Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion came under fire in Ottawa Thursday, for giving a dismissive “two thumbs down” reaction when Alberta Conservative MP Michael Cooper rose in the House of Commons to make a statement about the Alison Azer case.
Azer, the Courtenay mother of four abducted children who are being held in the Middle East, was in the audience when Dion made the offending gesture.
“It was the first time I felt truly disrespected and dishonoured, not just on behalf of myself and on behalf of my children but my parents,” she said to a group of reporters afterwards. “I was truly disappointed to see the foreign [affairs] minister exhibit such unbecoming behaviour.”
A Canada-wide warrant and an Interpol red notice were issued in August, 2015 for Alison Azer’s former husband – Dr. Saren Azer, after he failed to return to Canada from a court-approved trip to Europe with her children Sharvahn, 11, Rojevahn, 9, Dersim, 7 and Meitan, 3.
The story, which has drawn international attention, was first broken by The Comox Valley Record.
Members of Parliament from both main opposition parties are growing more frustrated with the lack of progress in the safe return of the Azer children.
Following Dion’s gesture, MPs from both the Conservative Party of Canada and the NDP, demanded an apology.
Dion responded to challenges for an apology by suggesting that the complaints from his colleagues are nothing more than politicking.
“Mr. Speaker, I would like once again to call all my colleagues to work together on difficult constructs. We want these children to be with their mother, we should not play politics, we should not question the will of the Prime Minister to solve the solution, and any time you express my disregard to this behaviour very strongly it is because I mean it, Mr. Speaker,” he said, in the House of Commons.
“This isn’t the kind of stuff you really want to be dealing with,” Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns said in a phone interview with The Record Thursday afternoon.
Johns then addressed the accusations of politicking.
“Everything I have done has been under the guidance of Alison Azer. I am not playing politics, at all. I am doing my job. We are just doing our jobs. It’s our job, as Members of Parliament to represent our constituents. We are called upon by our constituents to ask questions of the government what they are doing. That’s all Mr. Cooper was doing today; that’s all I’ve been doing.”
Johns has been championing the Azer cause since his inception into Parliament, following his election victory in October, 2015.
“This isn’t a partisan issue. The only ones making it partisan are the Liberals,” he said. “Even a lot of Liberals are working with us to try and get the Azer children home. This has been a joint effort and we have been working collaboratively with everyone on this issue.
“The minister used a dismissive gesture when the Azer case was brought up in the House… and Alison Azer was in the gallery when this happened. So I can’t imagine what it feels like for her to see a senior cabinet minister using a dismissive gesture in response to her file, and heckling coming from the government bench.
“We need to know that the minister is doing everything he can to work on this file, and his behaviour today raises serious questions about his leadership on this file. Everybody makes mistakes from time to time. You apologize, and you move on. That’s responsible leadership.”
The Record attempted to reach Dion for comments Thursday afternoon via email. The interview request was handed off to his press secretary, Chantal Gagnon, who referred The Record back to the House of Commons quote.
When asked whether a formal apology could be expected from Dion, correspondence ended.
Johns reiterated the request for an apology in the House on Friday, at which time Dion did apologize to Azer.
“Minister Dion’s apology today in the House in response to Gord’s question was welcomed by Gord as well as Alison who was watching from the gallery,” said Christine Ackerman, Johns’s parliamentary assistant, in an email to The Record.
To see the apology, go to https://youtu.be/2hzo28kF5cs