Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre’s office is tight-lipped over a photo of one of his Opposition critics posing with two people wearing slogans against measures addressing sexual orientation and gender identity in schools.
The image, shared to social media, surfaced not long after Poilievre distanced himself from another photo in which he stood next to a man wearing a T-shirt referring to “straight pride.”
The latest photo shows Calgary MP Jasraj Singh Hallan, the Conservative finance critic, standing with three other men during a pancake breakfast that was open to the public last week as part of the Calgary Stampede.
Two of the men are wearing white T-shirts with black letters that read “Leave our kids alone.” The shirts also show a smaller, stylized image of a family beneath an umbrella sheltering them from the rainbow of colours associated with LGBTQ Pride flags.
The offices of Poilievre and Hallan, who represents the riding of Calgary Forest Lawn, did not respond to requests for comment on the photo or whether he agrees with the message on the T-shirts.
One of the men in the photo, Mahmoud Mourra, has been protesting school policies and activities that acknowledge students’ sexual orientation and gender identity.
Mourra, who shared the photo on social media, is also facing a charge of hate-motivated criminal harassment. Calgary police say it stems from allegations related to “multiple online interactions” on June 26.
Police say Mourra was charged July 3 and his next court date is in August.
In a telephone interview on Friday, Mourra called the charge against him a “joke,” saying it originated from a dispute with someone he knows.
He said he did not think anything of his T-shirt when he posed for a photo with Hallan, whom he called a friend. Mourra said the two did not discuss his views on teaching sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, and he did not inform the MP of the charge he is facing.
“It wasn’t like, intentionally … I never even thought about it until I saw what happened with Danielle Smith,” he told The Canadian Press.
He was referring to a recent photo of the Alberta premier standing with a man wearing a “straight pride” shirt. Her office has since said she does not endorse the message, which Poilievre also recently told reporters he does not agree with.
When it comes to the LGBTQ community, Mourra said he is concerned with teachers pushing what he called “this agenda” on children.”
“I believe I have the chance to determine or to decide how my kids should be growing up … I’m not teaching them any hate.”
A recent incident in Edmonton sparked protests in Alberta over sexual orientation and gender identity education in schools after a teacher lectured a Muslim student about skipping pride events. The teacher told the student they “can’t be Canadian” and “don’t belong here” if they didn’t believe in LGBTQ rights.
At a recent community event in Calgary, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said much of the discord is fuelled by misinformation, particularly from “the American right wing,” about what is actually in provincial school curriculums.
“They are weaponizing the issue of LGBT,” Trudeau said during a chat with some Muslim parents at the event, which was recorded and shared over social media.
“They’re using those fears to drive a wedge.”
He told the small group of parents that the federal government is unequivocal in standing up for everybody’s rights and freedoms, including the Muslim community and LGBTQ+ youth.
Besides his high-profile role as an Opposition critic, Hallan is also one of the Conservative MPs involved in outreach to the immigrant and newcomer communities where the party hopes to grow support for the next election.
Mourra, a Muslim father of five, said many of his values align with the Conservatives. He said he believes the federal party supports the message he is championing based on Poilievre’s recent comments about a policy in New Brunswick.
The province’s Progressive Conservative Premier, Blaine Higgs, stirred controversy by changing a policy so that teachers would no longer be required to use the preferred pronouns of transgender or nonbinary students under 16.
Instead, a teacher would need to obtain parental consent to use those pronouns. The Higgs government says if that is not possible, a student would be referred to a school psychologist or social worker to develop a plan to inform their parent “if and when they are ready to do so.”
When asked about the move, Poilievre took aim at Trudeau’s decision to speak out against the matter, saying it is none of his business.
“Butt out and let provinces run schools and let parents raise kids,” Poilievre told reporters last month.
Proponents of the policy say it is crucial that teachers help ensure kids who are queer or questioning their identity feel safe from discrimination, which experts say can lead to suicide attempts.
They say inclusive policies should state that all individuals have a right to be addressed by their chosen name and pronouns, and include resources teachers can use.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 16, 2023.
Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press