Saks Calls on O’Toole to Condemn ‘Vile’ Theories; Conservative Tweets Hail Party’s Record; O’Toole Calls Out Liberals on IRGC

Dec. 17, 2020

By RON CSILLAG

Newly-minted Liberal MP Ya’ara Saks (York Centre) has written to Opposition Leader Erin O’Toole asking that he condemn “vile antisemitic theories” surrounding billionaire philanthropist George Soros “promoted” by some Conservative MPs.

Yaara Saks
Yaara Saks

“Since the onset of the pandemic, several members of your caucus have promoted baseless conspiracy theories and hateful rhetoric,” Saks wrote in her letter to O’Toole on Dec. 14.

“I refer to the misinformation around George Soros and the vile antisemitic theories about the World Economic Forum. To date, you have yet to publicly denounce this behaviour or reprimand your members,” Saks wrote.

The latest episode took place in the House of Commons on Dec. 8 when someone called out “George Soros” as Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland was speaking.

Following question period, Liberal MP Omar Alghabra said it was Conservative member John Brassard (Barrie-Innisfill) who had shouted Soros’s name.

“Maybe he wants to explain what he said here in the chamber,” Alghabra said.

Soros is a frequent lightning rod for antisemitic tropes and conspiracy theories. A Hungarian Holocaust survivor, he’s a heavy funder of liberal causes and a favourite target of the far-right, which accuses him of helping fellow financiers plot a global takeover in a “new world order.”

Freeland wrote about Soros during her previous career as a journalist and has met with him since entering politics.

After being accused by Alghabra, Brassard was defiant.

John Brassard
John Brassard

“There was nothing in what I said that was in any way antisemitic, and I am not going to sit here and take what they are doing in this situation lightly,” he told the House.

“I encourage you, Mr. Speaker, to listen to what was said. There was nothing in there that was in any way antisemitic, and I am not going to sit here and take what they have to say.”

In August, British Columbia Conservative MP Kerri-Lynne Findlay apologized after retweeting a video of Freeland interviewing Soros when she was a journalist with the Financial Times in 2009.

Findlay said Freeland’s closeness with Soros should alarm every Canadian, and that Freeland listened to him “like student to teacher.”

Findlay said she had “thoughtlessly” shared the video, whose source “promotes hateful conspiracy theories…I have removed the tweets and apologize.”

In her letter, which does not mention Brassard or Findlay by name, Saks said “this kind of misinformation amplifies the rise in antisemitism and antisemitic conspiracies that have arisen during the COVID pandemic and that Jewish Canadians know all too well. It threatens the safety of Jewish Canadians and subjects them to hostility, prejudice, and discrimination, but its ultimate result is the erosion of public trust in democracy. As Members of Parliament, we have an obligation to take a stand to ensure that the rights of all Canadians are upheld. The failure to address antisemitism within your caucus remains unacceptable.”

Saks, who won York Centre in October’s byelection, called on the Tory leader “to condemn this antisemitic rhetoric and uphold the rights and trust of Canadians.”

Erin O'Toole
Erin O’Toole

Neither O’Toole nor Brassard returned the CJR’s requests for comment. As of this writing, Saks’ office says it has not had a reply from O’Toole.

The day after Saks sent her letter, Winnipeg-area Conservative MP Marty Morantz issued a series of tweets championing his party’s support for Israel and Canadian Jewry:

• “Conservatives have unequivocally supported Canada’s Jewish community and the state of Israel. Any statement to the contrary is misleading and wrong.

• “Under our Conservative leadership, Canada became the Chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). As Chair, Canada committed to an ambitious campaign to raise Holocaust awareness and fight antisemitism at home and abroad.

• “I’m proud to work with elected officials from around the world as part of an Online Antisemitism Taskforce. Our taskforce aims to work with online platforms like Facebook and Twitter so that hateful antisemitic comments are treated as hate speech and dealt with appropriately.

• “Let’s look at the Liberal record. The Liberals voted against Israel at the United Nations General Assembly and committed new funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. This is an organization whose schools have been used as storage facilities for Hamas rockets to be used against Israeli civilians, and whose facilities have served as breeding grounds for anti-Israel and antisemitic sentiments. The Liberals have doubled down on these anti-Israel activities, even after badly losing their [bid for a UN Security Council seat],” Morantz tweeted.

