The Canadian Council of Imams is calling for the federal Conservative candidate for Central Nova to resign from the race, saying Steven Cotter has refused to engage with them on issues of Islamophobia, racism and discrimination.
In a statement released Saturday evening, the group said that although Cotter issued a public apology on Sept. 5 for past Islamophobic posts on his Facebook page, his refusal to have a continued discussion with them makes them question the sincerity of his apology.
It said Cotter has ignored numerous attempts to discuss how he would address issues they raised. The group now believes his apology was an attempt at damage control.
The council said it acknowledges recent actions the Conservative Party of Canada has taken to condemn Islamophobia and support human rights, including the removal of a candidate in Ontario, but it added that silence on the issue is unacceptable to their community.
Ahmad Hussein, chairman of the Ummah Masjid and Community Centre in Halifax, said the council was encouraged to see the Conservatives remove candidate Lisa Robinson over Islamophobic comments, although she denies making them, so its inaction on Cotter is confusing.
Hussein said the Conservative Party facilitated the original meeting with Cotter, which was unproductive.
"Over two hours, Mr. Cotter spoke no more than five words and had showed no signs of of wanting to change," he said.
"It became quite apparent that he had no form of an apology beyond what he said, the five words that he mentioned, and he had no plan to address hate in Canada."
According to Hussein, the council met with key leaders of the Conservative Party the next day, but no resolution was reached.
The council has been left with no choice but to call for Cotter's resignation, Hussein said.
He said citizens cannot remain silent when they see hate in any form, as by doing so they are condoning it.
'He cannot represent the community'
Imam Wael Haridy of the Nova Scotia Islamic Community Centre in Bedford did not take part in the virtual meeting with Cotter, but said Sunday he's disappointed to hear about the Conservative candidate's alleged refusal to engage with the Muslim community.
"He cannot represent the community. He cannot represent our Nova Scotia," Haridy said.
When Central Nova voters head to the polls on Monday, Haridy said, he hopes they keep in mind not only their own families, but the Muslim residents living alongside them who share their future.
In response to a reporter's question on Sept. 10 about the party retaining Cotter as a candidate after he made Islamophobic statements, Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole did not directly address the question.
"I've said from the beginning of this campaign, we're running a positive campaign based on bringing the country together and ... I want people on my team that share that exact same approach," O'Toole said.
The Conservative Party of Canada did not respond to multiple requests from CBC News on Sunday for comment on the call for Cotter's resignation.
Multiple attempts by CBC News to reach Cotter or his campaign by phone and email were unsuccessful on Sunday.
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