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Mistakes in CCD release re Omar Alghabra

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Submitted by Al Gordon (Canada), Dec 24, 2005 at 11:57

CCD Regrets Errors in its December 19 Press Release

For immediate release

Toronto, Canada - Thursday, December 22, 2005 - On December 19, 2005, The Canadian Coalition for Democracies (CCD) issued a press release that contained inaccuracies. We would like to correct those inaccuracies and to apologize for any misunderstanding that resulted.

On December 20, the Liberal Party of Canada issued a press release suggesting, among other allegations, that CCD had launched an "ethnic smear campaign" by commenting on the purported words of Mr. Alghabra on December 1, 2005.

CCD has no vested interest in any allegations that are not true and defensible, and would like to take this opportunity to set the record straight.

The December 19 press release from CCD was based on reports from several independent individuals who were present at the Liberal nomination of Omar Alghabra. While those reports were consistent, the resultant release was wrong on two key points and the inferences it drew from them. Firstly, the date of the nomination meeting was December 1, not December 2 as reported. Secondly, witnesses reported that the statements attributed to Omar Alghabra were actually spoken by Khalid Usman, the individual introduced by Mr. Alghabra as his major supporter following Mr. Alghabra's nomination victory. Witnesses reported that Mr. Alghabra's celebratory actions on the podium appeared supportive of Mr. Usman's declarations, and that Mr. Alghabra did not distance himself from the comments nor offer any correction.

On December 22, Carolyn Parrish, the former MP for Mississauga-Erindale, was quoted in the Mississauga News as saying that "He [Khalid Usman] made comments about Muslims eventually being [represented] in every riding in Mississauga ... He made it sound like [Muslims] were taking over. It was extremely inappropriate." Elias Hazineh, president of the Mississauga-Erindale Federal Liberal Riding Association, was also quoted as hearing the Markham councillor say, "this is a victory for Muslims."

Failing to distance oneself from inappropriate statements from a supporter that mix religion and politics is not the same as uttering those statements, and CCD regrets the mistake it made. CCD is forwarding this correction to all those on its original distribution list.

CCD would like to take this opportunity to respond to several damaging assertions in the Liberal Party of Canada press release of December 20 (below) distributed to media and others over the name of "Stephen Heckbert, Ontario Liberal campaign headquarters".

The Liberal press release claims that the errors made by CCD were part of an "ethnic smear campaign". This assertion is clearly false and extremely damaging, as a criticism of mixing of religion and politics stands on its own, regardless of the ethnicity of the individuals involved. Furthermore, those who alerted CCD to such statements were all of Middle Eastern origin and could hardly be accused of perpetrating an "ethnic smear". It was only the Liberal press release that generalized from the alleged actions of individuals to an entire ethnic group.

The Liberal press release is entirely justified in criticizing the admitted mistakes of CCD. However, the release emphasizes "strong Conservative ties" and even singled out individuals for their Conservative involvement from among CCD's 28-person board of directors. CCD's board consists of people from across the political spectrum. CCD's founder has been an active lifelong Liberal and campaign worker in most elections. The Liberal press release could just have reasonably concluded that CCD is a group with "strong Taiwanese ties" or "strong Hindu ties". To attempt to make any such connection is an unwarranted and damaging generalization.

The Liberal press release chose to disclose the name, private mobile telephone number and email address of Georganne Burke, describing her as "the Conservative Party's regional organizer in Toronto". Ms Burke had never herself publicly disclosed her mobile number, although Stephen Heckbert claimed that a third party had done so. Such an irrelevant disclosure clearly violated the privacy of Ms Burke as well as possibly endangering her safety. To falsely associate a woman with an "ethnic smear campaign" directed against the Muslim community and to send such a potentially libellous statement to the media is extremely threatening to the individual involved.

Prior to the Liberal release being distributed, Ms Burke received a telephone call asking if she was the regional organizer for the Conservative party of Canada. The caller then hung up without ever identifying himself. When Ms Burke called the number captured by the Caller ID, it turned out that the anonymous call has come from the Ontario Headquarters of the Liberal Party of Canada.

Within hours of the Liberal disclosure of Ms Burke's private mobile number, she received a threatening phone call from an individual who had been made aware of her private number through the Liberal press release.

