QUEBEC CITY -- The Journal de Montreal has apologized to its readers after it came under heavy fire for its front page on Thursday. 

The Journal features an archival photo of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dressed in traditional Indian clothing with the accompanying headline "India's variant has arrived. So, Justin, are we cutting ties with India quickly this time?"

Late Thursday afternoon, the newspaper published an apology, saying its intention was to highlight the importance of protecting Canada's borders during a pandemic. 

"It was never the intention of our team to offend anyone or to target a particular group," the paper wrote. "We're sorry is some people have been offended."

Thursday afternoon, the federal government issued a 30-day ban on all flights from India and Pakistan as COVID-19 infections continue to surge in those countries.

Quebec's minister responsible for the fight against racism says he's concerned that the Journal de Montreal is feeding prejudice with its Thursday cover story.

Minister Benoit Charette responded Thursday by saying he was concerned about the consequences.

He recalled that since the beginning of the pandemic, there has been an increase in racist acts targeting people of Chinese origin.

"With similar representations, we risk feeding prejudice," he said on Twitter.

The Journal de Montréal later faced a barrage of criticism in the National Assembly.

According to Liberal leader Dominique Anglade, the Montreal daily is making an "amalgam" that she calls "inappropriate" and even "very dangerous."

"What is the message?" she asked. "We must beware of Indians? The variant is the Prime Minister? We have to be very careful about the message we try to send to the population."

She also pointed out that Asian-Quebecers have been victims of prejudice and "absolutely unacceptable remarks."

"What we need is to make sure that we are all together to fight this virus," she said.

"When it came to the British variant, there was no mention of ethnicity," said Quebec Solidaire (QS) parliamentary leader Manon Masse.

"The virus has no ethnicity," she said at a news conference.

Masse said the Journal de Montreal is "deflecting" the debate.

"Is it necessary? Absolutely not," she said.

"The measure is always a good guide in times of crisis," added PQ MNA Veronique Hivon. "I think we must be careful not to feed prejudices that, as we know, are already present in the current context."

When asked about the issue, Premier Francois Legault said that "it is necessary to be careful not to stigmatize certain communities."


On Wednesday, public health officials confirmed a first case of the Indian variant in Quebec, in the Mauricie--Centre-du-Quebec region.

Legault announced that a letter signed by several provinces will be sent to Trudeau asking him to do more to protect the borders.

"We can ask ourselves, on a flight from New Delhi to Montreal or Toronto, are there passengers who can be contaminated?" he said.

"More needs to be done on international flights, on land entries and among ourselves, the provinces, we have agreed to do everything we can to reduce travel between provinces."

For now, the Legault government has no intention of further limiting inter-regional travel in Quebec or isolating the area in Mauricie where the Indian variant is located.


The debate quickly moved to the other side of the Ottawa River, where the New Democratic Party (NDP) was particularly scathing.

"I am an opponent of Justin Trudeau, but the front page of the Journal de Montreal this morning is particularly disgusting," said NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice.

"It is an irresponsible and crazy amalgam. But above all, it encourages the stigmatization of a community. It is pitiful.

"It doesn't really surprise us, unfortunately, coming from a newspaper whose journalistic standards are crumbling every year, with more and more commentators from the populist right."

For his part, Conservative MP Alain Rayes seemed to approve of the Journal de Montreal's work, reposting Justin Trudeau's photo on Twitter and saying: "Nothing to add."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 22, 2021, with files from CTV Montreal.