OTTAWA– A Canadian opposition lawmaker’s comment in the House of Commons that he needed an “English to English translation” to understand Indian-origin Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan has been taken as a racist slur and created a stir in the multi-racial country.
The heckle was raised in the House of Commons on Monday by opposition Conservative member Jason Kenney, himself a former defence minister, as Sajjan was answering a question about the new Liberal government’s plan to deal with the Islamic State terror group.
Conservative Party’s defence critic James Bezan and associate defence critic Pierre Paul-Hus both asked questions on the Liberals’ election promise to withdraw Canada’s fighter jets from the US-led mission in Iraq and Syria.
Bezan accused Sajjan of suggesting that Canada’s allies were to blame for the spread of IS, referring to Sajjan’s speech at an event organised by Canada 2020 on Friday.
“Why are the Liberals lecturing our allies on how to fight terrorism while at the same time befriending (Russian President Vladimir) Putin and Iran,” asked Bezan.
“It’s about consulting our allies and having a dialogue,” replied Sajjan. “These lessons, as I stated, were learned while working with our coalition partners, and that’s the plan that we’ll be putting forward and making sure that we get this right so we don’t make the mistakes of the previous 10 years.”
Kenney said he needed an “English to English translation” to understand what Defence Minister Sajjan said.
After Question Hour, the government’s House Leader Kevin Lamoureux rose in the house and called for Kenney to apologise for his “inappropriate comment”.
“I’m wondering if the member would do the proper thing and apologise or at the very least explain his comments,” Lamoureux said.
Kenney refused to apologise for his remark, saying Sajjan’s answer was “totally incoherent”. This prompted shouts of “shame” from the ruling Liberal party MPs.
Later, on Twitter, Liberal MP Raj Grewal called Kenney’s remarks “unacceptable”.
Kenney, ironically, also previously served as minister for multi-culturalism, and for citizenship and immigration.