A Conservative senator is apologizing after coming under fire for what critics called a “shameful” tweet questioning why a Liberal parliamentary secretary, born in Saudi Arabia, wasn’t questioned about his place of birth while speaking for the government about the deepening diplomatic dispute with the kingdom.
On Wednesday, Liberal MP Omar Alghabra appeared on CBC’s Power & Politics in his capacity as parliamentary secretary for the minister of foreign affairs. During the appearance, he provided the government’s response to recent tensions with Saudi Arabia that began on Sunday night after the kingdom launched a volley of attacks in response to criticism from Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland over the kingdom’s arrest of women’s rights activists.
Not long after, Conservative Senator Denise Batters tweeted that he should have been asked whether being born in Saudi Arabia affected the file for him.
Following intense backlash, Batters announced Thursday afternoon she was deleting the original tweet and apologized.
She said she had not meant to suggest Alghabra having been born in Saudi Arabia had “any impact on his ability to represent Canadians on this, or any issue.”
Alghabra, who was most recently elected to represent the riding of Mississauga Centre in 2015, was born in Saudi Arabia in 1969 but is of Syrian descent.
He moved to Canada at the age of 19 to train as a mechanical engineer and later worked for the Canadian Arab Federation.
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He was first elected to Parliament in 2006 in Mississauga, served as the Liberal immigration and natural resources critic, then lost the seat in the 2011 election before winning it back.
Now, his role focuses on consular affairs and he’s been a vocal advocate for the government’s efforts to resettle Syrian refugees fleeing the civil war there.
In response to Batters’ original tweet, he had brushed off her suggestion that his place of birth was relevant to the discussion and called himself a “proud Canadian.”
He tweeted following the apology that he had accepted it and thanked supporters.
Criticism of Batters had continued into Thursday afternoon, including from one former conservative politician.
Thomas Lukaszuk, a former Alberta Progressive Conservative MLA who also served as deputy premier and immigration minister, slammed Batters.
Lukaszuk was born in Poland in 1969 and moved to Canada at the age of 13.
He likened Batters’ remarks to the infamous “old stock Canadians” comment by former prime minister Stephen Harper during the 2015 campaign.
International affairs experts who have been prominent voices on the dispute with Saudi Arabia over recent days also criticized the tweet, along with the executive director of Amnesty International Canada, and one of the leading voices behind the No Fly List Kids campaign.
Constitutional law professor Carissima Mathen also called the tweet “shameful.”
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has refused to comment on the matter despite repeated requests.
Earlier this year, he ejected Senator Lynn Beyak from the Conservative caucus after Global News reported she had published 100 letters supporting her defence of residential schools, many of which were included racist or anti-Indigenous sentiments.
He said in a statement he had asked her to take down the letters but she refused.
“Racism will not be tolerated in the Conservative Caucus or Conservative Party of Canada,” Scheer said at the time.
Global News will update this story if responses are received.