Conservative MPs hosting women's rights event with speaker accused of 'spreading fear and division'
Baroness Caroline Cox is seen in this undated photo from her website.
Published Tuesday, March 12, 2019 6:05PM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, March 12, 2019 7:39PM EDT
Two Conservative MPs are hosting a reception to promote women’s rights in the Middle East that features a keynote speaker who has been accused of sympathizing with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and promoting an anti-Islam film.
Conservative MPs Garnett Genuis and Kelly Block are billed as co-hosts of the reception and talk on Parliament Hill with the theme of “Women’s Rights, Democracy, and Freedom in the Middle East and in the West.”
Liberal MP Judy Sgro had initially agreed to participate in the event but pulled out last week when she learned that Baroness Caroline Cox, a member of the British House of Lords, would deliver the keynote speech.
“I was extremely disappointed to find out that she has a lengthy history of spreading fear and division, while impairing the very democratic systems that she claims to advocate,” Sgro wrote Monday in a letter to Genuis and Block, obtained by CTV News.
“It has come to my attention that Ms. Cox is a supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and that she has promoted anti-Islamic rhetoric that is harmful to democracies around the world.”
Genuis said the talk would be an “open dialogue” to advance human rights.
“Although I disagree with Baroness Cox on how Syrian engagement by various allied countries can best help vulnerable Syrian minority communities, she has been involved in many different human rights causes around the world, and the focus of this event is to discuss working towards the goal of gender equality and religious freedoms,” he said in an email.
Cox denies she is Islamophobic but says she believes parts of Sharia Law are not compatible with U.K. laws and values.
“I work with, and have very affectionate relationships, with Muslim women's groups in the UK helping them with problems caused by gender discrimination inherent in the application of Sharia Law in the UK,” Cox said in an email to CTV News.
Block did not respond to a request for comment.
Cox has spoken supportively of Assad and has travelled to Syria several times, as recently as 2018, during the height of the brutal civil war. Critics accused her of trying to legitimize Assad’s regime.
She questioned whether Assad used chemical weapons on his own people and spoke out against the U.K. government’s participation in a bombing campaign in response to an alleged gas attack on civilians.
After her 2018 visit to Syria, she said she did not condone human rights violations by Assad or his government but believed “enforced regime change” in Syria will have tragic consequences because there is no moderate opposition.
In 2010, Cox and another peer, invited far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders to show his film Fitna in the House of Lords, an event that she billed as a victory for freedom of speech. The screening set off competing demonstrations between the English Defence League and anti-fascist protesters.
Cox’s previous attempt to bring Wilders and his film to the U.K. was blocked by the British government.
“I believe in freedom of speech; he was a democratically elected member of a European Parliament; and I do not agree with all he says, but one cannot have a dialogue to discuss different views if you promote censorship,” Cox said in her email.
“This type of hateful and divisive rhetoric has no place in Canada and certainly should not be promoted by Members of Parliament,” Sgro said in her letter.
Cox is scheduled to speak on Monday at 6 p.m. ET in Parliament’s Wellington Building.