Credits: REUTERS/Chris Wattie
OTTAWA — A Canadian Muslim group wants an apology after Prime Minister Stephen Harper's top spokesman suggested the organization was linked to the terrorist group Hamas.
The National Council of Canadian Muslims said it will sue Harper and his spokesman Jason MacDonald for libel unless they immediately apologize for and retract comments MacDonald made in an interview earlier this month with QMI Agency.
The war of words started on Jan. 16 after the NCCM asked the Prime Minister's Office to boot a rabbi with whom it disagreed out of the official delegation that accompanied Harper to Israel last week.
MacDonald responded to the NCCM saying: "We will not take seriously criticism from an organization with documented ties to a terrorist organization such as Hamas."
The NCCM immediately called that characterization false and, on Tuesday, said it served MacDonald and Harper with a notice of libel, the first step in a potential libel lawsuit.
"To say that our organization has illegal affiliations is deeply offensive to us and to Canadians of all faiths and backgrounds and only serves to reinforce ugly stereotypes about Canadian Muslims," NCCM executive director Ihsaan Gardee said at a Parliament Hill news conference.
Gardee said his group is "a successful mainstream Canadian organization" that had received letters of support from the likes of Amnesty International and the Canadian Association of University Teachers in the wake of MacDonald's assertion that NCCM has ties to Hamas.
"The government of Canada has listed (Hamas) as a terrorist organization," Gardee said. "Our organization has consistently and persistently condemned terrorism and violent extremism in all of its forms including the naming of organizations such as al Shabaab, al-Qaida and Hamas."
The allegations in the lawsuit have not been proven in court.
The Prime Minister's Office on Tuesday declined any further comment, citing the possibility of litigation on the matter.