‘I think that it’s a turn­ing point’

Couil­lard says Que­bec has ‘demons’ but is an open and lov­ing so­ci­ety

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - SIDHARTHA BAN­ER­JEE

MONTREAL — The deadly shoot­ing at a Que­bec mosque could serve as a wa­ter­shed mo­ment in the some­times tense de­bate in the province over race and re­li­gion, Premier Philippe Couil­lard said Tues­day.

Couil­lard ac­knowl­edged the province has its “demons” in terms of at­ti­tudes to­ward Mus­lims and that “xeno­pho­bia, racism and ex­clu­sion” are present in the province.

But the premier pointed to the out­pour­ing of grief at vig­ils as a clear sign Que­be­cers are in favour of an open and ac­cept­ing so­ci­ety.

“Spon­ta­neously, cit­i­zens wanted to show their sol­i­dar­ity, their re­jec­tion of all hate speech, the re­jec­tion of ev­ery­thing other than in­clu­sion and wel­com­ing in our so­ci­ety,” Couil­lard said.

“I think that it’s a turn­ing point for

Que­bec, to see Que­be­cers ral­ly­ing around these val­ues.”

Que­bec has had to con­tend in re­cent years with a con­tro­ver­sial de­bate over race and re­li­gious ac­com­mo­da­tion and held a high-pro­file in­quiry into the matter.

More re­cently, the pre­vi­ous Parti Québé­cois gov­ern­ment in­tro­duced a so­called char­ter of val­ues that called for a ban on os­ten­ta­tious re­li­gious sym­bols, such as the hi­jab, in pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions.

It never be­came law once the PQ lost the 2014 elec­tion.

Charles Tay­lor, the philoso­pher who co-chaired the 2007-08 com­mis­sion that stud­ied the is­sue of in­te­grat­ing im­mi­grants, said the rhetoric stem­ming from that so-called rea­son­able ac­com­mo­da­tion de­bate was a fac­tor in Sun­day’s shoot­ing.

“The way in which the two (events) in­ter­sect, I think, is that these peo­ple are en­cour­aged when main­stream politi­cians ... give some cre­dence to this (ex­trem­ism) by, in var­i­ous ways, tar­get­ing Is­lam,” Tay­lor said.

“It does cre­ate an im­pres­sion among peo­ple, who are very ill-in­formed about this, which is most peo­ple, that Is­lam is a dan­ger — that if you have to re­strict it like that, it must be a dan­ger.”

Couil­lard ac­knowl­edged the im­por­tance of words two days af­ter six peo­ple were shot dead and sev­eral oth­ers were wounded.

“Peo­ple lis­ten to ev­ery word,” Couil­lard said. “Badly cho­sen words hurt, some­times for life, and we have to be con­scious about that.”

PQ Leader Jean-Fran­cois Lisee, mean­while, said Tues­day the po­lit­i­cal class has a role to play in en­sur­ing there is a re­spon­si­ble de­bate. He said he re­grets say­ing dur­ing the PQ lead­er­ship cam­paign last year that a burqa could con­ceal a firearm.

“It was not a good idea to bring that into the Que­bec de­bate,” he con­ceded.

Lisee was also asked about the links be­tween the doomed PQ val­ues char­ter and ten­sions with Mus­lims.

“You have to know that one of the worst things, be­sides the Is­lamic State and (U.S. Pres­i­dent) Don­ald Trump, is to drag out a de­bate on the rules of co­hab­i­ta­tion (among dif­fer­ent groups) with­out ever de­cid­ing any­thing,” he said.

One Mus­lim man, Mo­hammed Ali Saidane, said Mon­day there’s been an “in­sid­i­ous at­mos­phere” re­gard­ing Mus­lims since the rea­son­able ac­com­mo­da­tion de­bates of a decade ago.

Saidane, a Cana­dian cit­i­zen who has been a Que­bec City res­i­dent for more than three decades, at­tended an event with Couil­lard and urged more ac­tion from the premier.

Asked a day later whether the at­mos­phere is in­deed “more in­sid­i­ous” in Que­bec than else­where, Couil­lard replied, “it is dif­fer­ent in ev­ery com­mu­nity.”

“Ev­ery so­ci­ety has to live with its demons,” he said. “Our so­ci­ety is not per­fect. No so­ci­ety is.”

Tay­lor said the fact Que­be­cers turned out in large num­bers in sup­port of the Mus­lim com­mu­nity at vig­ils sug­gests any­one at­tempt­ing to ride the iden­tity is­sue will face a swift back­lash.

The renowned aca­demic also had a mes­sage for the politi­cians and lead­ers of so­cial move­ments.

“You may get a few votes by propos­ing re­stric­tions on the rights of mi­nori­ties, but the price we’re all pay­ing is just too high for this,” Tay­lor said.

PAUL CHIASSON, THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

A sign is seen near Cen­tre Cul­tural Is­lamique de Que­bec Tues­day in Que­bec City.

NEWS SER­VICES

Clock­wise from top left, Ibrahima Barry, Azzed­dine Soufi­ane, Aboubaker Thabti, Khaled Belka­cemi, Ma­madou Tanou Barry and Ab­delkrim Has­sane were the six vic­tims of Sun­day night’s mosque shoot­ing in Que­bec City.

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