OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer issued two statements on the terrorist attacks in New Zealand on Friday — the second after being criticized for not mentioning in the first that the attack was against Muslims at mosques during their Friday prayers.
Two Conservative MPs have also cancelled an event on Monday with a British parliamentarian who has been accused of promoting anti-Islamic sentiments "out of respect" for Muslims reeling from the attacks that killed 49 people.
Scheer posted to Twitter and Facebook late Thursday evening in Canada as news of the attacks was reported, saying "freedom has come under attack" and mentioning "peaceful worshippers" and a "despicable act of evil."
"All people must be able to practice their faith freely and without fear," he wrote.
But the statement was condemned quickly online for failing to specify that the attack was on Muslims, during prayers at mosques. Some pointed to the fact he did name Coptic Christians and call out anti-Semitism in previous tweets when killers attacked Egyptian churches in 2017 and a synagogue in Pittsburgh last fall.
The National Council of Canadian Muslims criticized the omission in a statement Friday afternoon.
“While some of our elected leaders sadly choose not to mention ‘Muslim’ or ‘mosque’ while denouncing the Christchurch attacks, the reality is that these horrific shootings and the Quebec City mosque attack on Jan. 29, 2017, have left Canadian Muslim communities – and indeed, Muslims around the world – feeling very vulnerable and unsafe," wrote the Council's executive director Ihsaan Gardee. "It is therefore essential that our elected leaders speak out clearly and unequivocally against such attacks and name them for the Islamophobic terrorist attacks that they are."
The statement does not mention Scheer by name but at that point, he was the only Canadian political leader whose public response to the attacks did not mention either Muslims or mosques.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's statement condemned the attacks as terrorism and said everyone must work to "confront Islamophobia."
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh tweeted that "Islamophobia kills."
Green Leader Elizabeth May did not mention Muslims in her first Tweet but retweeted several others who did.
Former Conservative Maxime Bernier, now the leader of the People's Party of Canada, hadn't posted anything about the attacks at all by late Friday.
Scheer's office did not respond to an initial query about the statement's not mentioning Muslims but after being asked about the statement from the National Council of Canadian Muslims, his spokesman responded with a link to a new statement on Scheer's Facebook page.
"As Canadians are learning the horrific details of last night’s terror attack at two New Zealand mosques, I wish to express both my deep sadness at the tragic loss of innocent life and my profound condemnation of this cowardly and hateful attack on the Muslim community," it said.
It said Conservatives stand with Muslims around the world to "reaffirm our commitment to building a world where every people, of every faith, can live in freedom and peace together."
A month ago, Scheer was criticized for sharing a stage on Parliament Hill with a cross-Canada truck convoy mostly protesting Liberal inaction on the energy industry but which included some people promoting hatred. Scheer said he was only there to support the energy workers, not the "other elements that tried to associate themselves with the event."
Those "elements" were people affiliated with the Canadian Yellow Vest movement, whose Facebook page included some comments celebrating the New Zealand attacks Friday.
Meanwhile, Conservative MP Garnett Genuis tweeted Friday that Monday's reception with Baroness Caroline Cox, a member of the British House of Lords, has been cancelled.
Genuis, an Edmonton-area MP, and fellow Conservative MP Kelly Block of Saskatchewan were to co-host the reception with Cox, who has shown support for Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and has said she believes Muslims are trying to destroy Western democracies with Shariah law.
Toronto Liberal MP Judy Sgro pulled out of the event after she found out about Cox's participation. Genuis initially rejected calls to follow suit, calling it a talk on human rights, and accused Sgro on social media of retreating only after she remembered this is an election year.
He said in a statement Friday that Cox's views are subject of "some debate, and perhaps some confusion."
"With that said, our friends in the Muslim community are now reeling from one of the most horrific and appalling terrorist attacks to ever target their community," he wrote. "Out of respect for them, now is not the time for a conversation that could been (sic) misconstrued to take place on Parliament Hill. As such, the event will not be proceeding as planned."