Former premier and cabinet minister Ujjal Dosanjh has described statements made by a vice-president of the Young Liberals of Canada as “sheer racism” and called for the party to intervene.
On Saturday Ricochet reported on a series of tweets sent by Dunja Stajic, in which she questioned why “Roma people in Serbia are protected and are given benefits while Serbs can’t afford to feed themselves” and said “we will get back to this topic the next time my family gets robbed.”
Late Sunday evening Ricochet heard from Liberal sources that Stajic had resigned. This was confirmed shortly before 11 p.m. EST in a statement from president of the Young Liberals, Justin Kaiser.
“The Young Liberals of Canada have a long history of fighting for minority rights at home in Canada and abroad, with a record of leadership that has often defined Liberal policy and shaped significant moments in Canadian history.
Yesterday it was brought to our attention that a member had made comments on Twitter that were offensive and clearly not representative of the Young Liberals of Canada. We immediately raised our concerns about these comments with the executive member in question, and we have accepted her resignation.”
The announcement followed a request for comment on Dosanjh’s views and more damaging posts uncovered in the course of Ricochet’s investigation.
A history of questionable comments
After initially deleting one tweet, Stajic has now deleted her Twitter account. Before she did, Ricochet found another tweet dated March 15, 2015, which reads, “Gypsies in Serbia are protected under the law and the police can’t do anything. Basket case.”
Another post on a personal blog linked to her Twitter profile and dated January 29, 2013, described her experience on a trip to Spain. “Ironically though, no matter how much security there may have been, the gypsies were still out begging for money and food, doing some acrobatics and bizarre tricks, and of course pick-pocketing gullible tourists. Michael and I walked around holding our belongings with our dear lives, constantly in sight, paranoid. Our mission for the weekend was to NOT get pick-pocketed and we succeeded.”
Dosanjh didn’t mince words in describing these statements and Stajic's defence of them to Ricochet.
“She’s saying well, she could have worded it better. No matter how you word it, if it’s racism, it's racism. If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it’s a duck. No matter how you word it, it’s sheer racism and this sentiment is rampant in certain parts of Europe.”
Dosanjh said he visited a Roma camp while in Paris several years ago, and his experience left him touched by the plight of the Roma people.
“Generally speaking, Roma are not on the radar as a persecuted minority, at least in the Canadian consciousness. They are persecuted constantly, they are physically attacked, killed, discriminated against and there's a whole history of that. In a sense they are a people who are unwanted anywhere in Europe.”
“There isn't a country in Europe that has stood up and said, ‘We've been doing it wrong, and we're going to change.’ The European Commission of Human Rights has been trying to send that message, but in France they bus or fly these people back to Romania or Albania, despite the fact that they are a part of the EU and have the right of mobility. And the same is the case with Germany and Italy.”
‘Given a chance, all people can thrive’
Dosanjh was asked why the stereotype of Roma as thieves struck a chord in him.
“If you have people living on the margins of society, and they don't have enough to feed themselves, obviously they'll try to feed themselves by whatever means there are. Roma are not considered human, generally speaking, in Europe, and there have been centuries of persecution, exclusion, and oppression of Roma.”
“For someone to say every Roma is a thief, well, I'm sorry but Bill Clinton is Roma [eds: maybe]. Charlie Chaplin was Roma, Rita Hayworth was Roma, Yul Brynner was Roma. Given a chance, all people can thrive.”
On Sunday Dosanjh tweeted that Stajic “must go.” Ricochet asked if the Liberal Party should step in if she didn’t choose to resign.
“If she is vice-president of the youth wing of the federal Liberal Party, then the federal Liberal Party, my party, needs to step up and deal with it. This is absolutely unacceptable. Roma are people too. If we're going to have these attitudes displayed in Canada, in the leadership positions of political organizations that are supposed to be in the vanguard of a movement for change for the better, then I'm sorry, but something needs to change.”
“I'm not necessarily saying she should be fired. I said she should go, but if she clearly understands that she's wrong, and she is prepared to say that she's wrong, that her ideas are totally wrong-headed and she's prepared to change, then maybe she shouldn't go. But she isn't even admitting that there's anything wrong with what she's doing. You can't be that thick skulled and be allowed to be in a leadership position in a political organization that wants to create a more just society.”