OTTAWA — Canada has been butting heads with some of its closest allies over the extent to which rising white supremacy at home and abroad poses a global threat, federal insiders say.
The quiet but at-times-controversial diplomacy has come as Justin Trudeau's Liberals, gearing up for a federal election campaign this fall, try to portray Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and his party as soft on white supremacy and so-called alt-right views.
During last month's G7 meeting of foreign ministers in Dinard, France, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland met with stiff resistance from some fellow attendees over the language she wanted to use in a joint communique, The Canadian Press has learned.
Freeland wanted the G7 to issue a joint statement after the mosque shootings that killed 50 people in Christchurch, New Zealand, but "it didn't end up going out because we couldn't get agreement from all other countries about white supremacy and Islamophobia," said one Canadian official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the deliberations.
Prior to that meeting, Freeland spoke at the United Nations General Assembly, where she singled out white supremacy as the greatest security threat facing the world — remarks that later sparked a clash with a Conservative senator during testimony before the upper chamber's foreign affairs committee.
When the ministers met in France in early April, some of her counterparts pushed back against Freeland's assertion that white supremacy now poses broader threats, the official said.
On Islamophobia and the threat of white nationalism, Canada "tends to be the country that speaks the most about these issues and pushes the hardest to get the language included in communiques."
Said a second Canadian official, also speaking on condition of anonymity: "These are obviously important issues for us and something we've been trying to speak up about at home, but also abroad."
The communique said the G7 was "deeply concerned about resurgent forms of racism, and discrimination, including anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim sentiment and the targeting of Christian minorities, leading to violence worldwide." It pledged to combat "manifestations of hatred" and affirmed "the benefits of faith and inclusion should be recognized and leveraged as a strength for humanity."
The sources were reluctant to discuss who was pushing back against Freeland. When pressed, the first source said: "If you were to suggest the U.S. has demonstrated it was at odds, at times, with the G7 or other Western groups, then that wouldn't be a false assumption."
After the Christchurch shootings, U.S. President Donald Trump was widely criticized for playing down the connection to white supremacy, saying it was not a rising danger despite the gunman's lengthy online manifesto.
A November 2018 report by the U.S. Justice Department found hate crimes across the U.S. had risen for the third consecutive year in 2017.
In Canada, Statistics Canada reported a sharp increase in hate crimes in 2017 — 2,073 incidents, up 47 per cent over the previous year and largely due to an increase in hate-related property crimes. Incidents targeting Muslims, Jews and black populations accounted for most of the national increase, especially in Ontario and Quebec.
Trump's fissures with the G7, which were on full display when the president hurled Twitter insults at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after last year's leaders' summit in Quebec, were visible again this month when Canada and Japan joined the French-German Alliance for Multilateralism, the U.S. conspicuous by its absence.
The alliance aims to defend the world's post-Second World War political architecture, including the G7, the United Nations and the World Trade Organization — all institutions that Trump has publicly derided.
Trudeau welcomes the leader of one of the alliance's core members, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, to Ottawa this weekend. Japan hosts the G20 leaders' summit in June, and both leaders are expected to take part in the G7 summit in France in late August — likely Trudeau's last foreign event before the expected federal election call.
In an April 12 fundraising speech in Mississauga, Ont., Trudeau signalled clearly that he plans to attack Scheer hard on what he considers extremist views.
"Andrew Scheer conveniently fails to call out alt-right conspiracy theories. Andrew Scheer fought against a non-binding motion to denounce Islamophobia. And Andrew Scheer has proudly spoken at the same rallies as white nationalists," he said.
"Is that leadership? Is that someone who will govern for all Canadians?"
Scheer's spokesman Brock Harrison said Trudeau is simply "wrong" in his characterization, pointing to more than a dozen occasions dating back to last summer in which the Conservative leader denounced hate and intolerance.
Two days before Trudeau's speech, Scheer told a press conference that he "100 per cent" denounces anyone who "promotes white nationalism, promotes any type of extremism." During question period that same day, he called the accusations "typical Liberal smear tactics" that were using "the very real threat of hatred and racism in this country" to distract from the scandals plaguing the government.
Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press