Conservative Party of Canada Leader Andrew Scheer has moved to distance himself from a far right website that has been under fire over its coverage of a racially-motivated protest that turned deadly in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Scheer's party has previously had strong ties to the website, Rebel Media. He and other Canadian Conservatives had frequently appeared on the website in interviews. In some cases, Conservative politicians even participated in political rallies organized by the outlet.
But at a party event in Langley, B.C., Scheer told the CBC that those days were over.
"Like all Canadians, I viewed the events of last weekend with a great deal of disgust, of the types of vile comments that were being made by hate groups, and I think there's a fine line between reporting the facts and giving some of those groups a platform or any kind of legitimacy," Scheer told the public broadcaster.
"I've got a positive vision ... I want to get that positive vision out in a positive way and talk to people in a way that talks about issues, that brings people together. So as long as the editorial direction of that particular institution remains the way it is I won't be granting those types of interviews."
In a separate statement posted by Sean Craig, a journalist with Global News, Scheer went further, reiterating his disgust and saying, "Until the editorial directions of the Rebel Media changes, I will not grant interviews to the outlet."
Hamish Marshall, the campaign manager in Scheer's recent successful bid to win the Conservative Party leadership, is also listed as a director of Rebel News Network Ltd.
On Thursday, Maclean's reported Marshall is "'in the process' of cutting his ties to the company."
In Alberta, where The Rebel has been actively organizing protests against Premier Rachel Notley, the NDP government challenged the new provincial United Conservative Party to join those who are publicly denouncing the outlet.
Leadership candidate Doug Schweitzer condemned The Rebel earlier in the week accusing it of "defending Nazis."
Another leadership candidate, former Wildrose party leader Brian Jean, also followed in denouncing The Rebel on Thursday. Jean said in a statement that he felt there was no place for hatred, bigotry and racism in public discourse, the CBC reported.
"I will continue to reject these sentiments whenever, and wherever, they may appear. I believe strongly in the sanctity of free speech and a free press, and do not believe it is the role of elected officials to dictate who is, and is not, media," Jean said in the statement, the CBC reported. "However, recent events have me concerned with the commentary and editorial direction coming from Rebel media. I have not appeared on the Rebel in seven months, and unless their direction changes in a significant way, I will not in the future."
The Rebel website has been under fire this week after one of its hosts, Faith Goldy, appeared to defend the extreme right protesters in Charlottesville who were denouncing the removal of a statue of former Civil War Confederacy army general Robert E. Lee.
The outlet's boss, Ezra Levant, also announced later on Thursday that Goldy was no longer working for The Rebel after she made a controversial appearance on a podcast that was popular with extremists. Although he had defended her coverage at Charlottesville earlier in the week, in his latest message, Levant said that she had travelled to Virginia and covered the protest despite his objections.
In the past, The Rebel has also been criticized for content that was considered to be anti-semitic and anti-Muslim. Its content has also been praised by white supremacist leaders in the U.S. such as Richard Spencer and David Duke.
Advocacy group wants all Conservative MPs to stay away from Rebel
Leadnow, a Canadian advocacy organization wants to see Scheer go further than his own promise not to grant interviews to Rebel Media, by committing to "asking all other Conservative MPs to avoid doing interviews with them" and issuing "a formal public statement denouncing Rebel Media for their offensive coverage of the neo-Nazi rally" in the United States on the weekend.
"This is a very good start, it's incredibly important that political parties stand up against this hate and racism, and we were really glad to see Mr. Scheer come around to finally acknowledging how dangerous the Rebel's discourse is," said Leadnow campaigns director Logan McIntosh Thursday.
"But also he did still leave the door open to do interviews with them in the future. And so we're still calling on him to encourage MPs to avoid interviews and really stand strong in condemning Rebel."
McIntosh talked briefly with Scheer Wednesday night at an event for Conservative volunteers in Langley, B.C. The two are seen standing beside each other in a video released by Leadnow on Thursday, when McIntosh asks, "Mr. Scheer, will you denounce Rebel Media for their controversial coverage of what's happening in Charlottesville?"
"I saw one of their broadcasts, and, you know, anything that gives a platform to those types of obnoxious groups is certainly worth condemnation, for sure," Scheer replied.
Jake Enwright, a spokesman for Scheer, told National Observer the CBC's report stood as a response to further questions, including whether Scheer would direct MPs to avoid doing interviews with Rebel.
Other high-profile members of the Conservative caucus, including Michael Chong, Lisa Raitt, and Michelle Rempel, distanced themselves from the website earlier this week.
By noon eastern standard time on Thursday, Leadnow's online petition for the Conservative Party to cut ties with Rebel had collected over 15,000 signatures.
Conservative Party of Canada communications director Cory Hann told National Observer in an e-mail Thursday that the party had not shared its membership with Rebel, and Rebel had not shared its subscriber list with the party.
The Conservative Party received complaints during its leadership race this year that its membership list had been shared with the National Firearms Association. In a June, 2017 statement, the party said, "The Conservative Party’s membership list is guarded very closely. However the recent leadership race mandated that the list be shared with all registered candidates, expanding greatly the risk for the list to be lost, leaked, or misused."
Rebel team changes
Through the week, four departures from the Rebel have been announced.
On Thursday, Canadaland reported controversial figure Gavin McInnes is leaving the site. On Tuesday, Rebel co-founder Brian Lilley announced his departure because he said he was no longer comfortable with the website's "alt-right" associations. The same day, columnist Barbara Kay and filmmaker and columnist John Robson also announced they were leaving the organization.
In a website post Thursday that outlined a strange series of events with contributors in the United Kingdom, Rebel boss Ezra Levant said he had had a "rough week."
But, he wrote, "not because the liberal media is criticizing us for being too right wing. That happens all the time. I love that, I get a kick out of it."
Editor's note: This article was updated at 8:30 a.m. on Aug. 18, with information about the departure of Faith Goldy from The Rebel.