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July 31, 2018
July 31, 2018 7:54 PM EDT
NDP House Leader Gilles Bisson attends Question Period at Queen's Park, in Toronto on Tuesday, July 31, 2018. The PC Government has refused to answer questions from the official opposition after having accused Bisson of mocking the accent of PC MPP Kaleed Rasheed.Chris Young / THE CANADIAN PRESS
NDP House Leader Gilles Bisson denied accusations Tuesday that he made a racist comment mocking Progressive Conservative MPP Kaleed Rasheed.
During contentious debate in the Legislature over the government’s plan to cut Toronto council in half, Premier Doug Ford and several Conservative MPPs said they heard Bisson mock Rasheed’s accent when the Pakistani-born politician was speaking.
The remainder of Question Period then descended into chaos as PC house leader Todd Smith said the government would refuse to answer any questions from the NDP Opposition until Bisson apologized for his remark.
Smith also took aim at NDP leader Andrea Horwath, who suggested she didn’t hear any derogatory remark from Bisson.
“We’ve seen this over and over again with the NDP,” Smith told reporters later. “She refuses to hold anybody in her party accountable for their actions.”
Smith was hearkening back to the election and the Horwath’s reluctance to respond to concerning public comments and actions of her candidates, including one who referred to Toronto police chief Mark Saunders as a “coon,” a photo of a star NDP candidate carrying an “F— the police” sign at a protest, the NDP leader’s defence of a candidate who posted a Hitler meme and another who suggested Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan were guilty of “war crimes.”
Rasheed, who was asking a question at the time Bisson heckled, said he didn’t hear the remark. Neither did Speaker Ted Arnott and whatever remark Bisson did make was inaudible on video of the House’s proceedings.
PC MPP Kaleed Rasheed, left, sits in the chamber at Queen’s Park in Toronto during Question Period on Tuesday, July 31, 2018. The PC Government accused NDP House Leader Gilles Bisson of mocking Rasheed’s accent.
However, PC Finance Minister Vic Fedeli told reporters he “absolutely and without hesitation” heard Bisson make a mocking remark in the Legislature.
Ford also heard the remark and called it “disgusting” and “racist.”
Horwath responded by suggesting Ford “lies through his teeth.”
“You don’t apologize for something that you haven’t done,” Horwath said. “The premier is the one that needs to apologize.”
Bisson, meanwhile, flatly rejected having mocked Rasheed.
“I know who I am,” Bisson said. “Nobody in my family, my group of friends or my colleagues would ever hear me say words like that.”
“I am a person who never uses that language and to be accused is wrong and it’s only Ford trying to change the channel,” he said.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath gestures towards NDP House Leader Gilles Bisson, left, as they scrum with journalists at Queen’s Park, in Toronto on Tuesday, July 31, 2018. The PC Government accused Bisson of mocking the accent of PC MPP Kaleed Rasheed.
The incident led all parties to condemn what they called the toxic tone of the legislature while blaming their opponents for the lapse in decorum.
“It’s a very toxic environment in there,” said Tory House Leader Todd Smith. “I understand that some things are contentious that we’re debating. However, there has to be that respect for the members of the legislature, and mocking somebody for their accent or where they came from is completely unacceptable for any member of the legislature.”