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Muslim group demands apology from Harper, chief spokesman over ‘terrorist’ comment

Stephen Harper speaks in the House of Commons on Jan. 27, 2014.

CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS

A national Muslim organization is demanding Prime Minister Stephen Harper publish a retraction and apology on his government website for a chief spokesman's comments that the group says linked it to terrorists.

The National Council of Canadian Muslims, which is now challenging Mr. Harper to prove this allegation, has filed a notice of libel saying it intends to sue Mr. Harper and Prime Minister's Office director of communications Jason MacDonald for comments he made earlier this month.

On Jan. 18, the PMO spokesman, dismissing comments from the Muslim group about the makeup of Mr. Harper's Middle East trip delegation, told Sun News: "We will not take seriously criticism from an organization with documented ties to a terrorist organization such as Hamas."

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The Canadian government has designated Hamas, headquartered in the Palestinian territories, as a terrorist entity.

Mr. Harper is named as a defendant in the threatened suit because, the council says, Mr. MacDonald "was acting as the representative and under the direction" of the Prime Minister.

The PMO declined to release any evidence supporting Mr. MacDonald's statement Tuesday. It also did not answer why it hasn't taken action if it believes the council is linked to terrorists.

"As this matter may be the subject of litigation, we have no further comment," PMO press secretary Stephen Lecce said.

Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, however, suggested Canadians turn to the Internet for answers. "I'd encourage any Canadian to Google the group in question and do some research on their own and come to their own conclusions," Mr. Baird told CBC's Power and Politics. Before a recent name change, the group was called the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations.

The Muslim council's executive director, Ihsaan Gardee, said his group has no ties to Hamas and said that if the government has proof, then it should make it public. "By maliciously attacking [the council] instead of addressing the substance of our legitimate concerns, the PMO is trying to intimidate and silence dissenting voices," he said.

"It is undemocratic and goes against everything Canadians expect from a responsible government."

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Mr. Gardee said he welcomes Canadians conducting research on his group, but cautioned that "just because the minister says to Google us doesn't mean everything on the Internet is true."

"We welcome and encourage Canadians to Google our organization. All of our work is a matter of public record."

He noted that last November, after legal action, a University of Ottawa professor was forced to retract and apologize for writings that said the organization National Council of Canadian Muslims believed in, and was supportive of, terrorism, among other things. This professor also took back his assertion that the council is connected to, and inspired by, the Muslim Brotherhood.

NDP multiculturalism critic Andrew Cash called the PMO comments "the type of smear tactic that have come to define the Conservative reaction to critics. It's offensive and divisive."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More

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