Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has criticized Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer over his response to a man who invoked the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory while asking a question at a town hall in Kitchener, Ont. on Thursday.
Scheer has countered by saying Trudeau’s criticism shows the prime minister is “desperate to try to change the channel from his own corruption scandal.”
The controversy arose after a man at Scheer’s town hall touched on the debunked Pizzagate theory over the course of a rambling two-minute question in which he criticized the Trudeau government’s decision to donate money to organizations like the Clinton Foundation.
Pizzagate is an unfounded conspiracy theory that claims Democrats in the U.S. harbour child sex slaves at a Washington, D.C., pizza restaurant. The rumour prompted a gunman to fire an assault weapon inside the restaurant in 2016.
“The Clinton Foundation is part of child trafficking and child sacrifice if you study it. It is in the Pizzagate,” the town hall attendee said to applause from the crowd. “How do we get that money back?”
Scheer responded by expressing concern about Trudeau using money from Canadian taxpayers towards “his own personal projects,” stating that the Clinton Foundation was just one of many examples of groups that received money from Trudeau’s government to promote “their own particular ideology.”
Canada donated $20 million to the Clinton Health Access Initiative in 2017. The money is to go towards helping young women in Nigeria with family planning.
On Friday, Scheer said that he didn’t correct the man on his Pizzagate reference because he didn’t hear it.
“I heard the question was related to the government’s — Justin Trudeau’s — decision to give a grant to the Clinton Foundation. That is what I answered,” Scheer said Friday in Rosser, Man.
“I didn’t hear anything about the other aspect.”
WATCH: Scheer says ‘Pizzagate’ is a ‘ridiculous’ conspiracy theory
Trudeau didn’t accept the explanation, however, saying that Scheer showed “that he simply doesn’t hear or doesn’t notice intolerant comments.”
“Someone made just a terrible comment about a bit of fake news — that is absolutely heinous in its substance — called Pizzagate,” Trudeau said during an armchair discussion at a Catholic teachers association meeting in Ottawa on Saturday.
“And [Scheer’s] response was, ‘Oh I didn’t hear that comment in the question.'”
Trudeau went on to attack Scheer for failing to acknowledge “some of the fringe elements” among the convoy of truckers who drove from Alberta to Parliament Hill in Ottawa to protest the lack of progress on pipeline projects.
Trudeau also took a jab at Scheer over the composition of his town halls, the prime minister appearing to suggest that Scheer only allowed supporters into the events.
“It would be nice if he let the actual public into these town halls, but that’s another thing,” Trudeau said.
WATCH: Trudeau says he regrets what led to Philpott, Wilson-Raybould departures
Scheer’s office countered Trudeau’s insinuation in a statement provided to Global News.
“Justin Trudeau is simply wrong. Mr. Scheer’s town hall events are completely open to the public. Nobody is refused entry at the door,” Scheer’s press secretary Daniel Schow said in an emailed statement.
He pointed out that the Kitchener town hall event was openly advertised to the public.
Schow added that Scheer “does not keep up to date on crazy conspiracies” and hadn’t even heard of the term “Pizzagate” prior to the controversy arising from the Kitchener town hall.
“Knowing now what it is, he obviously condemns the spreading of such dangerous misinformation.”
On Sunday, Scheer reiterated that he believes Pizzagate “is a ridiculous conspiracy theory” and the kind of “misinformation” that has no place in democratic dialogue.
He also said Trudeau’s criticisms were an attempt to deflect public attention away from the SNC-Lavalin scandal.
“Clearly, Justin Trudeau is desperate to try to change the channel from his own corruption scandal and so he is obviously trying to look at other things and make accusations that are not founded at all,” Scheer said at a press conference.
“He’s mire in his own controversy, of his own corruption, of his own abuse of power — so it’s not surprising to me that he’s going to try to deflect attention from his own lack of ethics and try to make accusations against other people.”
— With files from the Canadian Press