Politics

Maxime Bernier supports Saudi teen refugee Rahaf Mohammed

His party is tough on refugees and immigrants, but there are exceptions

Despite his call for fewer refugees and immigrants, People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier supports the decision to welcome 18-year-old Rahaf Mohammed to Canada.

Mohammed was granted asylum in Canada on Jan. 11 after fleeing her family in Saudi Arabia earlier in the month.

“For sure, she wanted to come here because … she doesn’t believe in the kind of values that her family was imposing to her,” Bernier said in an interview Thursday. “She’s coming here for the right reason.”

In his run to become the next prime minister, Bernier wants to reduce the number of refugees and immigrants allowed into the country. He also wants private citizens to decide which refugees to accept, rather than following the selections made by the United Nations.

However, Bernier agrees with the Trudeau government’s decision to let Mohammed settle in Toronto, after the UN suggested Canada accept her. Some of Bernier’s supporters agree with his position, as the People’s Party says it supports “equality before the law” and “tolerance for diversity.”

“It seems to me that her life’s in danger, so I think we should take her in,” said Dennis Tate, a custodian at a public school in Guysborough, N.S., who is considering becoming a People’s Party candidate.

Tate sees Mohammed’s situation as an exception. Generally, he said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has welcomed too many refugees.

“He went too far,” Tate said. “He was naive.”

Bernier’s opponents say his position on newcomers is inconsistent.

“I think he speaks to whoever’s in front of him at the time,” said Bruce Holland, president of the Halifax Atlantic Progressive Conservative Association. “He may be trying to soften that (stance on refugees) to garner more support, but things like his staunch opposition to Canada’s supply management system shows that he doesn’t really. He is radical, and that party is radical.”

In the House of Commons, Bernier sits next to Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, who advocates for refugees. She calls for Canada to accept more refugees who have been forced to flee their home countries due to climate change.

Jo-Ann Roberts, deputy leader of the Green Party of Canada and Halifax’s candidate in the upcoming federal election, notes that Bernier’s upbringing could have contributed to his position on newcomers.

“Maxime comes from a part of the country where there is a strong old stock, where your bloodline kind of gives you some right,” said Roberts.

She said this old stock mentality doesn’t resonate in Nova Scotia, even though its people are connected to their roots.

“We can play the “who’s your father?” game, but it doesn’t exclude us from welcoming somebody new,” she said.

For the first time since forming his new party in September, Bernier will hold a rally in Halifax. It will take place at the Atlantica Hotel on Friday, Jan. 18. It will begin at 7 p.m.