In the wake of the Christchurch, New Zealand, mosque shootings that claimed the lives of 50 people at prayer, Monday’s session at the Saskatchewan legislative assembly began with a member’s statement from Opposition Leader Ryan Meili condemning the attack and similar violence.
This became the dominant theme throughout question period.
Rural and Remote Health Minister Greg Ottenbriet and Highways Minister Lori Carr previously attended yellow vest rallies in their home communities of Yorkton and Estevan, respectively.
Meili asked if Premier Scott Moe still thought it was “no big deal” the ministers attended the rallies, given the anti-immigrant and Islamophobic connotations associated with yellow vests.
“I, we as the government of Saskatchewan condemn violence against any community no matter their faith or creed,” Moe said on the assembly floor.
Moe acknowledged Ottenbreit and Carr attended the rallies, but in opposition to energy policies like the carbon tax and Bill C-69.
When pressed on the group’s association anti-immigrant, Islamaphobic, and comments calling for violence against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Moe said the group can’t be painted with a broad brush.
“We should not paint all of these people with the same brush. Many of these individuals at these protests are voicing their concerns with respect to their job, and some of the headwinds these industries are taking,” Moe said.
“We should in no way paint all these individuals with the same brush due to comments by a few individuals in any area.”
Meili said you can’t separate the yellow vests from “rampant” comments online spreading anti-immigrant sentiment.
“At every one of their protests you see this anti-U.N. Migration Compact, which is just anti-immigration language. You see threats or violence or proposing violence against the Prime Minister. You see online, all the time, anti-Islam language,” Meili said.
“That’s the kind of folks that are attracted to the yellow vest movement. That’s the way that those views have been given space, and for the premier to be unwilling to distance himself from those events is irresponsible and really downright gross.”
Both Moe and Meili attended a pro-resource rally in January hosted by pro-oil and gas activists Canada Action. The event’s organizers banned yellow vests due to associations with the aforementioned outside elements. Moe spoke at the event, Meili was in the crowd.
When Moe was asked about posts on Facebook groups like Yellow Vests Canada, which often deal with anti-U.N., anti-globalist, anti-immigrant and anti-Muslimism posts, Moe said he had not visited the site or seemed to be aware of them.
“That’s a Facebook issue. We would ask them to take those types of comments down,” Moe said.
“There’s comments here today that I’m learning about that most certainly this government would not be supportive of with respect to immigration or immigrants; people that have come here from other areas – nor have we ever been,” Moe said.
The premier reiterated that his government condemns racist thoughts, actions and the “senseless” killings in New Zealand.
Meili said the presence of ministers at rallies associated with far-right extremism normalizes the viewpoints.
“This is getting momentum and it’s absolutely the responsibility of Scott Moe, of Andrew Scheer or anyone who’s been flirting with any of these movements to shut it down and show leadership,” Meili said.
Meili added the NDP met with Ihsaan Gardee, executive director for the National Council of Canadian Muslims last week.
He said they discussed adopting Jan. 29 as a day of action against hate and intolerance.
Moe said that Parks, Culture and Sport Minister Gene Makowsky also met with Gardee, and adopting that day is under consideration.