Credits: JOHN LAPPA/QMI AGENCY
TORONTO - Justin Trudeau addressed his critics head-on during a heavily criticized keynote speech at the Reviving the Islamic Spirit conference Saturday, saying he respected their right to “express their opinions.”
“But I want you to know that I will always stand up to the politics of division and fear,” Trudeau said. “It is short-sighted to pit groups of Canadians against one another.”
The Liberal Party leadership candidate greeted thousands of members of Toronto’s Muslim community with a story of his “second favourite prime minister” who chose to “find common ground between people of differing beliefs” — Wilfrid Laurier.
“He knew that his was a country founded and built by people who had warred against one another for centuries on their home continent: English vs. French, Catholic vs. Protestant,” Trudeau said.
Trudeau has recently been criticized for attending the conference, which attracted controversy over speakers from both sides of the Islamist debate as well as sponsors linked to Hamas.
Jewish advocacy group B’nai Brith requested to meet with the politician before the conference.
The group said Friday it was “truly unfortunate that Mr. Trudeau has steadfastly refused to meet with leading Canadian Jewish and Muslim groups who have serious and legitimate concerns” about his attendance.
B’nai Brith spokesman Sam Eskenasi says their intention is not to “smear” everyone who attends the conference.
“I think the idea of such a conference is great,” he said Saturday. “I think our only concern is certain speakers do not necessarily reflect things that are part of Canadian values.”
Days before the conference, organizers announced the withdrawal of sponsor IRFAN-Canada, an organization found by the Canada Revenue Agency to have given millions of dollars in resources to Hamas. The move was not enough to stop criticism from Jewish and Muslim groups.
“We’re certainly not here to pander to any particular group’s demands,” conference spokesman Farhia Ahmed said Saturday before Trudeau’s talk. “As an organization, we’re here to do what’s right and the decision for them to withdraw, we accepted because we believe it was the right thing to do.”