And in a conference call with ethno-cultural media earlier this month, O’Toole took the Liberal government to task for failing to list the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist entity.

O’Toole reminded reporters that in 2018, the House of Commons passed a Conservative motion supporting the designation of the IRGC as a terrorist group, “and the Liberals themselves voted for it, and then they did nothing on it.” 

The Liberals “have dragged their feet for several years. It will really take a change in government to have this issue taken seriously,” he said.

In 2012, under the Stephen Harper government, Canada listed a subgroup of the IRGC, the Quds Force, as a terrorist organization.

Editorial: The Age of Unreason

Dec. 3, 2020

We get texts, we get emails and we get letters. Very often, the communications take to task a published op-ed or story. However, over the past months, we have also heard from pandemic deniers, conspiracy theorists, and assorted loons, many of whom are hell-bent to convince us that our reality is a lie and theirs is real.

One such writer (unidentified, for obvious reasons) is not a bad sort. He is in his 60s, self-described as having a “worthless degree in music performance” with “30 years of dead end jobs.” He seems, sadly, grist for the growing mill of what Hillary Clinton once called the “basket of deplorables.”

Let’s call him “Reggie.” Here is a small sampling of Reggie’s messages to us:

“I see ‘Covid-19’ for the abominable fraud that it is… Why are you so determined to believe that ‘Covid-19’ – if it exists and that is debatable – is some pestilence on a par with Ebola, Small Pox and The Black Death combined? You’re a leader of the community. You have a duty to provide people with an accurate perception of what’s really going on out there…and sorry…I don’t think you’re doing that.”

And: “Forgive me for this: Are you really this dense? I don’t NEED to visit an emergency ward! WHERE, are the sick? WHERE are the dead? 9 months of this BS story, I’ve yet to see 98 percent of the people I talk to have not seen, first-hand, ONE credible case. ‘Covid-19!!’ Turn off your telescreen, go outside, and LOOK AROUND YOU!”

By now, the reader’s eyeballs must be bouncing off the floor. However, it seems that Reggie is not one of a very tiny community of subterraneans who have burrowed deep into the ground to avoid what is right before their eyes. He is tragically among a growing group in what some are calling a new age of unreason.

How else to explain Toronto restaurateur Adam Skelly defiantly ignoring lockdown rules in order to keep open for indoor dining? (That it took authorities days to act is another story). Skelly, who has become the poster boy of the so-called “hoaxademic” crowd, has less than savoury support from extreme right-wing racists like Kevin Johnston, who’s awaiting trial on hate charges; white nationalist Christopher Vandeweide, convicted of assault in Hamilton and recently arrested for breaching his probation and threatening assault; and the granddaddy of the far right in Canada, Paul Fromm.

This convergence of right-wing extremism and virus denial is not confined to Toronto. Kingston, Ottawa, London, Montreal, Edmonton, and Vancouver have all seen the “hoaxademic” crowd gather, sometimes in large numbers, and, naturally, without masks.

Those who have dared to speak out publicly against these marches have found themselves threatened in online platforms. Just ask Stephen Hargreaves of Windsor Ont., who posted his concerns following a recent anti-mask event to his Instagram account. According to a CBC story, he received threats of violence posted to his account that were so horrific, the CBC refused to publish them because of its “disturbing content.” Windsor police are investigating.

In the end, these pandemic deniers are still a minuscule number. The vast majority of Canadians understand the real danger posed to our health, but we cannot turn a blind eye. It is here where we count on authorities to ensure that health regulations are followed.

We count on police not to dither. Businesses breaking the law need to be held to account. If fines are not severe enough, make them more punitive until people understand that society will simply not put up with endangering our collective health.

This is deadly serious and it’s time we all take responsibility in calling out the deniers. Your life and health may very well depend on it.

Editorial: Time to Act on Online Hate, Radicalization

Nov. 19, 2020

With the defeat of Donald Trump, one hopes that along with him, lies, the incessant daily drama, and most of all, the wild conspiracy theorists, will go with him.

