OTTAWA — Maxime Bernier smiled and posed for a photo with white supremacist Paul Fromm on the same day he told supporters that “racists and bigots are not welcome in our party.”
Fromm lost his teaching licence in Ontario more than a decade ago over his affiliation with white supremacists, including former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke.
“Mr. Bernier had no idea who this individual was,” People’s Party of Canada executive director Johanne Mennie told HuffPost Canada in an email Wednesday.
The photo was taken last week at a rally in Mississauga, Ont., where Bernier unveiled his immigration policies ahead of the fall election. Fromm, a self-described “white nationalist, a populist, a traditionalist, with libertarian leanings” is the founder of the Canadian Association for Free Expression, a far-right non-profit that has frequently intervened in human rights cases.
Following their encounter, Fromm endorsed Bernier on Facebook and Twitter as a federal leader with “both the charisma and determination to put CANADA FIRST.”
He praised the former Conservative leadership contender’s immigration policies as steps toward “regaining control” of Canada’s border.
Bernier wants the entire length of the Canada-U.S. border designated an official port of entry.
It’s an idea that he shares with Conservatives, a party he decried as “morally and intellectually corrupt,” as a way to minimize the number of people crossing into Canada irregularly in between official ports of entry.
The federal government has pledged to transfer more than $150 million to provinces to help provincial and municipal governments with the costs of settling asylum seekers. But despite the influx of cash, the claims process has been bogged down by delays.
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The federal government has since made changes to asylum laws to curb what Border Security Minister Bill Blair called “asylum shopping.” The changes mean that asylum-seekers can’t make refugee claims in Canada if they have made similar claims in the United States and certain other countries.
“From the very beginning, our priority has been to ensure that Canadians can continue to have confidence in our asylum system, in our refugee system,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters in April when the changes were included in an omnibus budget bill.
“We need to recognize that there are larger numbers now than before because of global instability in terms of refugees. That’s why we’re putting more resources and we’re also ensuring that the system is fair for everyone. That’s what Canadians expect.”
‘I don’t have time to enquire about their views’
Bernier also proposed reducing Canada’s current immigration and refugee rates from the 350,000 cap the Liberal government set for 2021, and lowering it to 100,000-150,000 “depending on economic and other circumstances.”
The number is lower than the 250,000 rate Bernier pledged to Conservatives during the party’s leadership race two years ago, which he narrowly lost to Andrew Scheer on the last ballot.
Earlier this month, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale’s office lambasted Bernier for posing with apparent members of Northern Guard, a nationalist anti-immigration group founded by former Soldiers of Odin members.
“For political leaders to court these views is a terrible mistake; we condemn Mr. Bernier’s attempt to legitimize this type of hatred,” Goodale’s spokesperson Carlene Variyan said in a statement to CTV News.
Bernier responded to the attention over the photo with an explanation that he takes hundreds of pictures with people. “I don’t have time to enquire about their views.”
Speaking to supporters last week, the People’s Party leader called accusations of racism toward him and the party “false and ridiculous.”
“I don’t care one bit about people’s race or skin colour. I have said many times that racists and bigots are not welcome in our party,” he said. “We care about shared values, culture and identity.”
Ontario Progressive Conservatives also distanced themselves from Fromm after he supported then-leadership contender Tanya Granic Allen last year.