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Updated: Alberta UCP candidates spar over Rebel Media's Charlottesville coverage

Candidate Doug Schweitzer calls on other United Conservative Party members to denounce the right-wing media outlet

Former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean speaks to reporters at the Alberta Legislature Building in March, after Alberta's two conservative parties struck a tentative deal to merge.

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CODIE MCLACHLAN / Canadian Press File

Former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean speaks to reporters at the Alberta Legislature Building in March, after Alberta's two conservative parties struck a tentative deal to merge.

Alberta conservatives are split over calls to denounce Rebel Media, after one United Conservative Party candidate said the right-wing media organization is “defending Nazis.”

Doug Schweitzer made the comments on Twitter in response to the Rebel’s coverage of Saturday’s protests in Charlottesville, Va. that saw an alleged white supremacist drive a car into a crowd of protesters.

“We are better than this alt right hate driven agenda. @TheRebelTV has no place in our new #UCP," Schweitzer also tweeted.

Rebel Media reporter Faith Goldy was covering the scene, where she decried what she saw as a police “double standard” that favoured anti-racist protesters over “alt-right” protesters, when the driver plowed into a crowd behind her on video.

Progress Alberta launched a website encouraging all MLAs to denounce Rebel Media, and several NDP MLAs did – including David Shepherd, who called the organization "toxic and dangerous."

“They’re an organization that’s been building its following by pushing radical, extreme views, views that often disparage minorities," Shepherd told Metro.  

While the UCP candidates all took to Twitter to denounce the racist attacks, however, most remained mum about Rebel Media.

Jean tweeted that "White supremacists have no place in our society" and that he shared Schweitzer's condemnation of the attack, but at a media event Monday he did not condemn the media outlet when asked about it specifically.

“Right now I think we need more media, not less,” Jean said. “I am very concerned about some of the attacks, for instance, on free speech on campuses. I’m also worried about some of the ability for media to continue to promote access to information and to hold governments to account.”

A spokesperson for UCP candidate Jason Kenney said he has been building bridges between Canadian communities of all races, ethnicities and religions, and noted he attended several events put on by different cultural groups over the weekend.

“He is leading by example as opposed to simply voicing a position over social media,” spokesperson Blaise Boehmer wrote in an e-mail.

Kenney denounced the attacks on Twitter as a “vile, racist spectacle” but did not denounce Rebel Media’s coverage.

The party’s interim leader Nathan Cooper issued a similar statement saying he is committed to using his platform to be a voice for inclusion and tolerance.

“The hatred founded in white supremacy, fascism, and neo-Nazism that is occurring in Charlottesville is deeply distressing, and has no place in our society,” Cooper wrote.

“Here in Alberta, we must be unequivocal in denouncing hate and bigotry. We must not turn a blind eye in our own province towards attempts at fear and division, including the alt-right movement.”

Metro did not hear back from Cooper after requests for further comment.

Rebel Media founder Ezra Levant issued a staff memo Monday distancing his organization from the “alt-right” movement because of what he characterized as a shift toward racist ideology within the movement.

In an e-mail conversation with Metro, Levant said he denounces white supremacist ideology.

“It is absurd to say that The Rebel, Faith (or me) support racists. I’m a proud, pro-Israel Jew, and our company is more racially diverse than most newsrooms in Canada,” he wrote.

Shepherd argued that the outlet has offered a sympathetic platform for people with white supremacist views, and said he's skeptical that will change after Levant's statement.

“When they’ve been running that kind of content on their site, I have to really question the authenticity of the claims they’re making," Shepherd said. "I guess I’ll have to wait and see if they make any changes.”

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