that meeting.

A law firm hired by Mr. Cooper (St. Albert-Edmonton, Alta.) notified The Hill Times on June 12 that, “legal action is now being contemplated” over the column by human rights activist Farheed Khan that ran online on June 7 in The Hill Times with the headline, “Scheer’s speech on diversity doesn’t match his actions.”

The law firm, Alberta’s Guardian Law Group, said Mr. Khan’s column had defamed Mr. Cooper under Alberta law by saying Mr. Cooper had a “hostile and bigoted” reaction to Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council president Faisal Khan Suri, when Mr. Suri testified in front of the House Justice Committee on May 28.

The letter also said Mr. Khan’s column in The Hill Times had defamed Mr. Cooper by saying that he had made a “bigoted statement” during the committee meeting. The column did not identify a specific statement by Mr. Cooper. 

The letter from Mr. Cooper’s lawyers said the MP also did not read from the Christchurch shooter’s manifesto during the meeting, but instead was quoting from an American political website.

“This mischaracterization of Mr. Cooper’s actions is blatantly untrue [and] has brought him into public odium and contempt,” said the letter from Guardian Law Group. 

During the House Justice Committee’s May 28 meeting, Mr. Cooper told Mr. Suri that he should be “ashamed” for linking the rhetoric from conservative commentators to acts of violence, including those of the Québec City mosque shooter in 2017. 

“Mr. Suri, I take great umbrage with your defamatory comments, to try to link conservatism with  violent and extremist attacks.They have no foundation, they are defamatory, and they diminish your credibility as a witness,” Mr. Cooper, then a vice-chair of the House Justice Committee, said to Mr. Suri.

“You should be ashamed,” Mr. Cooper told Mr. Suri, adding, “with respect…,” before other members of the committee cut him off, and the committee moved in camera. 

Mr. Khan’s column took aim at Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer (Regina-Qu’Appelle, Sask.) for only giving Mr. Cooper what he called a “slap on the wrist”—removing him from the committee—after Mr. Cooper followed his words to Mr. Suri by reading part of the statement written by the Christchurch mosque shooter during the committee meeting.

The letter from Mr. Cooper’s lawyer said that Mr. Khan’s column was also defamatory because it said Mr. Cooper had read a passage from the Christchurch shooter’s manifesto. 

“Mr. Cooper did no such thing. To the contrary, Mr. Cooper was quoting from a piece written on, an American political website,” said the letter.

In response to inquiries for this story, Mr. Cooper’s lawyer, Jonathan Denis, told The Hill Times in an emailed statement last week, “Mr. Cooper again asserts that he was not quoting from the manifesto of the Christchurch attacker, but rather from a mainstream American political website,

“At no time did Mr. Cooper have the attacker’s manifesto in his possession. The original article stipulates that he ‘read a passage from the [74-page] Christchurch, New Zealand, attacker’s manifesto,’ which is patently false.”

“Mr. Cooper has no further comments at this time,” wrote Mr. Denis.

During the May 28 Justice Committee meeting, Mr. Cooper named the person who has been charged for the murder of 51 people at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, earlier this year, and read into the record words from the shooter’s written manifesto.

Mr. Cooper said, “Let me Mr. Chair, read into the record the statement of”—before naming the person who has been charged.

“…He left a 74 page manifesto, in which he stated”—said Mr. Cooper, who then read part of the shooter’s statement to the committee. 

Mr. Cooper apologized for quoting the shooter in a public statement issued afterwards, in which he condemned “all forms of racism.”

“I absolutely should not have quoted those words nor named the perpetrator,” he said in the statement. 

The House Justice Committee voted on June 4 to expunge the part of Mr. Cooper’s remarks in which he named the shooter and repeated part of the manifesto from the committee’s record. The Conservative members of the committee abstained from voting.

Mr. Scheer said in a public statement on June 1 that Mr. Cooper’s decision to quote part of the manifesto and use the shooter’s name was “insensitive and unacceptable;” that Mr. Cooper had been removed from the House Justice Committee as a consequence; and that he considered the matter closed.  

Andrew Scheer

 · Jun 1, 2019

I have spoken with Michael Cooper about comments he made at the Justice committee earlier this week. Having taken the time to review the incident, I have informed him that he will no longer sit on the Justice committee as a consequence. (1/2)

Andrew Scheer@AndrewScheer

Reading the name and quoting the words of the Christchurch shooter, especially when directed at a Muslim witness during a parliamentary hearing, is insensitive and unacceptable. Mr. Cooper has apologized. I accept his apology and I consider the matter closed. (2/2)

Mr. Cooper has also threatened legal action against a pair of his former law school classmates who told the CBC that Mr. Cooper had made a comment about “goat herder cultures,” and said that some cultures were not compatible with Canada’s “Judeo-Christian values,” during a law school class discussion in 2008.

Mr. Cooper told the CBC that he recalled saying that Canada had been founded on Judeo-Christian values, but denied he had made a comment about “goat herder cultures” and said his comments during the “heated” discussion had been mischaracterized.

Brock Harrison, Mr. Scheer’s communications director, told the CBC that “We understand Mr. Cooper will launch legal action against the individuals who have made these claims in order to clear his name and Mr. Scheer supports him in that effort.”

Mr. Scheer said on CBC’s Power & Politics program that he believed Mr. Cooper’s denial about saying “goat herder cultures,” and said the CBC story quoting Mr. Cooper’s former classmates was “unsubstantiated.”

Editor’s note: this story has been updated online to include comment from Michael Cooper lawyer, Jonathan Denis.