Racist slurs during Conservative leadership debate not surprising: Lewis

Racist slurs during Conservative leadership debate not surprising: Lewis

OTTAWA — The litany of racial slurs inserted into the comments section of an online Conservative leadership debate Wednesday was not surprising, candidate Leslyn Lewis said the next day.

Lewis, Erin O’Toole and Derek Sloan were debating B.C.-related issues when for nearly a minute, slurs started filling the chat box of the video conference program.

Lewis, who is the first Black candidate to run for the Conservative party leadership, said she saw them and then closed the chat screen so she could focus on the event.

“The racist comments during last night’s debate which were directed at me, Black people and Jewish people were sadly not surprising,” she said in a statement Thursday.

“This past week we saw much more blatant displays of antisemitism in Toronto, and it has not been an irregular occurrence for me to encounter racist individuals during this campaign.”

A transcript of the debate chat provided to The Canadian Press by organizers suggests the racist slurs were one of several attempts by to hijack the discussion, with the other interjections seemingly nonsensical.

Debate organizer Angelo Isidorou called the incident “mortifying.”

He said as the comments were noticed, moderators booted the user from the chat, but then a new one would pop up. Eventually, they disabled the chat function altogether.

“We are thankful to the hundreds of members in the chat who alerted us to these terrible comments and demanded swift action, which we took,” he said.

Isidorou said some cursory research by the organizing team suggested there had been a plan prior to the event to disrupt it.

The link to join the online debate was widely circulated as the event was backed by all 42 riding associations in the province.

The racist comments weren’t mentioned by the candidates or moderator during the event, but screenshots of them circulated online after they were removed.

Peter MacKay, who skipped the debate, later condemned the incident on social media, calling it “disgusting and totally unacceptable.”

Hackers disrupting video conference calls have been a hazard as the software has exploded in use during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But Lewis’ campaign said though the team has held hundreds of online sessions, they’ve only experienced a single other instance of someone attempting to disrupt the event, and in that one, the commentator was attacking Lewis for her gender.

Her campaign said her previous encounters with racism on the campaign trail have come in the form of social-media messages and direct correspondence.

In her statement, Lewis said the response from fellow Conservatives to the events of Wednesday night prove to her that racist behaviour is not acceptable in the party.

“I truly believe that together we will continue to make Canada a welcoming and safe place for all.”

Voting is now underway in the race and the mail-in ballots are due back by Aug. 21, with a winner expected to be announced the week after.

The debate Wednesday night covered a range of regional topics, including a rise in crimes against Chinese-Canadians since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is believed to have originated in China.

Candidates were asked to address how they’d balance effective criticism of China while maintaining strong and positive outreach to the Chinese-Canadian community.

All three said they knew they had to be careful and watch their words, ensuring their concerns with China don’t get translated to racism in Canada.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 9, 2020.

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press

Politics

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

(Photo Submitted by the Gord Bamford Foundation)
Lacombe’s Gord Bamford to perform a virtual concert for a good cause

The concert aims to raise awareness for Operation Santa Clause

Alberta Health Services' central zone jumped from 162 active COVID-19 cases to 178 on Friday. Five additional deaths were reported provincewide, bringing the toll to 323. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
622 new COVID-19 cases set another daily high Friday

Province confirmed 622 additional cases Friday

“Pumpkin” is available for adoption at Old MacDonalds Kennels. (Facebook photo)
Old MacDonald Kennels sounding the alarm over number of cats in care

An expansion is underway at Old MacDonald Kennels

Alberta children whose only symptom of COVID-19 is a runny nose or a sore throat will no longer require mandatory isolation, starting Monday.
477 new COVID-19 cases confirmed in Alberta on Thursday

Changes being made to the COVID-19 symptom list for school-age children

Coun. Ted Dillon receives a certificate for 30 years of service from Ponoka County Regional Fire Services Chief Dennis Jones. (Photo submitted)
Ponoka councillor recognized for 30 years’ fire service

Coun. Ted Dillon presented with certificate at Oct. 13 council meeting

<strong>Spooky spectacles:</strong> Halloween decorations seen around Ponoka. Photos by Karen Douglass
PHOTOS: Ponoka ready for Halloween

Spooky spectacles: Halloween decorations seen around Ponoka. Photos by Karen Douglass By… Continue reading

(Photo Submitted by the Gord Bamford Foundation)
Lacombe’s Gord Bamford to perform a virtual concert for a good cause

The concert aims to raise awareness for Operation Santa Clause

City of Wetaskiwin Mayor presenting the AUMA Above & Beyond Award to John Maude and Susan Quinn. Ren Goode/ City of Wetaskiwin.
Wetaskiwin County residents win the AUMA Above & Beyond Award

John Maude and Susan Quinn are being recognized for their role in Wetaskiwin’s sustainability.

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole rises during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Wednesday October 28, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Conversion therapy ban gets approval in principle, exposes Conservative divisions

Erin O’Toole himself voted in favour of the bill, as did most Conservative MPs

Children’s backpacks and shoes are seen at a daycare in Langley, B.C., on Tuesday May 29, 2018. Alberta Children’s Services Minister Rebecca Schulz says the province plans to bring in a new way of licensing and monitoring child-care facilities. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Alberta proposes legislation to change rules on child-care spaces

Record-keeping, traditionally done on paper, would be allowed digitally

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shakes hands with US Vice-President Joe Biden on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, December 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle
A Biden presidency could mean good news for Canadian environment policy: observers

Experts and observers say even a U.S. outside the Paris agreement may ultimately end up in the same place

People take a photo together during the opening night of Christmas Lights Across Canada, in Ottawa, on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. The likelihood that most Canadians will enjoy a holly jolly Christmas season of gatherings, caroling and travel is unlikely, say public health experts who encourage those who revel in holiday traditions to accept more sacrifices ahead. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Ho, ho, no: Experts advise preparing for a scaled-back COVID holiday season

Many of the holiday season’s highlights have already been scrapped or are unlikely to take place

Sen. Kim Pate is shown in Toronto in an October 15, 2013, file photo. The parliamentary budget office says a proposed law that would give judges discretion on whether to apply a lesser sentence for murder could save the federal government $8.3 million per year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin Perkel
Judicial discretion for mandatory minimum sentences for murder would save $8.3M: PBO

The result would be fewer people in long-term custody at federal correctional institutions, experts say

Most Read