Wronged McGill philosopher still seeking apology, despite phone call from education minister to 'make amends'
MONTREAL -- Quebec Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge has refused to apologize for removing McGill philosopher Daniel Weinstock from a public forum based on information in an erroneous column in a Montreal newspaper this week.
The minister called Weinstock early Friday to "make amends," Weinstock said. The philosopher appreciated the phone call, but told the minister he needed to address the issue publicly, Weinstock told CTV News.
But Roberge's apology to Weinstock was, ostensibly, for a breach of etiquette. Roberge was apologizing for the fact that Weinstock learned of his removal from the forum through the media, instead of from the Ministry of Education. Roberge didn't apologize for removing Weinstock from the forum based on erroneous reporting, for which Weinstock is still seeking an apology.
Later on Friday, at the forum from which Weinstock had been disinvited, the minister said the government had done its own research and determined that some of Weinstock's columns were "controversial." He stood by the decision he made to bar Weinstock from being a principal expert at the forum, which was organized to discuss a new curriculum to replace the government's cancelled ethics and religious culture course in Quebec schools.
Journalists repeatedly asked Roberge on Friday why his ministry had uninvited Weinstock within hours of the erroneous column. He said that there had been a controversy, but he refused to specify what controversy he was referring to. "It's not up to me to decide if there's any controversy, we saw that a lot of people were talking about it and we didn't want to lose sight of the goal," he said.
On Wednesday, Richard Martineau - a Journal de Montreal columnist known for incendiary columns that regularly criticize minority groups in Quebec - wrote that Weinstock had, in a 2012 public debate on secularism in Quebec, advocated the "symbolic" circumcision of girls. Weinstock does not, in fact, support such a position. Martineau on Friday admitted the column was inaccurate but refused to apologize for it.
As a result of the column, Quebec's education department disinvited Weinstock from a forum being held today in Montreal on how to replace the province's recently eliminated ethics and religious culture class. (A spokesman for Quebec's education minister told CTV News on Thursday that it would not re-invite Weinstock, saying some of his past comments were "confusing" and that his presence at the forum could become a distraction).
Weinstock told CTV News that he thinks there needs to be a deep reckoning on the part of the government and that he is disturbed that they made a policy based on the opinion piece of a well-known polemicist.
Roberge, however, also told him during their call that the project to replace the class is a long-term one, and that he wanted Weinstock to be part of the conversations and consultations going forward. But on Friday morning, Quebec Premier Francois Legault seemed to contradict that notion, telling reporters in Montreal that "we studied what Weinstock said and we think it's not a good idea to have him."
Since Wednesday, Weinstock has repeatedly refuted the claim in Martineau's column, saying it was taken out of context, and that during the 2012 debate he was merely stating the views of doctors who do perform the controversial procedure that has come to be known as the "Seattle Compromise" (after a 1996 case in which doctors in that U.S. city agreed to perform the less invasive procedure on several Somali girls, whose mothers had otherwise threatened to have them fully circumcised).
In a brief note on Le Journal de Montreal's website Friday, Martineau - who did not respond to CTV News's requests for comment - conceded that he had indeed taken Weinstock's comments out of context and that the column was "inaccurate," but did not apologize for his error.
Instead, he argued that in repeating the arguments of doctors who do agree to perform the "symbolic" circumcisions, Weinstock was saying their viewpoints "deserved to be taken into consideration and to be the subject of a rational discussion."
"It is up to everyone to judge whether this proposal made by American doctors to mark the genitals of young girls is worthy of consideration," Martineau added.
As of Friday morning, Martineau's original column, uncorrected, remained on Le Journal de Montreal's website.
Weinstock said he and his lawyer Remi Bourget are keeping their options open but noted that he thinks the situation is moving in the right direction and that Roberge and his government will clear the situation up and make the necessary amends.
- With reporting by Cindy Sherwin of CTV News Montreal