Rejected Conservative leadership candidate demands to know why the party dumped him

Toronto lawyer Joel Etienne is demanding that the Conservative Party reconsider its decision to drop him from the leadership race — and is claiming party stalwarts are “actively disenfranchising” Black and Jewish voters by leaving him off the final ballot.

CBC News has obtained a copy of a nine-page report that Etienne and his team prepared for party staff as part of an appeal of the decision to bar him from running in the September leadership election.

In that document, Etienne claims the party stacked the deck against him and other political outsiders because party leaders want to “help their favourite candidate reach a successful outcome.”

Etienne did not say which candidate he believes is the “favourite” of officials running the leadership race but he called the move to disqualify him a “corruption of democracy.”

In addition to Etienne, two social conservative candidates — Joseph Bourgault and Grant Abraham — have also been blocked from running for the party’s top job.

Etienne said he raised roughly $359,225 in donations — more than the $300,000 required — and collected hundreds of endorsement signatures from party members, enough to put him on the ballot.

He claims the party unfairly rejected some of the donations and signatures as invalid without providing him with “a legitimate opportunity to properly disprove the party’s findings and assessments.”

‘Hostile’ questions

Etienne also claims that, during a meeting with the party’s Leadership Election Organizing Committee (LEOC), he was subjected to “hostile” questions about his past.

“Mr. Ian Brodie spearheaded approximately an hour of questions towards Mr. Etienne attempting to suggest that he had ‘skeletons’ that needed to be revealed to the party,” the document reads, referring to the chair of LEOC.

“Mr. Etienne was tasked to offer the impossible — that he should have something to reveal.”

It is standard for a political candidate to be thoroughly vetted before being given the green light to run under a party banner.

Under the Conservative Party’s rules, all candidates for the leadership have to raise money and collect signatures and subject themselves to an interview with the party’s Leadership Candidate Nomination Committee before they can be deemed a “verified” candidate.

The rules state this committee can review a candidate’s application “and any other information they see fit to ascertain the suitability of an applicant.”

In a statement issued to CBC News on Monday, Wayne Benson, the party’s executive director, said the decision to block a particular candidate “was based on the requirements set out under the rules, not any prospective candidate’s political beliefs.”

“Any prospective candidate who did not meet the requirements was informed of this fact and the reason or reasons why they did not meet the requirements set out under the rules,” Benson said.

Benson did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday on the new allegations Etienne has levelled against the party.

Composite illustration featuring Conservative leadership candidates Pierre Poilievre, top left, Leslyn Lewis, top centre, Jean Charest, top right, Roman Baber, bottom left, Patrick Brown, bottom centre, and Scott Aitchison. (Blair Gable/Reuters; Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press; Justin Tang/The Canadian Press; The Canadian Press; Chris Young/The Canadian Press;Scott Aitchison)

Etienne, who ran for the party in a Toronto-area riding in the last election, claims this isn’t the first time he’s had a negative experience with Conservative officials.

Etienne, the son of a Haitian immigrant, said he was mistreated by party staff because he faced “racialized stereotypes and hostile tropes” when pursuing that nomination.

He claimed another “coreligionist” — Chani Aryeh Bain, an Orthodox Jewish woman who unsuccessfully sought the party’s nomination in the Ontario riding of Thornhill in 2021 — was “disqualified for running for the party because of her Orthodox Jewish observances.”

Etienne also claimed that, while at party headquarters last Friday to file paperwork, he was asked to leave the building after the party disputed some of the donation records he supplied to prove he had raised the funds necessary to cover the entrance fees.

‘Humiliating’

“The attempt to have Mr. Etienne removed from a building, as though he was a trespasser or a criminal, trying to use coercive force, was humiliating to Mr. Etienne, a Black Canadian,” the report reads.

Etienne also claims he was questioned at length about his work with Falun Gong, a Chinese religious movement that has been outlawed by the People’s Republic of China. He claims party officials were concerned that his advocacy work with this group would attract negative attention from some voters.

“To his great surprise, the matter that was put to Mr. Etienne by LEOC was that his lifelong human rights work defending the persecuted Chinese Falun Gong community … would cause problems for the party in terms of the party’s electability with Canadians of Chinese heritage and origin,” the report reads.

“LEOC [is] improperly and outrageously conflating the interests of the Chinese Communist Party and the interests of the Chinese-Canadian community.”

He said it should be up to party members to decide if an association with Falun Gong is disqualifying.

Falun Gong followers meditate in Hong Kong on May 9, 2001

Benson, the party’s executive director, did not respond to a request for comment on Etienne’s claims about party concerns with his Falun Gong connection.

Etienne said LEOC’s actions “depict a pattern of bad faith and ultimately voter suppression” and he accused “party HQ” of “consistent interference and manipulation” to keep him off the ballot.

To rectify these alleged injustices, Etienne is asking the party to strike some sort of appeals panel to review his candidacy.

Etienne said Brodie, the LEOC member that asked about “skeletons” in his closet, should be “disallowed from participating in and taking any further decision making” on his file.

He also asked that “any further decision maker” in this case “disclose any apparent, direct or indirect conflict of interest with the Chinese Communist Party,” as Etienne believes he’s been targeted for disqualification because of his “background in human rights and pro-democracy work in the sphere of China.”

He also said he wants a “full third-party audit” of the donation records and signatures he provided to secure his place in the race.

The party’s rules state that a decision to exclude a candidate is “final” and the party does not allow for an “internal appeal or judicial review.”

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