The Liberals are facing calls to revoke funding granted through the Canada Summer Jobs program to an Islamic organization whose leader Conservatives have accused of spreading “hatred” by calling for Israeli soldiers in Gaza to be sent home in “body bags.”
Over the last two years, the Liberals have approved the Islamic Humanitarian Service for more than $50,000 in federal grants.
It was also funded by a Conservative MP under the former Stephen Harper government prior to the comments in question — though received substantially less.
Peter Braid, the former Conservative MP for the riding, approved $5,966 in funding for two jobs through the program in 2015, while Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre was the federal employment minister overseeing the Canada Summer Jobs program.
Poilievre retweeted a tweet by Conservative Senator Linda Frum earlier this month in which she criticized the decision to grant funding and called the group “vicious Jew haters.”
He told Global News the government should refuse to fund the group in future given the comments and revoke any funding set to go to the group this year.
“Sheikh Shafiq Hudda’s comments are despicable. We should have zero tolerance for anti–Semitism and incitement of violence,” Poilievre said.
“If he had made these comments while I was Employment Minister, I would have banned any group associated with him from receiving Canada Summer Jobs funding. What’s disturbing is that Justin Trudeau is now aware of these comments and refuses to strip away summer jobs funding from Sheikh Shafiq Hudda.”
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Sheikh Shafiq Hudda, who runs the organization, gave a speech at a Quds Day rally in Toronto on June 9 that called for “the eradication of the unjust powers, such as the American empire, such as the Israeli Zionists.”
“The same body bags that you have caused for the Palestinians, your army, the Israeli Defense forces will leave from Palestine in those same body bags.”
Hudda did not specifically reference eradicating Jews in his speech and said calling for the eradication of the state of Israel should not be considered anti-Semitic.
“Why, you’re saying that it’s anti-Semitism? It’s anti-Judaism? Then I would say why are my Jewish brothers and sisters here today and every year?” he said.
“It’s not a matter of Semitism or anti-Semitism, it’s a matter that the government of Israel, the state of Israel has committed acts that no other country and no other nation, no other entity has committed. Against innocents, against children, against the vulnerable, against the elderly. You will see them, everywhere around you. Those who are the most vulnerable get attacked by the Zionist.”
Global News made several attempts to contact the Islamic Humanitarian Service over the course of a week to request clarification of its leader’s comments as well as whether the organization itself supports them, and how much money it had requested in grants through the program for this year.
The organization did not respond.
Former public safety minister Steven Blaney also condemned the funding of the group, which is registered as a federal charity, and questioned whether it should have been approved.
Blaney characterized the decision as “a case of incompetence.”
When asked whether he believed the previous funding of the group was a mistake, he did not say.
“Conservatives strongly condemn hate speech in all its forms and believe that those who engage in terrorist activity and advocate genocide belong in prison, not cashing government cheques,” Blaney said in a statement provided to Global News.
Veronique Simard, press secretary for Employment Minister Patty Hajdu, said the grant amount for 2018 is still subject to change and is not yet finalized.
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She did not say whether the government considers comments such as those made by Hudda as grounds for revoking a group’s funding.
“We unequivocally condemn anti-Semitic, homophobic, Islamophobic and hate-filled speech of all types across this country. Such statements are unacceptable in Canadian society. Canada is a welcoming, diverse country of a broad range of views and perspectives, but we do not allow hate speech and we do not allow the incitement of hatred or violence,” Simard said.
“What the application process for prospective employers for the Canada Summer Jobs Program requires is for applicants to attest that the organization’s core mandate, and the student job, do not encompass work that seeks to undermine Canadians’ rights.”
In 2016, the group was approved for $24,815 to create eight jobs.
In 2017, it was approved for $28,444 to create six jobs.
The riding of Waterloo, where the funding was granted to the group, is held by Liberal MP and House Leader Bardish Chagger.
Chagger took part in an interfaith lunch event hosted by the Islamic Humanitarian Service in December 2017 where she was photographed with Hudda.
Several other MPs, including Conservative MP Harold Albrecht and Liberal MP Marwan Tabbara, appears to have posed for photos with Hudda at similar events over the last four years.
There is no evidence available online of similar public comments by Hudda prior to those made at the Quds Day rally this year.
When asked whether Chagger planned to re-assess attending events with Hudda in light of his remarks, a spokesperson did not say.
“Minister Chagger is a long-time supporter of Interfaith Grand River, an organization that promotes dialogue among different traditions, civic leaders, police services, school boards, hospitals and other service organizations in the Waterloo Region, leading to greater understanding and respect,” said director of communications Mark Kennedy in an email to Global News.
“The Islamic Humanitarian Service has a long history of working with impoverished people from around the world including in Canada and they host IGR and community leaders for the annual interfaith dinner which Minister Chagger endeavours to attend, such as in 2017 when this picture was taken with Shafiq Hudda and his family. ”
A spokesperson for Albrecht told Global News he would take a different position, saying, “Mr. Albrecht will not be attending any future events with the Sheikh.”
It is not the first time the Canada Summer Jobs program has been the subject of controversy.
Last year, a series of articles detailed how the program was being used to allocate funding to anti-abortion groups, including the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, known for publicly displaying grisly images of aborted fetuses.
While the funding had in many cases also been allocated to such groups under the former Conservative government, the fact those groups were still getting public funds under a government that prominently branded itself as pro-choice immediately sparked criticism.
As a result, the government announced in December 2017 it was changing the rules for the grant program.
Employers seeking funds through the program now have to attest that their core mandate respects the values underlying the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as other rights.
“These include reproductive rights, and the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, race, national or ethnic origin, colour, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression,” the attestation reads.
A legal challenge of that attestation by an anti-abortion group is currently before the Federal Court.