Couillard calls for tone of Quebec's identity debates to change
Published Tuesday, January 31, 2017 2:53PM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, January 31, 2017 6:55PM EST
Quebec's government hopes the mass murder of people standing in prayer can be an opportunity for the province to change to a more positive tone in discussions about identity.
Residents have been debating issues of identity, values, integration, and assimilation for many years, but with thousands of people from all walks of life uniting in vigils to denounce the vicious attack on a mosque that killed six men and injured nearly 20 more, Couillard said it's an opportunity for people to move from tolerance to acceptance.
"There's a 'before' and an 'after' this terrorist attack on the Muslim community of Quebec," said Couillard.
"Racism, prejudice, they exist here and we must act against them, we must act together."
He called on politicians and public speakers to adopt a positive tone and to recognize that Quebec functions best when it is a welcoming society.
But at the same time he pointed out that every society has flaws, and dysfunctional members, who must be denounced.
"Every society lives with demons. Our society is not perfect," said Couillard.
He said in particular, Quebecers should exercise care in debating ideas in a respectful manner -- without descending into hate speech.
"Freedom of speech means that we will hear things with which we fundamentally disagree, but we combat speech with more speech. I don't think limiting discussion, or banning discussion, is the way Quebec wants to go," said Couillard.
He said people who are proud to be racist should, rightly, be denounced.
"There's a danger for this type of discourse to trivialize or normalize racist or xenophobic words and speeches. 'It's okay to say I'm a racist.' We've heard that. 'I can say it now, I'm proud of that.' How can someone be proud of that? How come nobody reacts when someone says that? So we have to also realize this and be careful that, involuntarily, our words, our actions do not give a green light to unacceptable behaviour or comments," said Couillard.
He hopes that politicians will show restraint and positivity in the months to come.
Parti Quebecois Jean-Francois Lisée agreed with that sentiment, and said the ongoing debate over assimilation has been bad for Muslims in Quebec.
He pointed out that his own party was partly responsible for the negative discourse with its failed attempt to pass a Charter of Values.
“I think if this shows us something, it's to be more careful in the words we choose and the examples we use, because what happened in this past 48 hours humanized a lot the fact that these are our brethren, these are citizens with us who are on the receiving end of a debate that they didn't ask for,” said Lisée.
Government coming to help
In the wake of the shooting security has been increased at mosques and other places of worship across Quebec.
Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux said he is asking police to stay on top of the situation, and to investigate all threats.
"The vandalism, the threats, especially those made recently. All those acts are being investigated," said Coiteux.
Meanwhile multiple ministries will be working together to improve efforts to integrate the Muslim community, and to shift the attitudes of other Quebecers.
"People, especially those living in the regions, don't know this community, this very small community of Muslims," said Employment Minister Francois Blais.
"In the long term we have work to do to integrate communities."
The Education Ministers Sebastien Proulx and Helene David said they are willing to do whatever they can to assist.
"I spent long hours working into the night with many people and I was impressed by them," said Proulx.
David, who met with teachers and students at Laval University in the wake of the shooting, expressed sorrow on the murder of a professor, whose widow also teaches at the school.
"The Muslim community is very tight, very supportive, " said David.
"We will continue to intervene in a very intense manner in order than all of us can learn and live together."