Ontario MPP Sam Oosterhoff says he still plans to be the featured speaker at an anti-abortion event, despite one of its organizers comparing abortions to the Holocaust, where six million Jewish people were murdered by Nazis.
The event is being hosted on Wednesday by anti-abortion groups, including the University of Ottawa Students for Life, Carleton Life Network and University of Waterloo Students for Life, in collaboration with National Campus Life Network.
The event is taking place online.
The National Campus Life Network group compared abortion to the Holocaust when it shared an article on Twitter earlier this year from an anti-abortion website.
Premier Doug Ford's director of media relations Ivana Yelich would not comment on the Niagara West MPP's decision to speak at the event.
"While we respect everyone's right to hold and express their own personal beliefs and views, nothing should ever be compared to the horrific acts committed during the Holocaust," she said.
Noah Shack is the vice president, GTA, for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, which is the advocacy agent of Jewish Federations across Canada.
"Holocaust comparisons trivialize the atrocities committed by the Nazis. Making these odious comparisons disgraces the memory of the millions who were murdered and denigrates the experiences of those who survived," he said.
Premier's office won't say if Oosterhoff will be disciplined
The office also wouldn't comment on whether the province would be disciplining Oosterhoff.
During his media briefing on Monday, Ford said the comparison was "just wrong." The premier also said that "everyone has the right to believe in what they want" and that he wasn't "one to dictate anyone's belief."
"I'll be speaking to Sam tonight," he said.
In a statement to CBC News, Oosterhoff said nothing should be compared to the horrors of the Holocaust and that he would still be speaking at Wednesday's event.
"I don't think anyone is surprised to know that I am pro-life. I have always been very clear where I stand when it comes to protecting the right to life," he said.
In 2019, the Niagara area MPP pledged at an anti-abortion rally in Toronto that he would make abortion "unthinkable." The comment prompted Ford to release a statement saying the government wouldn't reopen "the abortion debate."
A Facebook post by the University of Ottawa Students for Life called on generation Zers to register for the event, saying that Oosterhoff "will be speaking about being a young pro-lifer in politics." It highlighted that he was the youngest MPP to be elected in Ontario at the age of 19.
The National Campus Life Network, which says on its website that it's "dedicated to making an abortion free generation," posted on social media that it wasn't scared by "attempted censorship" of their students, organization, and guest.
Niagara Reproductive Justice, which advocates for increased visibility of and access to sexual health resources in the region, says it condemns the MPP's involvement.
"Events like these show how important it is that we continue protecting a person's right to choose and challenge the misinformation being spread about supposed moral and medical dangers of abortion," the group said, noting it would fight to keep abortion legal and safe for people.
"Abortion is healthcare and that is not up for debate."
A Facebook post from National Campus Life Network said part of its mission is to have "conversations about tough topics like abortion, and affiliated questions such as 'is abortion and the Holocaust comparable?'"
"We understand that not every aspect of the Holocaust can be compared with current abortion practices. And, that making statements about or regarding the Holocaust in any way weights very heavily. The bottom line of our stance is that abortion dehumanizes people," it wrote, and said it commended Oosterhoff and the other hosts.
Ontario NDP, Liberal leaders call for Oosterhoff to be removed from caucus
A joint statement from Ontario NDP education critic Marit Stiles and women's issues critic Jill Andrew called for Oosterhoff to be removed from caucus, saying that his involvement with "this hateful, dangerous group is disgusting."
Stiles said that the group "grossly diminishes the suffering and murder of millions of Jews in the Holocaust in the service of its dangerous political goals" and noted that the premier wasn't stopping the MPP from participating.
"These comments are not only anti-woman, but against any person regardless of gender identity or expression who needs access to an abortion – when abortions are stigmatized it drives them underground, which can lead to unsafe procedures," said Andrew in the release.
The release also pointed to the fall of 2020, when Oosterhoff faced backlash after posting pictures on his social media, which showed him in a group of around 40 people pressed close together at a banquet hall, with no masks in sight.
Requests for Oosterhoff to step down were also posted on Twitter by Ontario NDP Leader and MPP for Hamilton Centre Andrea Horwath, and Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca, who said it was another example of Oosterhoff's "poor judgment."