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This article was published 24/7/2019 (355 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A People's Party of Canada riding association in Winnipeg has lashed out at a man it's calling a "terrorist," claiming he is the reason an Exchange District gallery owner cancelled a rally planned for Thursday.
The online war of words erupted Tuesday, a day before federal PPC Leader Maxime Bernier was scheduled to unveil the party's policy on "immigration, multiculturalism and Canadian identity" at a Toronto event.
"Our rally is cancelled because this guy terrorized the struggling gallery owner into cancelling our venue," said a post on the Winnipeg Centre riding association web page Tuesday.
It also posted a photo of local anti-racism activist and Fascist Free Treaty 1 organizer Omar Kinnarath next to an address and telephone number, saying, "This (is) the terrorist's details."
Monique Choiselat, who identifies herself as a manager for the riding association, posted the same "terrorist" accusation on her Facebook page Tuesday. It was later removed.
Neither Choiselat nor anyone from the party nationally responded to the Free Press' request for comment.
Kinnarath, who did not respond to a request for comment, said on social media that he contacted Jordan Miller, owner of Cre8ery Gallery and Studio, to let her know about the "blatant racism" and "anti-LGBT stance" of some of PPC's members.
Miller said she has no affiliation with the party and was renting the space for a "meet-and-greet" to generate revenue. The riding association said the gallery owner felt threatened.
"This terrorist shut down our rally to introduce our PPC candidate by ruining online the little woman who was renting us our venue," the web posting said. "He called this activity 'free speech.'"
In an interview Wednesday, Miller said she knows nothing about politics and was caught off guard when Kinnarath and other people contacted her asking her not to rent space to the PPC and run the risk of a boycott.
"I called Monique (Choiselat) and I said to her 'I'm scared of what's going to happen to my business. What if someone comes outside to rally and protest? It wouldn't take much for any angry person to light the building on fire,'" Miller said in the wake of the Jarvis Avenue warehouse fire nearby that destroyed the artwork of many of her friends.
"I told her my fears of a worst-case scenario," she said. Choiselat responded by denying the party was anti-immigrant or homophobic, said Miller. The response from friends and strangers in the arts community asking her not to host the PPC convinced her to cancel the event. She said it was the right choice, even though she said she's in favour of free speech and was conflicted about what to do.
"I do vote, and that is not a party I would be voting for anyway," she said, noting she has friends who are gay and immigrant and married to immigrants. She weighed the pros and cons and decided it was "a bad choice to say yes to this rental...It's not worth being attacked."
The PPC's candidate for Winnipeg Centre said Kinnarath's threat to boycott the gallery and Choiselat's "terrorist" response were both "extreme views" expressed by "two heated people." Yogi Henderson who lives in Calgary but grew up in Winnipeg said he didn't see the post on the party's Winnipeg Centre web page. "It's something we're going to have to learn from. It's not the kind of press we're looking to get involved in," said Henderson, who says he will be in Winnipeg 24/7 in the run up to the Oct. 21 federal election.
Steven Fletcher, the former Conservative MP and Independent MLA who is running for the PPC in Charleswood-St. James-Assiniboia-Headingley, contacted the Free Press to defend the post.
"The original sin is this person (Kinnarath) threatening a free and democratic activity and a business," said Fletcher. "What is ironic is this group (Fascist Free Treaty 1) calls themselves fascist-free yet what they're doing is exactly what fascists do... using severe bully tactics to prevent free and democratic activities," he said.
It's the second local controversy for Bernier's nascent party in recent days. A week ago, the entire board of the Elmwood-Transcona branch of the party resigned because, it said, too many supporters are "racists, bigots, anti-Semites, and conspiracy theorists." In an open letter to Bernier, they said: "Many more spread disinformation and distrust online via their personal and sometimes official party channels."
The former prospective candidate for that riding, Willows Christopher, said Tuesday he was aware of the "terrorist" accusation but declined to comment further.
Bernier, the MP for Beauce, Que., and cabinet minister under former prime minister Stephen Harper, founded the PPC last summer after his failed 2017 federal Conservative leadership bid.
A Winnipeg police spokesman said it was not an act of terrorism for Kinnarath to convince Miller to cancel the gallery rental.
The director of the Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology said far-right groups often label anti-racist activists as "terrorists."
"That's become a favourite trope of the far-right," said Prof. Barbara Perry, a sociologist. "We saw it here in Toronto after the Pride parade."
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Updated on Wednesday, July 24, 2019 at 12:33 PM CDT: Corrects reference to party response.
3:47 PM: Writethru