The Liberal press release chose to identify members of CCD who happened to be associated with the Conservative Party of Canada, and who had no involvement in the press release containing the admitted errors. The author of the press release is not even mentioned, while those with Conservative connections are named. Had such a generalization been made on the basis of ethnicity, as opposed to party affiliation, the Liberal press release would itself have been an "ethnic smear campaign".

It is essential to emphasize that, despite the untrue inferences in the Liberal press release, no one involved with the Conservative Party of Canada had any role in the December 19 press release, and none was aware of its existence until it was distributed by CCD.

CCD acknowledges and regrets the errors in its December 19 press release and again offers its sincere apologies to Mr. Omar Alghabra. We would ask that the Liberal Party do the same with respect to potentially libellous statements in its December 20 press release.

We also would like to extend our best wishes to Mr. Alghabra and to all candidates in the present election, and to acknowledge the sacrifice that they are making in their chosen career, especially during the holiday season.

LIBERAL CANDIDATE TARGET OF ETHNIC SMEAR CAMPAIGN

Group with strong Conservative ties launches unfounded attack against moderate candidate

December 20, 2005

MISSISSAUGA The Liberal Party of Canada called on the Canadian Coalition for Democracies to apologize for issuing a blatantly false, politically-motivated news release targeting Mississauga-Erindale candidate Omar Alghabra.

The release, issued yesterday, alleges Mr. Alghabra said in his victory speech on December 1, 2005: This is a victory for Islam! Islam won! Islam Won! .. Islamic power is extending into Canadian politics.

Mr. Alghabra said:

I categorically deny making this statement, and anyone who says otherwise is lying. I challenge anyone to produce proof that I linked politics and religion.

Reporters who were present for the speech, including reporters for Rogers Television, said they did not hear the statements in question. A videotape copy of the news story, with his acceptance speech, bears that out. The videotape is available for those interested in viewing it.

The organization who issued the release is the Canadian Coalition for Democracies. The executive director is Naresh Raghubeer, a former executive assistant of former Conservative MPP, and Mississauga-Streetsville Conservative candidate, Raminder Gill. The groups board of directors include Michael Mostyn, the Conservative candidate in York Centre, and Georgeanne Burke, the Conservative Party's regional organizer in Toronto. Ms. Burke can be contacted at 416-816-3412, and her email address is georgeanneburke@conservative.ca.

My reputation has been tarnished, and I am demanding an immediate apology from this organization and from all those who have published this falsehood, said Mr. Alghabra.

One of those quoted in the groups original release is Victor Fouad. Mr. Fouad has been talking about this false issue on internet blogs for two weeks, and he is quoted as saying that hes tried to contact the Prime Minister for his reaction to this allegation. What isnt quoted is his statement with respect to Muslim Canadians:

Attached is a proven plan to invade the democracy in Canada and to convert it to somewhat NAZI attitude by the MUSLIMS. Please do something before Mr. Martin sells it all to them. Sincerely, Victor Fouad. http://canadiancoalition.com/forum/messages/11980.shtml

Mr. Alghabra is a well-known voice of moderation in the Canadian Muslim community. The former president of the Canadian Arab Federation, Mr. Alghabra is also a former member of the Toronto Stars community editorial board and a board member for the Canadian International Peace Project, a multi-faith effort to promote peace and understanding in the Middle East. Board members of that group include the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Phil Fontaine, and Ontario Progressive Conservative leader John Tory.

This release does not withstand the most basic test of scrutiny, and legitimate news organizations have rejected this story quickly, said Mr. Alghabra, but the damage has been done on the internet and in blogs. I am seeking an immediate retraction to ensure smear campaigns such as this do not become the norm in Canadian politics.

-30-

FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:

Stephen Heckbert,
Ontario Liberal campaign headquarters,
416-921-2844 ext. 338

-30-

For information, please contact:

Alastair Gordon
President
Canadian Coalition for Democracies
PO Box 72602
345 Bloor Street East
Toronto, ON M4W 3J0 Canada

Web: http://CanadianCoalition.com
Tel: 416-963-8998
Fax: 360-294-2839
Email: admin@CanadianCoalition.com

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