The Green Party candidate in Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke has withdrawn from Monday’s federal election after he made controversial comments comparing COVID-19 vaccination passports to Naziism during a recent debate.
A Green Party spokesperson confirmed to Global News in a statement that Michael LaRiviere has withdrawn his candidacy.
“We received a complaint last week and asked Mr. LaRiviere to apologize for and retract a statement he made during an all-candidates meeting. He declined and chose to withdraw as the Green Party candidate,” the spokesperson said Monday.
The controversy stems from comments made during a debate between candidates in the eastern Ontario riding on Saturday night.
In highlights of the YourTV Ottawa Valley debate streamed on YouTube, LaRiviere provides a response to a question about whether he agrees with governments encouraging COVID-19 vaccinations.
“I don’t agree with imposing any laws to that effect, but I do agree with educating people as to why they need to be vaccinated,” he began.
“I myself, I’ve been vaccinated, but I don’t want to walk around with a passport. Because that will be the beginning of, you know, the way I look at it is, the Gestapo and the German military during the Second World War, wanted people to be tattooed. This is the beginning of that step. We’ve already got an autocracy in Ottawa, we don’t have a democracy. And that troubles me,” LaRiviere said.
The Gestapo were a secret state police used by the Nazi Germany before and during World War II. Among the uses of the police were taking Jewish people to concentration camps during the holocaust, in addition to suppressing resistance to the Nazi Party’s authoritarian regime.
In a Facebook post from the Green Party’s Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke riding association, the former candidate’s comments at the debate were called “unacceptable.”
“We deeply regret Mr. La Riviere’s (sic) offensive statements and apologize sincerely for the distress his words have caused,” the post said.
LaRiviere spoke to Global News Monday afternoon and said he offered to the party to retract his statement, saying that he “regretted using it and… would be more careful in the future.”
But he said he was asked to go further with an apology that he said covered more than what his comments explicitly touched on.
“They wanted to drag in the Jews and how the Gestapo had affected the Jews. This was not about the Jews. This was about a vaccination passport and the Gestapo,” he said.
LaRiviere said his comments were meant to highlight his concerns of government control of residents’ day-to-day life, not specifically the Nazi persecution of Jewish people.
“I didn’t want people to get the wrong impression, but it had nothing to do with the Jewish people. And they wanted me to make a retraction with that in the statement. And that was a no-no in my view, because that would tie me to associating Jewish people with this particular use of the word,” he said, in regards to his use of “Gestapo.”
Global News asked whether the Green Party expected LaRiviere to include a reference to the Jewish people in an apology over concerns of anti-Semitism among its ranks, which the party has faced controversy over in the past. Green leader Annamie Paul is the first Black and Jewish woman to lead a federal party in Canada.
“That is not accurate. He was asked to apologize because his remarks were insensitive, offensive and hurtful,” the spokesperson said.
Global News then asked whether the party explicitly required a mention of Jewish people in the apology, but the spokesperson did not respond to that question.
The late withdrawal means LaRiviere’s name will still appear next to the Green Party on ballots in Monday’s election, but the spokesperson confirmed he is no longer associated with the party.
“If he is elected he can choose to sit as an independent or to represent another party. He will not represent the Green Party,” the spokesperson said.
LaRiviere, a transport pilot for 37 years, said he is not “delusional” to think that he will oust Conservative Party incumbent Cheryl Gallant, who has served as MP for the riding for more than two decades. But he said that if he is elected he would serve as an independent in Parliament.