OTTAWA: Maxime Bernier, the founder of a right-wing party running in Canada's October federal election, said on Monday that Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's warnings about the dangers of white supremacy were an attack on an "entire ethnicity."
Bernier, a former Cabinet minister who quit the Conservative Party last year to form his own faction called the People's Party of Canada, has focussed on limiting immigration and promoting free trade.
His comments on Monday were in reference to last week's move by the Trudeau government to change a report on terrorist threats in Canada that was first published last year to no longer explicitly mention "Sikh extremism."
"We're told the word Sikh was removed because 'entire religions should never be equated with terrorism.' And yet, (Trudeau) has been warning us for weeks about the dangers of 'white supremacy,' equating an entire ethnicity with terrorism," Bernier wrote on Twitter and Facebook.
"Hypocrite! It's all about pandering for votes," he wrote.
Trudeau's office declined to comment, but Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale's office condemned the statement.
"While the vast majority of Canadians celebrate our country's diversity, toxic elements continue to peddle vile, hateful intolerance," Goodale's spokesman, Scott Bardsley, said in an email.
"We condemn Mr. Bernier's attempt to legitimize them. All political leaders have a responsibility to denounce hatred and intolerance, not court them," he added.
The Public Safety Ministry said the number of police-reported hate crimes in Canada jumped 47 percent in 2017, the most recent year for which there are official data.
While Canadian politics are not as polarized as those in the United States, there are indications, especially online, of increasing intolerance in Canada, which has a tradition of openness and welcoming immigrants from around the world.
Trudeau attacked Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer in parliament last month for not explicitly condemning white supremacy after the mass shooting at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Opinion polls show that Liberals have lost ground to Conservatives in recent months, with Scheer's party taking the lead. Scheer defeated Bernier for the Conservative leadership in 2017.
The People's Party would win 0.5 percent of the national vote if it were held now instead of October, a Nanos Research poll showed last week.