Trump has changed the face of facts, and it could be that there’s no going back. However, this does not mean we are powerless in the face of conspiratorial lies that have led to angry, hostile and racist words, dangerous targeted assaults, and even murder.

Here in Canada, online conspiracy theories, white supremacist-led hate and groups advocating violence have been identified by national security services in this country and the United States as the single most dangerous domestic threat in North America.

Here at home, since 2018, 18 Canadians have been murdered as a result of individuals radicalized online to far-right philosophies.

The extremists include Alek Minassian, currently on trial for the murder of 10 people in a van ramming rampage in 2018. Minassian identifies as an “Incel,” or an “involuntary celibate.”

“Incels” are boys and young men who blame their barren sex lives on women. Their rage has been institutionalized online, mostly on far-right extremist websites. When they find each other in the dark recesses of social media, murder of women is the topic of choice.

Minassian is not the only “incel” in Canada to have been charged with murder. In May 2020, a 17-year-old Toronto juvenile was charged in the machete murder of a young woman. It is believed that he was radicalized online to incel philosophy.

In February 2019, Alexandre Bissonnette was found guilty of the murder of six Canadian Muslims at prayer in a mosque near Quebec City two years earlier. During sentencing, the judge ruled the murders were motivated by “visceral hatred toward Muslims.”

According to evidence at his trial, just prior to the mosque attack, Bissonnette was online 819 times, clicking on posts related to Trump’s travel ban against Muslim-majority countries, and white nationalists sites with similar themes.

Only a few months ago Guilherme (William) Von Neutegem was charged in the murder of Mohamed-Aslim Zafis, a Canadian Muslim outside his mosque in Toronto. Research has revealed that Von Neutegem may have been involved with the “Order of the 9 Angels,” which has been described as a neo-Nazi death cult whose mission is to “cull humans.”

It’s well past time for action on the use of social media as a tool for racists to plan murder, mayhem and insurrection. In a welcome development, the Inter-Parliamentary Task Force to Combat Online Antisemitism hosted its first meeting this month, with leading Jewish organizations from Canada, Australia, and the United States providing recommendations for what actions legislators should take to address the issue.

While they do that, our fear is that more young people looking for answers will find them, as have others who have been manipulated into murderous racist rages that go beyond anti-Semitism to Islamophobia and misogyny.

We have much work to do, not the least of which is to begin recognizing the problem and developing strategies to halt the spread of online radicalization before more carnage occurs. Governments tell us that help and change is on the way. It cannot happen soon enough.

Antisemitic Priest Barred From Edmonton Archdiocese

Oct. 14, 2020

By JEREMY APPEL

An antisemitic Polish priest with an international following has been formally banned from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton after lobbying from B’nai Brith and Alberta’s former deputy premier, Thomas Lukaszuk.

Father Tadeusz Rydzyk runs the far-right radio station Radio Maryja, which has a television affiliate, Trwam, as well as a national newspaper and Catholic college. He has the dubious distinction of being denounced by two popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, for antisemitism.

Father Tadeusz-Rydzyk
Father Tadeusz-Rydzyk

In on-air comments in 2016, Rydzyk lambasted “synagogue-type behaviour” among some of his followers, and in private conversations, leaked to a Polish magazine said that then-Polish president Lech Kazcynski was taking orders from Jews. His radio station has also promoted Holocaust denial, with a guest in 2000 claiming that gas chambers at Auschwitz didn’t exist.

The station has also featured diatribes against “gender ideology” and the “Islamification of Europe.”

“Most anti-Semites are racist in many different ways,” said Abe Silverman, B’nai Brith Alberta Manager of Public Affairs, referring to Rydzyk as an “equal opportunity” bigot.

And Rydzyk isn’t a fringe figure. Poland’s ruling ultranationalist Law and Justice party has reportedly offered subsidies of about $7.5 million to affiliates of Rydzyk and Radio Maryja. The Polish post office printed a stamp in honour of Radio Maryja’s 25th anniversary in 2016, the Anti-Defamation League reported.

“He has a massive following,” said Lukaszuk, who served as deputy premier under former Alberta premier Allison Redford and is a dual Canadian-Polish citizen. “His following isn’t so much religious as it is political.”

