The NDP says Premier Brian Pallister owes Manitobans an explanation for his absence from Monday night’s vigil for the 49 shooting victims in Orlando, Fla.

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The NDP says Premier Brian Pallister owes Manitobans an explanation for his absence from Monday night’s vigil for the 49 shooting victims in Orlando, Fla.

Pallister also missed question period and forced the postponement of executive council estimates. No explanation was offered for his absence Monday.

 The worst mass shooting in U.S. history targeted the Pulse nightclub, a gay bar, early Sunday.

"Premier Pallister is not available today. Minister (Rochelle) Squires will be speaking at (Monday night’s) vigil on behalf of the government. Premier Pallister will be back in the legislature (Tuesday)," Pallister’s spokeswoman, Olivia Billson said in a prepared statement.

When asked why she went in Pallister’s place, Squires, who is the minister of sport, culture and heritage, said he was "unavailable."

Interim NDP Leader Flor Marcelino said Manitobans and the LGBTTQ community deserve a better explanation than Pallister is "unavailable."

"The premier has his personal life, of course. We don’t know why he is not here today. If it is for personal reasons, I will respect that. If it is for government business, the people of Manitoba deserve to know," Marcelino said.

"I don’t consider (the answer) to be open and transparent."

The vigil, hosted by Pride Winnipeg, was held at the steps of the legislature Monday evening. Mayor Brian Bowman and other community leaders attended.

"We invite all Manitobans who believe in equality to join us," Pride Winnipeg said in a statement sent Sunday.

Squires offered condolences to the families of the victims of Sunday’s shooting, adding she has a close friend who is a member of the LGBTTQ community who lives in the United States. As news of Sunday’s horrific events broke, her thoughts immediately went to him.

"I want to do what I can to ensure that all men and women in our country and south of the border are ensured their liberties and their safety," Squires said after question period.

"Our government wants to extend a heartfelt sympathy and assurance to everyone in the Manitoba LGBTTQ community that their safety, their security and their liberty to live as they choose is assured by our government."

 Seddique Mateen, the Orlando shooter’s father, said his son, Omar Mateen, became angry a few months ago when he saw two men kissing in Miami.

The White House and the FBI portrayed the killer Monday as an apparent "homegrown extremist" who espoused support for a jumble of often-conflicting Islamic organizations.

 Karen Busby, a professor of law at the University of Manitoba who has won awards for activism within the LGBTTQ community, said she can forgive Pallister’s absence considering the short notice. However, she took issue with a statement sent on his behalf Sunday evening that made no mention of homophobia or the LGBTTQ community.

"I don’t understand why he wouldn’t acknowledge that it is a homophobic act in some way. Obviously it was an act aimed at queer people, so why not acknowledge that?" she said. "This is the worst atrocity that has happened to queer people since the Nazi extermination. This wasn’t a random act, it was an act aimed at queer people."

She pointed to other statements on the massacre, made by Republicans in the United States and interim federal Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose, which also didn’t mention the LGBTQ community.

"You wouldn’t talk about the Montreal Massacre without mentioning women were killed and it was a misogynistic act," she said, referring to the murder of 14 women at École Polytechnique in 1989 by Marc Lépine.

"What it signals to me is that politicians think they will get more votes if they are not supportive of queer communities."

kristin.annable@freepress.mb.ca