Winnipeggers slam Bernier for tweet about city park named for Pakistani leader

Winnipeggers slam Bernier for tweet about city park named for Pakistani leader

Winnipeggers are condemning Conservative MP Maxime Bernier for using the naming of a community park in South Pointe as a way to criticize “extreme multiculturalism.”

In a tweet, the former party leadership contender suggested it was an odd dichotomy that Victoria recently removed a statue of Canada’s founder, while Winnipeg recently dedicated a park to Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of the modern state of Pakistan.

Bernier also argued the partition of India, which led to the creation of Pakistan in 1947, killed nearly one million people.

His remarks came Tuesday night, after Bernier’s initial series of tweets on the weekend were roundly disparaged for stoking racist and xenophobic tensions.

Rashid Ahmed, a Pakistani university professor in Winnipeg, scoffed at the suggestion that more diversity and multiculturalism is somehow a form of extremism.

If “being loved by each other is extreme, that’s fine,” said Ahmed, who campaigned for the new name to city officials. “I’m happy with that word as extremism.” 

Rashid Ahmed, a Pakistani university professor in Winnipeg, was part of the group who asked the park to be named after Muhammad Ali Jinnah. (Radio-Canada)

He said Bernier is appearing to exploit Islamophobia to rile up anti-immigrant sentiment. 

“Why do they only choose this name, this park, as the symbol for the division or the multiculturalism? Why not other parks all over Canada?”

In a follow-up tweet sent Monday, Bernier said his controversial tweets were not meant to trash diversity itself, but rather “ever more of it.” Members of his party have tried to distance themselves from his remarks since the weekend.

“Something infinitely diverse has no core identity and ceases to exist,” he tweeted.

Ontario Conservative Sen. Salma Ataullahjan, who is Pakistani-Canadian, said Maxime Bernier’s latest tweet about the naming of a park in Winnipeg after the founder of the modern Pakistani state is offensive and an attempt to divide Canadians. (Salma Ataullahjan/Senate of Canada)

Conservative Ontario Sen. Salma Ataullahjan, who is Pakistani-Canadian, told CBC News that Bernier’s remarks are not merely offensive — it’s an attempt to divide Canadians of Pakistani origins from other Canadians.

“A lot of [Pakistani-Canadians] supported his leadership bid and instead of wishing them well on Pakistan Independence Day he tweets this out … He’s just poking us in the eye for no reason.”

The City of Winnipeg held a naming ceremony for the park in the city’s south end this May. It is in honour of a revered figure in Pakistan who is called “Qaid e Azam,” Urdu for “great leader.”

Jinnah Park lies alongside a pond and includes a cricket field, play structure, swing set and benches. It is located south of Tim Sales Drive at Northern Lights Drive.

Local MP Terry Duguid was among those Wednesday to ask Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer to dismiss Bernier from caucus.

This new multicultural reality is reflected in our parks, our streets, our buildings, and I view that as a very, very positive thing.– Liberal MP Terry Duguid

“It’s really unfortunate, these tweets and these comments by Maxime Bernier. They’re very divisive. They’re not helpful.”

Duguid said Winnipeg has a history of naming places in support of their cultural communities, such as Dr. José Rizal Park, named after a Filipino hero, and Manila Road, based on the Philippines’ capital city.

“This new multicultural reality is reflected in our parks, our streets, our buildings, and I view that as a very, very positive thing.”

Scheer said in a statement late Wednesday that Bernier doesn’t speak for his party on any issue.

“I disagree with politicians on the left and the right when they use identity politics to divide Canadians. I will not engage in this type of politics.”

Scheer did not elaborate specifically on the tweet. A request from CBC News to both Scheer and Bernier about the Winnipeg tweet was not returned.

Coun. Janice Lukes (South Winnipeg-St. Norbert) said she was approached by the city’s Pakistani community to name the park after one of their leaders.

She said the new name creates a broader understanding of Pakistan for other Canadians, while acknowledging the contributions of the Pakistanis already making a life in the city.

Winnipeg has more than 5,000 people of Pakistani origin, according to the 2016 census. A large contingent resides in the city’s southern reaches.

Published at Thu, 16 Aug 2018 06:00:00 -0400