A provincial minister has suddenly backed out of a debate on the Charter of Values.

Bernard Drainville, the minister responsible for the Charter, announced Thursday morning that he would not take part in a debate scheduled to occur at noon at Concordia University.

"I’m always careful not to discuss security issues but let us say there was a security issue there," said Drainville, while in Quebec City.

Concordia's Graduate Student Association had invited Drainville, along with Liberal MNA Kathleen Weil and Quebec Solidaire member André Frappier, for a debate followed by a question and answer session open to the general public. Despite Drainville's decision not to attend the debate will still take place.

After hearing about the debate another group at the school organized a protest to "oppose the xenophobic Charter."

QPIRG, the Quebec Public Interest Research Group, which has well-known protester Jaggi Singh as a full-time staff member, had put out a call to begin a protest at 11:30 a.m. outside the room where the debate was to take place.

"I think we have to keep on debating respectfully and I think the risk of things getting out of control was far too high for this particular event and that’s when I decided to make the reasonable and responsible decision not to attend," said Drainville.

Charter opponents said Drainville should have been willing to face questions from the public, and trusted security staff to do their job.

"I think it speaks volumes about their confidence in being able to defend their project," said Christina Xydous. "This would have been frank questions coming from people that are directly affected by the provisions of the Charter itself."

Singh has taken part in several protests against the Charter, including on Oct. 25, when he and several other people went to the Parti Quebecois caucus meeting in central Quebec.

Some expressed disappointment with Drainville's absence. “Everybody knows that Concordia has huge immigrants who are going to be future settlers of this province,” said Amani Hassani, Concordia graduate student. “I am very interested in hearing his opinion about young Quebecers who were born and raised here and are Muslim, Jewish or Sikh and who are part of this society.”

Others expressed skepticism about whether the visit would have imperiled the minister.

“Coming to a university isn't any less secure place than anywhere else he could go for a meeting or something like that, so I think that might just be an excuse,” said student Roshana Jahanger.

The group that invited Drainville echoed those sentiments and said that measures had been taken to ensure a safe trip.

“The Parti Quebecois was promised entire security and we are disappointed that the minister is not here to explain to our members, who are from a huge multicultural background,” said Vignesh Shankar of Concordia’s Graduate Students’ Association.

Crowd booed until debate ended

Drainville's refusal to participate in the debate comes several days after charter opponents were booed off a stage at UQAM.

At a public debate organized by the Quebec Secular Movement (MLQ), outspoken anti-Islamist Djemila Benhabib said she was incapable of being civil to opponents of the Charter.

"I cannot talk in any fashion to Islamists," said Benhabib. "An ocean of blood separates us."

Many statements by Benhabib were cheered by the crowd, and statements by the other speakers, namely QS MNA Amir Khadir and Alexa Conradi, leader of the Women's Federation of Quebec, were mocked and booed.

Exhortations from moderator Daniel Turp for the crowd to calm down were ignored, and eventually Conradi and Khadir left the stage out of frustration.