A Liberal Hopeful’s Unseemly Syrian Political Associations

National Post, Ottawa Citizen, February 26, 2015.

When Liberal leader Justin Trudeau promised “open nominations” for local riding candidacies two years ago, he couldn’t possibly have foreseen what was coming, so let’s be fair. But let’s be honest. Trudeau’s idealistic open-door policy has bogged down in an embarrassing quagmire of lawsuits, accusations of back-alley shenanigans to benefit Trudeau’s favourites and miraculous last-minute spikes in constituency membership rolls.

Still, nothing yet quite matches the conundrum the Liberal Party’s “green light committee” had to grapple with late into the night this week. It had turned out that an approved contestant for the Liberal nomination in the newly created Ottawa riding of Nepean appeared to be harbouring a rather too opaque relationship with another party, one that sports its very own stylized swastika, sings an anthem to the tune of Deutschland, Deutschland Uber Alles and lavishly indulges a habit of suicide-bombing and assassination.

I speak of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party. At the moment, the SSNP is busy running death squads on behalf of its patron, the Syrian tyrant and mass-murderer Bashar Assad, mostly in the vicinity of Homs and the suburbs of Damascus.

Open nominations were supposed to be about “building a team as diverse as our great nation,” as Trudeau put it recently, but among Arab Canadians, perhaps especially within Canada’s heartbroken Syrian community, “diversity” is complicated. Syria’s brave young democrats are almost all dead, in jail or on the run, and those who’ve found a home in Canada are up against a network of well-connected regime hangers-on with deeper roots

This brings us to the Liberal Party’s dilemma in having given the green light last year to University of Ottawa professor Nour El Kadri, a former vice-president of the Canadian Arab Federation, in his hopes to beat three other “green-lighted” challengers in the contest to serve as Nepean’s Liberal Party standard-bearer. Late Tuesday night, the decision was made. El Kadri had to go.

The story begins several weeks ago when certain members of the Syrian-Canadian community brought to my attention a troubling number of concerns about El Kadri, mainly relating to his apparent intimacy with the fascist SSNP. But for a brief and friendly interregnum during the Baathist regime’s phoney national elections of 2012, the SSNP has been a member of Al-Assad’s ruling coalition since 2005.

Questioned by the Ottawa Citizen in December, El Kadri dismissed these concerns: it was all just a big misunderstanding. He responded in much the same way last month when questioned by Janice Dickson, a reporter with the Ottawa news website iPolitics. Asked whether he was associated in any way with the SSNP, Dickson reported that El Kadri responded categorically: “No, no, no.”

He was being targeted by an elaborate hoax by people “trying to throw garbage out there” by way of an anonymously-produced website, El Kadri explained. Liberal Party spokesman Olivier Duchesneau told Dickson the allegations would be looked into, but Nepean Liberal association president Linda Belanger told Dickson that it was likely all a mere matter of dirty campaigning owing to El Kadri’s “Arab background”.

This struck me as odd. It is hardly a secret that the Liberal party is assiduously courting the “Arab vote,” but it just so happens that it had been reputable people of impeccably democratic “Arab background” who’d been drawing my attention to certain aspects of El Kadri’s curriculum vitae that the Liberal Party’s “green light committee” had apparently failed to notice. We should assume a similar innocence accounts for the enthusiasm of the several prominent Liberal endorsers listed on El Kadri’s website, among them such Liberal heavyweights as Senator Mobina Jaffer, former federal cabinet star Sheila Copps and former House speaker Peter Milliken.

After having acquired quite a bulging file on the subject, I put a series of questions to El Kadri Tuesday morning. I copied my questions to Gerald Butts, Justin Trudeau’s tireless and valiant principal adviser. Among the things I was curious to know: For years, the SSNP itself has been referring to El Kadri as one of its leading personalities in Canada -a member of the national council, a member of the national directorate, and so on – so what was up with that? How to explain reports in the independent Arab-language press identifying El Kadri similarly?

What’s the deal with all those public occasions at which El Kadri is affectionately presented by the SSNP as one of its own? What about the photographs of El Kadri with SSNP bigshots at an SSNP summer-camp event where he reportedly delivered a rousing homily commemorating the life of Antoun Saadeh, the SSNP’s jackbooted founder, or that other photograph at an SSNP event with El Kadri delivering another speech at a lectern adorned with a larger-than-life poster of Il Duce Saadeh?

Ordinarily one might put at least some of these questions to the SSNP, say, to its media representative in Canada. Awkwardly, according to an April, 2012 report in the Arabic Shahba News about an “anti-war” rally (or more precisely, a pro-Assad rally) in Ottawa, that person is, or was, Nour El Kadri.

At the Ottawa funeral of SSNP secretary Nasri Saab, there’s El Kadri again, identified as a member of the SSNP’s Canadian national council. Here he is yet again, at an event organized by the SSNP’s Ottawa chapter attended by the since-evicted Russian ambassador Georgiy Mamedov, and again El Kadri is identified as a member of the SSNP’s national council. Of course it’s possible that all these years the SSNP in Canada has been mistaking El Kadri for one of its own leading figures, and that he is not a “rafiq,” a comrade, as SSNP propaganda calls him, and also that all this time El Kadri has been wholly unaware of this astonishing cavalcade of magnificent error.

Several SSNP propaganda sites referring to El Kadri as a Canadian SSNP leader had been “scrubbed” since December, when questions began circulating about the propriety of the Liberal nod in Nepean going to someone with unresolved questions about his ties to the Syrian iteration of the German Nazi Party. Had El Kadri been in touch with the SSNP, at long last, to put them wise?

I never heard back from El Kadri. But I heard fairly quickly from Liberal Party brass. Following its Tuesday night damage-control huddlings, El Kadri’s green light had been switched to red.

Some cautionary lessons, then. Here’s just one. Be careful in the attempt to win the “Arab vote.” There may be no such thing.

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