The Ford government is defending a decision by some MPPs to not grant unanimous consent to hear a motion that would condemn Islamophobia, citing a party policy about not receiving the legislative text beforehand.
Scarborough-Guildwood Liberal MPP Mitzie Hunter stood up in the Ontario legislature on Thursday and tried to get permission from all political parties to introduce the following: “I seek unanimous consent to move a motion without notice condemning all forms of Islamophobia and reaffirming the Legislature’s support for the Anti-Racism Directorate and that the question be put immediately.”
However, one or more Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario MPPs disagreed on a vote where members were asked to respond verbally. It wasn’t immediately clear who exactly was against the proposal.
The Ontario Liberal Party released a brief statement Thursday evening slamming the decision to not back the request.
“Doug Ford’s Conservative caucus blocked what should have been a simple, meaningful motion for the Muslim community and now they’re hiding behind procedure — it’s inexcusable,” the party statement said.
The push came days after a London, Ont., family out for a walk were killed in an attack that police alleged was hate-motivated because they were Muslim.
Seventy-four-year-old Talat Afzaal died at the scene while 46-year-old Salman Afzaal, his 44-year-old wife Madiha Salman and their 15-year-old daughter Yumna Salman died in a London hospital. The nine-year-old son of the couple, the sole survivor in the family, was injured in the attack and is still being treated in a hospital for his injuries.
The 20-year-old driver of the pickup truck that struck the five family members was charged by police with four counts of first-degree murder and a count of attempted murder. The accused in the case, Nathaniel Veltman, briefly appeared in a London court on Thursday, but the case was put over until Monday.
Thousands attended a vigil in London on Tuesday in honour of the family, including Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Ontario PC MPPs and provincial opposition party leaders.
“We are all shaken by this act. We were left trying to understand how this can happen in a beautiful country and a beautiful province like Ontario. We know only that this awful crime was motivated purely by hatred and racism,” Ford said, while extending his sympathies to the family.
He went on to call the attack “an act of terrorism” against the family.
“This type of racism and terrorism cannot and will not be tolerated. We must stand united against it. It must be condemned in the strongest terms of those who commit this type of evil must and will be punished to the fullest extent of the law,” Ford said.
When asked about the decision to reject Hunter’s push to introduce a motion condemning Islamophobia, a spokesperson for Ontario Government House Leader Paul Calandra said the party has a standing practice of rejecting motions that weren’t shared in advance.
“If the legislature had allowed unanimous consent then Ms. Hunter would have been able to move a motion. We don’t know what would have been in this motion and we still have not seen it, in fact,” Owen Macri said in a statement to Global News Thursday afternoon.
“We would have had only moments while it was being read to consider whether it was appropriate recognition of the events which occurred in London.
“This is not to say we have not ever adopted a motion like this, by unanimous consent, but when we have we have seen it in advance, had time to do consultation with the community and we have worked together across the aisle to do it. None of that happened in this case.”
Macri went on to highlight a motion unanimously adopted by all parties in the Ontario legislature in 2017 while the Liberals were still in government that condemned Islamophobia in response to a shooting at the Quebec City mosque that left six dead and 19 injured.
He also said a PC MPP sought unanimous consent on Thursday for representatives to make statements and to hold a moment of silence.
Global News asked exactly how much notice would have been needed before Thursday’s motion and why there couldn’t be a reaffirmation of the stance since it’s a different parliament and government, but those questions weren’t directly answered.
Representatives for the Ontario NDP and Green Party of Ontario both confirmed their MPPs backed Hunter’s motion.
Journalist Fatima Syed first raised the issue on Twitter Thursday afternoon. In response to Syed’s posts, Ford’s deputy chief of staff responded and accused Hunter of playing “disingenuous political games.”
“We had no content or copy, we would have worked with them and the community. Instead she moved it without sharing knowing the gov would say no so she could make a baseless accusation implying the gov (sic) is Islamophobic,” Cody Welton wrote in a follow-up tweet.
“I worked in opposition for [four] years in legislative affairs. The only times I never shared a motion with government staff before a member moving was so they would be forced to vote it down and say no. Never was this egregious or insensitive though.”
In response, Syed asked why the government wouldn’t have passed the motion since it is non-binding.
“What we actually have is a motion to move a motion. The members have a split second to make a decision in a room where you can’t hear all that well, it’s different on TV with the microphones and closed captioning or Hansard. We still don’t have the motion,” he said.
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