MP’s remarks ‘very disrespectful’

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A Tory MP’s condemnation of the “beheading” of a Queen Victoria statue in Winnipeg last summer in the same terms as protesters displaying swastikas and antisemitic imagery on Parliament Hill has been met with disgust by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 02/02/2022 (304 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A Tory MP’s condemnation of the “beheading” of a Queen Victoria statue in Winnipeg last summer in the same terms as protesters displaying swastikas and antisemitic imagery on Parliament Hill has been met with disgust by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.

On Tuesday, AMC Grand Chief Arlen Dumas said comments made by Portage—Lisgar MP Candice Bergen in the House of Commons the day before equated people who carry Nazi flags to those who vandalized statues in the wake of unmarked graves being discovered at former residential schools.

“Nothing can be further from the truth,” Dumas said in an interview with the Free Press. “And comparing those individuals to Nazis is absolutely incorrect.”

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas.

On Monday, responding to a call by Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino to denounce those inciting hatred and using racist and antisemitic imagery while protesting COVID-19 vaccine mandates for cross-border truckers in Ottawa, Bergen said: “We all condemn hateful and destructive acts by a few, at any protest.”

“Whether it’s beheading the statue of Queen Victoria in Manitoba… whether it’s burning churches, whether it’s wearing blackface, whether it’s Hezbollah flags or Nazi flags, we all condemn this,” Bergen said in the chamber.

During a 2021 Canada Day protest at the Manitoba Legislative Building, the statue was pulled down and its head thrown in a nearby river.

Dumas said Bergen’s statement has no purpose other than to distract from her support of the trucker protest and its apparent tolerance for participants who embrace far right, and racist beliefs.

The comparison further traumatizes First Nations people still reeling from the ongoing discovery of unmarked graves at former residential school sites across Canada, while serving as an example of systemic discrimination, Dumas added.

“It’s quite alarming and very disrespectful.”

By highlighting the toppling of the Queen Victoria statue, University of Manitoba adjunct professor of political studies Christopher Adams said the Manitoba MP was appealing to negative attitudes held by some towards Indigenous protest, while playing down legitimate concerns surrounding the demonstrations in Ottawa.

Adams said leaders in support of the anti-vaccine mandate movement must tread carefully, particularly if demonstrations escalate or become violent.

“It doesn’t help to point fingers at other protests when things get out of hand,” Adams said. “Candice Bergen is walking a line in which she has to be very careful, and I don’t think she’s walking it very well right now.”

A request for comment from Bergen’s office was not immediately returned.

At least one Manitoba politician who publicly supported the protest, including an intermittent blockade at the U.S. border crossing near Emerson, has already been demoted.

On Monday, Premier Heather Stefanson removed Borderland MLA Josh Guenter as legislative assistant to Health Minister Audrey Gordon, after he posted his support for “freedom-loving Canadians” rallying on Highway 75 and blocking traffic.

A spokesman for the Progressive Conservatives said Guenter was not available for an interview Tuesday but remained a member of caucus.

Guenter had previously expressed his opposition to vaccination requirements, and Stefanson had to demote the Tory backbencher to maintain a coherent message from government, Adams said.

“In some ways, this is the premier taking a stance,” he said. “I would point out the fact that (Alberta Premier) Jason Kenney is in a terrible situation trying to get the border reopened in Coutts, Alta.

Conservative MP Candice Bergen during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

“Stefanson does not want to see something grow to that dimension in Manitoba.”

Meanwhile, the sentiment among municipal leaders in the Pembina Valley surrounding provincial and federal counterparts’ support of anti-vaccine mandate demonstrations was mixed.

Altona Mayor Al Friesen declined to comment directly on Guenter or Bergen’s participation in rallies against COVID-19 vaccination requirements.

“Our community is spending more time encouraged and enthused by the fact that our emergency room is back at our health-care centre,” Friesen said. “That’s probably generated more conversation than that (protest).”

However, Friesen said political rhetoric that likens Indigenous protest to those carrying Nazi flags does not advance his community’s efforts.

“We’re committed to working with First Nation neighbours to create a positive relationship and environment, and we’re focused on that,” he said.

Morden Mayor Brandon Burley said to use the suffering of Indigenous people for political purposes was wrong and the anti-vaccine mandate movement has not denounced the racist, homophobic, separatist and extreme elements of its cause.

“There’s clearly no comparison,” Burley said. “It’s a false equivalency and a distraction from the real issues.”

Meanwhile, Winkler Mayor Martin Harder said he was disappointed to see Guenter demoted and expected better from Stefanson.

“What he was doing is listening, and everybody has an opinion, and I think it’s a sad day when in this country we can’t have an opinion anymore,” Harder said, adding he has high regard for those participating in the demonstrations, barring a “few oddballs.”

“I think we see that the freedoms in the country are being challenged on every front.”

danielle.dasilva@freepress.mb.ca

Danielle Da Silva

Danielle Da Silva
Reporter

Danielle Da Silva is a general assignment reporter.

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