'Words hurt': Quebec politicians link values debate to shooting
Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, January 31, 2017 7:30PM EST
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 Quebecois government introduced a so-called 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.
The Couillard Liberals are studying their own bill on the matter.
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.
"There are some things you just shouldn't do, for the sake of human decency."