Cleric's address to DND scrubbed after complaint
OTTAWA - Defence Minister Peter MacKay has cancelled a planned speech by the head of the Canadian Islamic Congress, which was due to take place Monday at National Defence headquarters.
The Defence Department had invited Imam Zijad Delic, the executive director of the congress, to speak at a commemoration for Islamic Heritage Month.
The Conservative government has in the past labelled the organization as extremist over its views on Israel.
Immigration Minister Jason Kenney publicly condemned the Islamic congress in a speech about anti-Semitism in Britain during the winter of 2009.
MacKay had no idea that Delic, a Bosnian Muslim, was slated to give remarks to headquarters staff, both uniform and civilian.
He learned about it Friday morning and revoked the invitation.
"The Canadian Islamic Congress has declared that Israelis over the age of 18 are legitimate targets of suicide bombers," said Jay Paxton, the minister's communications director.
"These types of comments don't support Islamic Heritage, they simply divide Canadians, promulgate hate and they have no place in Monday's celebrations. Instead, Monday's celebrations will focus on the evolution of Islam in the Canadian Forces and the positive contribution of Canada's Muslim community to our society."
The decision has the potential to put a further chill in relations between the Harper government and the country's Islamic community, which has complained in the past that Ottawa has taken a more pro-Israel stand in foreign relations.
The terse statement, issued late Friday, came after two Christian-based associations began circulating an e-mail, which described Delic's presence at the event as affront to Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan and their families.
Paxton's statement, sent to The Canadian Press, didn't explain how Delic was invited, but the cleric has often been consulted by agencies seeking to build bridges with the Muslim community in Ottawa. When three suspects were arrested last month on terrorism charges, the congress was among those canvassed by Ottawa police seeking to calm cultural anxiety.
Delic was not immediately available for comment, but he told Global National television news, which first reported the decision, that he was unaware of the move and shocked by it, calling the cancellation "hurtful."
Charles McVety, president of the right-leaning Institute of Canadian Values, was outraged the invitation was issued at all.
"This will shock the conscience of Canadians of good faith, dismay military families whose children have made the supreme sacrifice, and undermine the credibility and morale of our armed services in the eyes of allies and enemies alike," he said in a statement.
Another group, calling itself the Evangelical Association supported McVety, who's claimed publicly in the past to have the ear of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Rondo Thomas, of the evangelical group, claimed to have spoken with the mother of a Canadian soldier killed overseas and who was apparently dismayed.