Lukaszuk said there’s major overlap between Rydzyk’s followers and supporters of the government.

“He controls a lot of votes. That’s all there is to it. The current governing party before the election campaign literally goes to him for a blessing and he endorses him through his media, and that carries a lot of sway.”

Lukaszuk brought Rydzyk to Silverman’s attention when the priest celebrated Mass at Calgary’s Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish in 2018, which was approved by the diocese.

In response, Silverman met with Archbishop Richard Smith to express his concerns.

“The effect of this was that virtually all churches and diocese in Alberta will no longer invite Father Rydzyk to preach,” Silverman said. “I was very well-received and treated with the highest level of respect.”

Since Rydzyk’s programs and speeches are in Polish, Lukaszuk says the archdiocese likely wasn’t aware of the full extent of his bigotry.

At the time of Rydzyk’s visit, Bishop William McGratton of the Archdiocese of Calgary said the priest had changed his ways, pointing to a museum Rydzyk founded in Poland dedicated to the stories of Poles who rescued Jews during the Holocaust, and to a 2016 meeting he had with an Israeli ambassador.

But Lukaszuk said the museum offers a sanitized view of Polish history, downplaying the role many Poles played in carrying out Nazi atrocities. And according to Silverman, the Israeli ambassador reprimanded Rydzyk when they met.

When Rydzyk tours the world, he doesn’t just celebrate Mass but also sells tickets to lectures to raise funds for his various projects.

“If we can somehow cut off his funding by having churches agree not to invite him and give him money, then that’s a win for us,” said Silverman. “If we can successfully start cutting off his funding, and this has to be done on an international level, including the funding he receives from the Polish government, we can maybe put a stop to this guy.”

In a statement, the Archdiocese of Edmonton said it had no plans to bring Rydzyk back to Alberta.

“If a request was made, it would be denied given Father Rydzyk’s history of making controversial comments that at times have caused distress and division,” the statement read.

Silverman said the ultimate goal is to prevent Rydzyk from visiting Canada again.

“We will go to other jurisdictions that have Catholic leadership and we will have the same conversations with them, and little by little we hope to have Father Rydzyk banned from Canada period. There may be a time when we go to the federal government and make a case, and hopefully they won’t issue him a visa.”

Said Lukaszuk, “if this guy is offensive in Calgary, he’s offensive in Toronto too.”

– This article first appeared in the Alberta Jewish News, where Jeremy Appel is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter.

Editorial: Findlay Apology Not Good Enough

Sept. 2, 2020 – Who is Kerry Lynne Findlay and what did she do to anger so many Canadian Jews (and others)?

Findlay is the Conservative member of Parliament representing South Surrey—White Rock in the Greater Vancouver area. She’s a one-time parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Justice and served for two years in the Stephen Harper government as Minister of National Revenue.

Today, she is the Conservative environment critic who should have known better.

Last week, Findlay re-tweeted a short video of a 2009 interview then journalist Chrystia Freeland, now the finance minister, conducted with philanthropist and investor George Soros for the Financial Times. That in itself would not have raised many eyebrows, except that Findlay did a deep dive into the wild world of antisemitic conspiracy theories that place Soros at their centre.

About Freedland and Soros, Findlay had this warning: “The closeness of these two should alarm every Canadian.” Fellow Conservative MP and finance critic Pierre Poilievre duly re-tweeted Findlay’s post.

Soros is seen by the underbelly of conspiracists – QAnon currently leading that pack – as nothing short of attempting to control the world, and as the embodiment of evil for donating to progressive causes.

According to the largest organization focused on fighting antisemitism, the Anti-Defamation League, Soros “has become a lightning rod for conservative and right-wing groups who object to his funding of liberal causes.” In far right circles worldwide, the ADL continues, Soros’ philanthropy is “often recast as fodder for outsized conspiracy theories, including claims that he masterminds specific global plots or manipulates particular events to further his goals.”

Many of those conspiracy theories employ longstanding antisemitic tropes, particularly that rich and powerful Jews lurk behind the scenes, plotting to control countries and manipulate global events, the ADL explains.

