Quebec calls for the resignation of the anti-Islamophobia representative of the federal government

MONTREAL – The Quebec government is calling for the resignation of the federal government’s special representative to combat Islamophobia over a 2019 op-ed in an Ottawa newspaper in which he suggested that Quebecers are influenced by anti-Muslims.

MONTREAL – The Quebec government is calling for the resignation of the federal government’s special representative to combat Islamophobia over a 2019 op-ed in an Ottawa newspaper in which he suggested that Québecers are influenced by anti-Muslim attitudes.

Ottawa must fire Amira Elghawaby immediately if she decides not to resign, Jean-François Roberge, Quebec’s minister responsible for relations with Canada and state secularism, said in a statement Monday. Roberge said the province had initially demanded an apology from him, which he said did not happen. Now, he said, she has to go.

“All he did was try to justify his abhorrent comments,” Roberge said. “That is not acceptable. She must resign, and if she doesn’t, the government must remove her immediately.”

Elghawaby co-wrote a 2019 op-ed in the Ottawa Citizen criticizing Quebec’s Bill 21, which prohibits certain government employees, including teachers and police officers, from wearing religious symbols at work.

She and co-writer Bernie Farber, former executive director of the Canadian Jewish Congress, said that “most Quebecers seem to be influenced not by the rule of law, but by anti-Muslim sentiment.” A poll conducted by Léger Marketing earlier this year found that 88 percent of Quebecers who had negative views of Islam supported (Bill 21).”

The legislation, the authors wrote, led to an increase in racist incidents against Muslim women in Quebec and “strengthens haters and entrenches second-class citizenship, now sanctioned by the state.” Elghawaby and Farber accused Quebec Prime Minister François Legault of denying the existence of Islamophobia despite the January 2017 attack on a Quebec City mosque that left six worshipers dead.

Responding to the criticism, Elghawaby tweeted Friday: “I don’t believe Quebecers are Islamophobes, my previous comments were in reference to a poll on Bill 21. I will work with partners in all provinces and regions to make sure we address racism.” head on”.

While that tweet wasn’t good enough for the Quebec government, it was good enough for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Asked by reporters on Monday if he was satisfied with Elghawaby’s clarification, the prime minister said: “Yes, I am satisfied.”

“Obviously, she thought carefully for many years about the impacts that various laws and political positions have had on the community, and her job now is to make sure that she helps the government and helps everyone move forward,” Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa. .

Earlier Monday, Quebec Deputy Prime Minister Geneviève Guilbault said Elghawaby’s comments were “inappropriate” and will not help bring people together.

Guilbault attended an event on Sunday to mark the sixth anniversary of the mosque attack. That ceremony, he said, which was attended by people from different backgrounds to show solidarity with the families of the victims, showed what Quebecers are really like.

“This is how we Quebecers are: we are open, we are welcoming, and we must not extrapolate isolated acts, acts of terror, morbid acts, like the one that was committed on January 29, 2017; we shouldn’t extrapolate that to the entire population of Quebec,” he told reporters.

To suggest that Quebecers are “systemically racist” or closed to people of religion or other places is unacceptable, Guilbault added.

“It’s fake, it’s fake, it’s fake,” Guilbault told reporters. “Québécois are welcoming, they are fraternal, and to affirm the contrary, especially occupying an official position with a salary presumably paid with public funds, seems to me a slippery slope.”

Elghawaby did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday morning.

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh said Elghawaby had clarified his comments and that Islamophobia is a problem across Canada that has led to deaths in the country. He suggested that criticism of Elghawaby was also based in part on his race and gender.

“I think for any woman who sees this, they’ll see it and see that it’s really familiar. The crowding of a woman, particularly a woman of color, is really concerning in general and in this case it seems to be problematic.” she told reporters in Ottawa.

The ceremony at the Quebec City mosque on Sunday marked the first time the commemoration was held in the same room where the attack took place. It was also the first anniversary since the attack that Legault had not attended. Guilbault said the prime minister had a family obligation.

Trudeau attended the event, as did Elghawaby.

Mohamed Labidi, president of the mosque where the 2017 attack took place, delivered a speech at the ceremony in which he praised Elghawaby’s appointment and called on the Quebec government to take concrete steps to combat Islamophobia.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on January 30, 2023.

— With files from Mickey Djuric in Ottawa.

Jacob Serebrin, Canadian Press