OTTAWA — If a chill has set in between the Conservative government and Canada’s Muslim community, Defence Minister Jason Kenney set about breaking the ice during a speech Saturday.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, his cabinet and party, been criticized by the opposition and by Muslim-Canadian groups for pandering to islamophobic sentiment with recent government and party messaging.
Kenney, who is also Harper’s longtime multiculturalism minister, noted the cost borne by Muslims facing extremist elements around the world.
“The vast majority of the victims of this dystopian vision of the caliphate from Nigeria to the Philippines are innocent, peaceful Muslim people who simply want to raise their families in peace and security,” Kenney told the Manning Networking Conference, a conservative policy gathering.
“And we stand with them, we stand with them around the world, we stand with them in Iraq today, we stand in defence of the vast majority of Muslims who reject this cult of violence. Canadians are in solidarity with them.”
Since the attacks this winter in France and in Denmark by Islamic extremists, the Tories have spoken out about their fight against “barbaric cultural practices” and against women who would cover their faces with the niqab during citizenship ceremonies.
“Not the way we do things here,” read one Conservative party online message.
Harper referred specifically to mosques as places of radicalization, and unlike U.S. President Barack Obama has offered no messages of outreach to the Muslim community in the past several months.
“The prime minister of this country has a responsibility to bring people together in this country, not to divide us by pandering to some people’s fears,” Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said recently.
Kenney rejected the suggestion the party has alienated Canadian Muslims, pointing out he is a frequent visitor to mosques and islamic community organizations, and that his government has offered support against islamophobic vandalism and threats.
He also noted the help the community has offered in combating homegrown terrorism.
“We commend leaders and grassroots members of Canadian Muslim communities for having co-operated with police and intelligence services in reporting incidents or individuals who might be of concern,” said Kenney.
“Indeed our security and police agencies will confirm that potentially violent instances have been prevented, radicalization has been diminished thanks to the proactive co-operation of many in the Canadian Muslim communities so I think that message is clear.”