OTTAWA — Canadian Defense Minister Peter MacKay has canceled a planned speech by the head of the Canadian Islamic Congress over charges the group holds extremist views, prompting an angry response.
The source of the controversy appears to be comments made four years ago by the CIC's former chief, Mohamed Elmasry, who said any Israelis over 18 years of age were legitimate targets for suicide bombings because they had served in the Israeli army.
But new CIC head Imam Zijad Delic, a Bosnian-Canadian Muslim who had been scheduled to make a speech Monday at National Defense Headquarters as part of Islamic Heritage Month celebrations, decried MacKay's decision and insisted that Elmasry's views were not those of his organization.
"Of course CIC doesn't agree. There are many leaders who speak and they don't speak on behalf of everybody. They just speak," Delic told CBC News. "Muslims totally forbid suicide bombing."
Upon learning early Friday that Delic may participate in the celebrations, MacKay "took the decision to cancel the imam's role based on extremist views promulgated by the Canadian Islamic Congress," his spokesman Jay Paxton later said in a statement.
"The Canadian Islamic Congress has declared that Israelis over the age of 18 are legitimate targets of suicide bombers. These types of comments don't support Islamic heritage, they simply divide Canadians, promulgate hate and they have no place in Monday's celebrations."
Noting that he has spoken at events sponsored by the departments of foreign affairs and transportation, Delic expressed dismay at MacKay's decision, saying it showed Muslims were being treated as "second citizens."
"His decision is totally unfounded, it's baseless," he said. "This decision tells me quite a lot in terms of how (the government) is disengaged from the Canadian Muslim community."
In February 2009, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney similarly denounced what he called the anti-Semitic position of Elmasry and the CIC.
The Muslim Canadian Congress (MCC), another Muslim group, welcomed MacKay's decision.
"In the past few years we have seen the so-called Islamic History Month turned into a propaganda machine for the Islamists in Canada who wanted to introduce sharia law and who wish to hide behind the cover of teaching history to infiltrate the highest levels of government in Ottawa," MCC vice president Salma Siddiqui told AFP.
"Islamic history should be taught by academics and historians, not clerics and propagandists."
Monday's event is expected to focus on Islam's evolving role in the Canadian Forces and on the contributions of Canada's Muslim community to society.