NDP candidate's joke upsets Jewish people
James McLaren, NDP candidate for Ottawa-South, canvases Finn Crt., near Altavista Dr. and Heron Rd. Friday, April 22, 2011. (DARREN BROWN/QMI AGENCY)
OTTAWA – An Ottawa NDP candidate's attempt to be funny has landed him in hot water with members of the Jewish community.
The story began Thursday when Saskatchewan resident Michael Kempton-Jones posted a description of what Passover means on his Facebook page.
The last thing he expected to see Friday was a frivolous comment left by Ottawa South candidate James McLaren, who wrote: "Is that the month when Jewish people like to buy Japanese cars?"
Kempton-Jones was shocked when he read the posting.
McLaren, for his part, was taken aback and apologetic when he explained himself.
"I have a predilection for terrible puns," he said Friday. "I need a 12-step program for a cure to them.
"I said Japanese cars because the month in which Passover occurs is Nisan on the Jewish calendar. I certainly didn't mean to offend anyone and I apologize if I have. It was not my best work."
He said that while he's not religious, he has a great respect for all religions.
"I didn't mean any of this. I was just trying to play with words."
"So what if this is the month of Nisan?" Kempton-Jones argued. "Big deal. I drive a Nissan Sentra and this is my second one. Does this give me the right to make anti-Semite comments, joking or otherwise? I don't think so."
He said that if McLaren is truly sorry, he'd like to see him say so publicly by writing it underneath the original comment on Facebook.
Ottawa Rabbi Reuven Bulka, who lives in the riding, said he doesn't know McLaren personally, so he was reticent to condemn him.
That said, he wasn't amused at what he described as a poor attempt at humour.
"Such a flippant remark is certainly not welcome," he said. "Passover reflects the time that Jews endured their worst persecution."
Bulka said that it sounded like McLaren was being dismissive of Passover.
McLaren's website states he's a teacher at Algonquin College and with the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, where he often works through the Home Instruction Program for students challenged with chronic illnesses.
He also serves as president of the board of directors of Parkway House, a home for disabled adults.
"He most certainly isn't an uneducated man," said Kempton-Jones, who also has tried to contact NDP Leader Jack Layton about the matter.
Passover, which commemorates the story of Exodus, when ancient Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt, began Tuesday and ends this Tuesday.