Conservative leadership candidate Kellie Leitch would not have attended an activist meeting in Brampton, Ont., this week if she had known a group of anti-Islamic protesters were part of the event, her campaign manager said Wednesday.
Leitch spoke to people at the event on Monday which was attended by a number of groups, including Rise Canada, which has been protesting the Peel District School Board's policy of allowing Muslim prayer in public schools. The 20-year-old policy allows Muslim students space to pray in Peel schools on Fridays
CBC News requested an interview with Leitch but her campaign manager, Michael Diamond, said the MP was unavailable and instead sent a statement by email.
"Kellie Leitch attended a meeting organized by Keep Religion Out of Public Schools, in support of secular and pluralistic public schools," Diamond said in the statement.
"That meeting was attended by a number of people from a number of different groups, including people from Rise Canada."
A video of the event posted on YouTube shows speaker Ron Banjaree, who describes himself as an adviser to Rise Canada, addressing the small crowd about Muslim prayer in public schools, before Leitch enters the room and takes the podium.
Diamond said Leitch's campaign was not given a list of attendees before she attended the event.
"Kellie did not know this person or this organization would be there. Had she known she would not have attended," he said. "She wants to be very clear that this guy and his opinions are repugnant and do not reflect her own views."
Diamond goes on to say that the "long standing Canadian practice" of secular public schools should not be changed to "accommodate one group."
"Kellie is supportive of secular and pluralistic public schools," he said in the statement. "That includes the freedom to practise your religion and the responsibility to be tolerant of other people's religions."
The video does not show what Leitch said at the meeting, but instead remains focused on Banjaree asking the MP an immigration related question.
The issue of allowing Muslim prayers in schools boiled over last week at a Peel District School Board meeting where a protester angrily ripped pages out of a Qur'an to protest the policy.
Rise Canada openly advocates against Islam with videos encouraging its members to "celebrate Islamophobia" with controversial statements such as "No Islam in Canada" and "[Qur'an] is hate speech."
It was one of the groups behind a protest outside a Toronto mosque last month that saw activists carry signs with anti-Islamic slogans such as: "Say no to Islam" and "Muslims are terrorists."
Leitch's Canadian values test
Since entering the race to succeed former prime minister Stephen Harper as the next permanent leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, Leitch has garnered criticism for her pledge to screen all potential immigrants for "Canadian values."
Leitch's proposed immigration policy has drawn the attention of the press, but some of her fellow candidates say the kind of press coverage her "Canadian values" pitch is getting is actually hurting the party.
Leadership candidate Deepak Obhrai said Leitch's "Canadian values" test risks painting the Conservatives as an "anti-immigrant party."
"Ms. Leitch's proposal to screen every immigrant and visitor is nothing but Donald Trump's executive order, disguised as Canadian values, and crafted to keep Muslims out of Canada," Obhrai said in a statement earlier this month.
"This is a dangerous environment to create in Canada, and I am outraged by this," he added.