OTTAWA — An Othodox Jewish woman is accusing Conservative party members of asking “unfair” questions about her religious observance after her bid to seek a federal nomination in a Greater Toronto Area riding was rejected this week.
Chani Aryeh-Bain, who previously ran in 2019 as the Conservative candidate in the Toronto riding of Eglinton-Lawrence, said she was told Wednesday her name would not appear on the nomination ballot for the riding of Thornhill alongside candidates Melissa Lantsman and Gila Martow.
“I’m the pathbreaker trying to find my way,” she said of her candidacy as a religious Jew in a nomination contest against two other Jewish women. “And the support is sadly not there.”
Lantsman is vice president of public affairs at Hill + Knowlton Strategies and held senior roles in former prime minister Stephen Harper’s government. Martow is the Progressive Conservative MPP for Thornhill’s provincial riding.
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Aryeh-Bain suggested her rejected nomination doesn’t make sense given how she ran under the party’s banner in the last election.
She told HuffPost Canada she doesn’t want to cast aspersions on the entire party because she wants to believe its members value religious freedoms, a position repeatedly championed by Erin O’Toole since becoming leader last year.
“I mean, if it’s such a problem for them, it’s sending the wrong message,” she said.
The federal party dismissed Aryeh-Bain’s claim that her candidacy was dropped because of her religious beliefs.
“That claim is absolutely ridiculous,” said Cory Hann, the party’s communications director in an email. “We never confirm why a nomination applicant doesn’t move forward in the process but I will say that her claim that it’s because she’s Orthodox Jewish is patently false.”
Aryeh-Bain disagreed with Hann’s statement. She said half of her hour-long interview with riding association officials on Feb. 24 was focused on her religious observance.
She said members wanted to know how she was going to be able to campaign on Saturdays if the office is closed, she said, adding that she responded by saying volunteers can go out on their own without her supervision.
“We never confirm why a nomination applicant doesn’t move forward in the process but I will say that her claim that it’s because she’s Orthodox Jewish is patently false.”
Orthodox Jews observe a weekly Shabbat from sunset on Friday to Saturday evening. Conducting work-related business is prohibited, as well as making fire from a traditional sense, which in contemporary times bars turning on electricity during this weekly period.
She proposed to the riding association officials that should she be the candidate for Thornhill, the campaign office be branded for the federal party rather than emblazoned with her name should it remain open during Shabbat.
“Because if the office is in my name then obviously it looks like I’ve been keeping it open which would be a contravention of the Shabbat rules,” Aryeh-Bain explained. “So you could basically have a Conservative sign on the office and have my picture and my name on signs in the window and then every Friday afternoon, before we close, just take my window signs down.”
The one line of questioning that stuck out to her, Aryeh-Bain said, was when she was asked if she would be comfortable talking with non-Jewish people.
She said the question struck her as “unfair” because of her 25-year experience as a small business owner providing uniforms to diverse clientele in the medical, food and hospitality, and education sectors.
HuffPost Canada reached out to the Thornhill federal Conservative electoral district association for comment and did not receive a response before publication.
The Thornhill seat opened up after longtime Conservative MP Peter Kent announced last year that he would not be running for re-election. The former journalist has represented the riding since 2008.
Aryeh-Bain is a vocal advocate for the Orthodox Jewish community. In 2019, she lodged a federal court case to pressure Chief Electoral Officer Stéphane Perrault to move the date of the election, which coincided with the Jewish holiday of Shemini Atzeret.
Perrault ruled moving the election date that year would not be in the public interest.
He explained in a statement at the time that, at that point in the electoral calendar, “recommending a change in election day to accommodate observant Jews would negatively impact the provision of accessible voting services across Canada.”
With a file from Althia Raj