The case of the alleged Nazi salute

Despite—indeed, because of—Wayne Easter’s statement that no Nazi salute was made during last week’s C-38 votes, Joe Oliver rose after QP today to press the case, alleging that Mr. Easter and Liberal MP Hedy Fry engaged in inappropriate gesturing. Mr. Easter again asserted innocence, but Conservative MP Chris Warkentin suggested he should apologize anyway. After an intervention by Bob Rae, the Speaker said he would review the video footage. (Ms. Fry responds via Twitter.)

Below, the transcript of today’s discussion.

Joe Oliver: Mr. Speaker, last Thursday evening, I rose on a question of personal privilege to say that two members had directed a Nazi salute against the Prime Minister when he stood to vote. I did not name the individual members as a matter of courtesy because their gesture followed a very long day of votes. Also, I did not mention the Liberal Party by name, since I did not believe then and do not believe now that the members’ behaviour would be acceptable to members of that party, in particular its interim leader, nor indeed to any party in the House. My purpose was to comment on an utterly unacceptable incident which I personally found to be exceptionally offensive, and to preclude it from happening again.

However, after I spoke, the member for Malpeque rose to say that he had merely waved at the Prime Minister. Then on Friday an article appeared in The Guardian in which the member stated that there were no salutes from his side, and that he was peeved and insulted. He also said that not naming anyone created a controversy. Furthermore, the article referred to comments in the House from the member for Bourassa and the member for Richmond—Arthabaska, who said I was blaming the entire opposition by not naming the individuals.

While I had not wanted to prolong this, the member’s denial and his and other members’ demands for identification of the individuals involved compel me to respond. It was in fact the member for Malpeque and the member for Vancouver Centre who raised their arms in a rigid position at a 45-degree angle, clearly the gesture of a Nazi salute. There was no ambiguity. When I saw it, I said, “disgusting” in their direction several times and they did not ask what I found so offensive. Later, when I rose on my question of privilege, the member for Vancouver Centre left the House, only to return later to stand for awhile behind the curtains in the corridor.

There are members in this House whose relatives fought and died for Canada in the Second World War and others whose relatives perished in the Holocaust. Such a vile and universally condemned gesture is particularly shocking in this place of honour and tradition. The heat of partisanship never justifies a vicious personal attack that sullies the reputation of our parliamentary democracy. I had hoped the members responsible would have apologized to the House on Thursday, or at least remained silent and then apologized to me privately. Those would have been the decent and smart things to do. Since this was not to be, I call on them to apologize now. Doing the honourable thing would permit us all to move on.

Wayne Easter: Mr. Speaker, I would agree that such a salute, as the member said, would be vile and unacceptable in this place. I would agree with that. However, as I said the other night, there was no such salute from me. I sat in my chair and I pointed at the Prime Minister. That is what I did, and I pointed exactly like this. It was not a wave and it was not, and should not have been construed as, a salute. No such thing happened on my part. I cannot answer for others in this place. If I had, I would have recognized that it was wrong and I would have apologized to the member because I agree 100% that such a salute should not be made in this place. I accept that.

Chris Warkentin: Mr. Speaker, I reluctantly stand in this House to say that I too saw the action of the member opposite and unfortunately it was not as he describes it now. Actions and words, even if accidentally done, elicit emotional responses. I believe that the actions as they would have been interpreted by any reasonable person seeing them would have been seen as the minister describes, and I believe defile the memory of the Holocaust and are something that we in this House would find reprehensible. So if the hon. member did not intend to communicate what was in fact communicated by his actions, I ask that he would apologize for how they would be interpreted because it as clear in the way it was presented that anybody would see it as a gesture that would reasonably be unacceptable in this House.

Bob Rae: Mr. Speaker, the allegations made by my friend, the Minister of Natural Resources, are very troubling. Let us recall that it was a rather unusual session which came at the end of 24 hours, and if the minister will wait for me to answer the question, it is something that we all take very seriously. We all know the significance of the salute to which the minister is referring.

I want to say two things.

First, no one in this House, in this party or any other party, would condone such an act or expect such an act to go without an appropriate apology. I would also apply that to people who compare their opponents to Hitler. I would apply that to people who refer to members, like the member for Mount Royal, as an anti-Semite. I would refer that to members who, in leaflets throughout the last couple of years, have said that members of the Liberal Party of Canada, including their interim leader, are somehow anti-Israel. I would include all those things as being indeed reprehensible.

Second, what we have today is a clear statement from the member for Malpeque that he in fact did not make any such gesture. Something could have been misunderstood or misinterpreted. He has clearly indicated that. He is somebody whose record, history and work on behalf of the people of Canada would belie any such effort on his part. I think his word should be taken for what it is. That is the way this House has always operated and that is the way this House should continue to operate.