Conservative senator apologizing over 'shameful' tweet questioning Liberal MP's Saudi Arabia ties
A Conservative senator is apologizing after coming under fire for what critics called a “shameful” tweet questioning why a Liberal parliamentary secretary, born in Saudi Arabia, wasn’t questioned about his place of birth while speaking for the government about the deepening diplomatic dispute with the kingdom.
On Wednesday, Liberal MP Omar Alghabra appeared on CBC’s Power & Politics in his capacity as parliamentary secretary for the minister of foreign affairs. During the appearance, he provided the government’s response to recent tensions with Saudi Arabia that began on Sunday night after the kingdom launched a volley of attacks in response to criticism from Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland over the kingdom’s arrest of women’s rights activists.
Not long after, Conservative Senator Denise Batters tweeted that he should have been asked whether being born in Saudi Arabia affected the file for him.
Following intense backlash, Batters announced Thursday afternoon she was deleting the original tweet and apologized.
She said she had not meant to suggest Alghabra having been born in Saudi Arabia had “any impact on his ability to represent Canadians on this, or any issue.”
I absolutely did not intend to suggest that Mr. Alghabra's birthplace or background has any impact on his ability to represent Canadians on this, or any issue. That is not what I believe, nor what I meant to convey. 2/3
— Sen. Denise Batters (@denisebatters) August 9, 2018
I apologize to Mr. Alghabra and to Canadians for my choice of words. I will delete the tweet after this thread is published. 3/3
— Sen. Denise Batters (@denisebatters) August 9, 2018
Alghabra, who was most recently elected to represent the riding of Mississauga Centre in 2015, was born in Saudi Arabia in 1969 but is of Syrian descent.
He moved to Canada at the age of 19 to train as a mechanical engineer and later worked for the Canadian Arab Federation.
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He was first elected to Parliament in 2006 in Mississauga, served as the Liberal immigration and natural resources critic, then lost the seat in the 2011 election before winning it back.
Now, his role focuses on consular affairs and he’s been a vocal advocate for the government’s efforts to resettle Syrian refugees fleeing the civil war there.
In response to Batters’ original tweet, he had brushed off her suggestion that his place of birth was relevant to the discussion and called himself a “proud Canadian.”
Senator, I’m a proud Canadian who is consistent in defending human rights. How about you? https://t.co/uGHGstvGoO
— Omar Alghabra (@OmarAlghabra) August 9, 2018
Criticism of Batters had continued into Thursday afternoon, including from one former conservative politician.
Thomas Lukaszuk, a former Alberta Progressive Conservative MLA who also served as deputy premier and immigration minister, slammed Batters.
Lukaszuk was born in Poland in 1969 and moved to Canada at the age of 13.
He likened Batters’ remarks to the infamous “old stock Canadians” comment by former prime minister Stephen Harper during the 2015 campaign.
.@denisebatters Shame on you, Senator!!! @CPC_HQ is now suggesting that immigrant elected MPs or MLAs who aren’t “old stock” Canadians are less loyal to our nation and parliament??? #cdnpoli #AbLeg #skpoli https://t.co/WVSozcvtMa
— Thomas A. Lukaszuk (@LukaszukAB) August 9, 2018
International affairs experts who have been prominent voices on the dispute with Saudi Arabia over recent days also criticized the tweet, along with the executive director of Amnesty International Canada, and one of the leading voices behind the No Fly List Kids campaign.
Constitutional law professor Carissima Mathen also called the tweet “shameful.”
Not that nationality has anything to do with it, but Mr. Alghabra is Syrian. Please feel free to critique his talking points, but why are you raising his ethnicity as interfering with his patriotism? #cdnpoli https://t.co/v4fchPrXGu
— Stephanie Carvin (@StephanieCarvin) August 9, 2018
I am concerned that the senator's birthplace being Canada may impact her ability to speak about this file. https://t.co/lbKqDFSzSC
— Thomas Juneau (@thomasjuneau) August 9, 2018
Birthplace politics? Really @denisebatters? Are we only allowed to raise human rights concerns about a country if we hail from elsewhere? #ExpectBetter No place for this in public discourse. https://t.co/A40QHddIZW
— Alex Neve (@AlexNeveAmnesty) August 9, 2018
Do we also ask at least 56 sitting parliamentarians – MPs (44) & Senators (12) – including Tories who were born in countries outside 🇨🇦(according to info from Library of Parliament & websites) the same question? Of course not. Not a good look @denisebatters. Do better. https://t.co/hPYjaLMPru
— Sulemaan Ahmed (@sulemaan) August 9, 2018
It's shameful for a Senator to question a Canadian politician's integrity and loyalty to his country just because of his race or place of birth. @denisebatters we live in a diverse country. Canadians don't judge people based on their race and country of origin. #cdnpoli https://t.co/7Rf9ToHEFQ
— Bijan Ahmadi (@AhmadiBijan) August 9, 2018
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has refused to comment on the matter despite repeated requests.
Earlier this year, he ejected Senator Lynn Beyak from the Conservative caucus after Global News reported she had published 100 letters supporting her defence of residential schools, many of which were included racist or anti-Indigenous sentiments.
He said in a statement he had asked her to take down the letters but she refused.
“Racism will not be tolerated in the Conservative Caucus or Conservative Party of Canada,” Scheer said at the time.
Global News will update this story if responses are received.