Soros is Jewish and a child survivor of the Holocaust. It was his survival that drove him to succeed, and he has become one of the wealthiest people in the world. He has also devoted his life and, it’s been estimated, more than $30 billion to following the Jewish dictum to make the world a better place.

Today, at age 90, Soros has become a hero to racial and ethnic minorities and those demanding necessary changes to the human condition.

The good news is that there was strong pushback from all sectors of Canadian society against Findlay’s tweet. Jewish organizations, the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, and many on Twitter criticized Findlay loudly and passionately. To her credit, she did offer an apology – of sorts.

Again using Twitter, Findlay wrote:

“Earlier today, I thoughtlessly shared content from what I am now learning is a source that promotes hateful conspiracy theories. I have removed the tweets and apologize to anyone who thinks I would want to endorse hateful rhetoric.”

Kerry-Anne Findlay

This is a good start, but not nearly enough. Anytime Jews are connected to mindless conspiracy theories emanating from the far right, they are placed at risk. Findlay needs to go further and explain the context, reference the Jewish community, and let Canadians know the danger faced by Jews daily. A good word about the work of Soros helping countless individuals and causes would go a long way.

We must also add that Poilievre, as of this writing, has remained silent, as has newly-minted Conservative leader Erin O’Toole. Both could use this opportunity to speak out forcefully against Jew-hatred, but to date, have not.

Hate crime statistics consistently show that Canadian Jews remain the number one victim of haters and bigots. Surely Findlay’s response should reflect this reality, and both Poilievre and O’Toole would be wise to join the chorus against hate.

There’s always the tired old charge that Jews over-react to every little thing, and maybe this is one of them. Trust us: It’s better than the opposite.

Addendum:

According to a report in the Globe and Mail on Sept. 3, O’Toole said he learned of the issue after Findlay’s tweet had been deleted, adding that he spoke with some Jewish leaders to say that the Conservatives are a strong voice against antisemitism.

Blame Jews for COVID: Toronto Polish Newspaper

Aug. 7, 2020 – B’nai Brith Canada has filed a criminal complaint with Toronto Police after a local Polish-language newspaper twice suggested the COVID pandemic is a creation of “organized Jewry.”

The “hateful” article, entitled “Coronavirus, or the Fake Pandemic,” was the front page story in the March 25 edition of Głos Polski, and was published again in the April 22 edition. Głos Polski is edited by Wiesław Magiera and affiliated with the Polish National Union of Canada, according to the Union’s website.

Aside from blaming COVID on Jews, the article also asserts that “ISIS/ISIL terrorists [were] brought into evil existence by organized Jewry and completely controlled by it,” and said Soviet dictator Vladimir Lenin, Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan were or are all secretly Jewish, B’nai Brith said in an Aug. 6 news release.

The piece also describes Israel as “the cause of all the world’s woes” and “an emanation of the Devil himself,” while alleging that Jews intend to take over Poland and create “Judeo-Polonia,” B’nai Brith alleged.

“Propagating the lie that Jews are responsible for COVID must be met with criminal charges, especially when someone does so repeatedly,” said Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada. “This horrifying pandemic has killed thousands of Canadians, ravaged our economy and turned our lives upside down. Blaming it all on an already disproportionately targeted minority group is loathsome, not to mention a recipe for disaster.” 

An Aug. 7 report in the National Post revealed that the Polish National Union of Canada received $146,000 in 2018-19 from the provincial Trillium Foundation to help renovate a community space, and $130,000 in 2012-2013 to replace a roof on a community centre and buy new energy-efficient kitchen appliances.

In June, Andrzej Kumor, the publisher of Goniec, another Polish-language news outlet based in Peel Region, was arrested, warned and released without charge after publishing a string of antisemitic articles.

Magiera, Głos Polski’s editor-in-chief, joined Kumor as an unsuccessful candidate for the far-right Konfederacja party in Poland’s October 2019 parliamentary elections, B’nai Brith pointed out.

The National Post also noted that the website polishcanadians.ca describes the newspaper as one that “searches for the Truth, protects the good name of Poles and reminds us of the Polish culture and history.” The same page says Głos Polski’ is “edited by” the Polish National Union of Canada.