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Quebec minister calls on new anti-Islamophobia representative to step down over Bill 21 comments

Quebec's minister responsible for secularism, Jean-Francois Roberge, has called on Canada’s new special anti-Islamophobia advisor Amira Elghawaby to apologize and step down.

Roberge took issue with Elghawaby's comments on Bill 21 in a 2019 column in the Ottawa Citizen she co-authored with Bernie Farber. The column takes issue with Quebec's secularism law, which prohibits certain public-sector workers from wearing religious symbols at work.

Bill 21, commonly referred to as Quebec's religious symbols ban, invokes the notwithstanding clause to shield it from constitutional challenges. The clause allows provincial legislatures to override certain sections of the charter.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently criticized Quebec's use of the clause in Bill 21 -- legislation which Elghawaby's column called "exactly what the Charter of Rights is supposed to protect us against."

"Unfortunately, the majority of Quebecers appear to be swayed not by the rule of law, but by anti-Muslim sentiment," the article continues, citing a Leger poll offered exclusively to The Montreal Gazette and Le Devoir.

The newspaper reported that the poll found just "28 per cent of people had a positive view of Islam, ... 37 per cent had a positive view of Muslims," and that "among those who have negative feelings about Islam, 88 per cent support a ban on religious symbols for public school teachers."

Elghawaby took to social media on Friday to clarify her comments in The Ottawa Citizen, writing "I don't believe that Quebecers are Islamophobic. My past comments were in reference to a poll on Bill 21. I will work with partners from all provinces and regions to make sure we address racism head-on."

"On behalf of the government, I asked her to withdraw her comments and apologize. All she did was try to justify her abhorrent comments. That doesn't fly," wrote Roberge in a written statement obtained by The Canadian Press Monday. "She must resign and if she doesn't, the government must remove her immediately."


Quebec Solidaire (QS) and the Parti Quebecois (PQ) have also criticized Elghawaby's language around Bill 21. 

"Putting all Quebecers in the same basket, as Madame (Elghawaby) did, is not acceptable," said QS spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois. "These are hurtful comments for Quebecers. It is necessary to be able to fight against Islamophobia in a unifying way, and it is what I expect from the people named by the various levels of government."

Unlike, Roberge, Nadeau-Dubois is not calling for Elghawaby's resignation. Nor did the Quebec Liberals, whose interim leader, Marc Tanguay, said in a tweet that she must apologize for her "unacceptable and insulting comments."

The Liberals said the party stands is against all forms of hate, including Islamophobia, xenophobia, and racism. "In this regard, the CAQ must play a leading role."

The political reaction comes on the sidelines of a commemoration of the sixth anniversary of the 2017 shooting at the Quebec City Islamic Cultural Centre.

On Jan. 29, 2017, a gunman killed six Muslim men and injured 17 others after opening fire shortly after evening prayer. A judge said the shooter had a "visceral hatred for immigrants who are Muslims."

READ MORE: 'The sorrow doesn't go away:' Commemoration for victims of Quebec City mosque shooting

PQ member Joel Arseneau turned his criticism to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

"Did he do his due diligence, to find out what inflammatory statements she had made?" asked Arseneau. 

He said the column indicated Elghawaby held "deeply-rooted" prejudice against Quebec. 

Amira Elghawaby looks on during a ceremony marking the sixth anniversary of the fatal mosque shooting, Sunday, January 29, 2023 at the mosque in Quebec City. Elghawaby was nominated by the federal government as special representative on combating islamophobia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot


Jack Jedwab, president of the Association for Canadian Studies, which conducted the survey Elghawaby cited, is not calling for her resignation. However, he told CTV he believes she should provide more nuance on what the data really says. 

One thing data does suggest, according to Jedwab, is that ardent supporters of Bill 21 "do disproportionately harbour anti-Muslim sentiment."

"There is an aspect of the legislation that does seem to draw out those people," he said, clarifying that the survey gauged cross-country support, and was not limited to respondents in Quebec.

"Now, there are a lot of softer supporters of Bill 21 in that survey who don’t harbour anti-muslim sentiment to a significant extent, so the nuance is important," he said. 

"My hope is that she's already proceeding to provide that nuance."

With files from The Canadian Press Top Stories


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