Quebec activists, community leaders at odds with political class over Elghawaby appointment

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While Quebec politicians want Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s anti-Islamophobia rep to resign over comments she made about the province, a letter of support signed by 30 prominent academics, activists and community leaders from the province urges people to give Amira Elghawaby a chance.

Bloc leader Yves-François Blanchet said on Thursday that Quebecers could not forgive the initial decision to appoint Elghawaby, who previously said Quebecers are swayed by anti-Muslim sentiment rather than rule of law.

In a 2019 article she co-wrote about Quebec’s Bill 21, she said that most Quebecers appear to be “swayed” by anti-Muslim sentiment. That law, adopted in 2019, prohibits wearing religious symbols at certain public sector workers — like teachers and judges.

Quebec Secularism Minister Jean-François Roberge said Elghawaby needed to apologize for her comments.

Elghawaby met with Blanchet on Wednesday to apologize for her comments, one day after the Quebec legislature passed a motion calling for her dismissal.

“I am extremely sorry for how my words have carried, how they have hurt the people of Quebec,” she said at the time.

The letter from supporters, dated Friday, said that despite the concerns of Quebec’s political class, they said Elghawaby’s apology underscored her desire to engage in further dialogue.

“We are sensitive to the concerns raised since her appointment, but the challenge before her is a considerable one and we believe that Ms. Elghawaby should be allowed to assume and pursue the mandate for which she was appointed,” reads the letter.

“We stand ready to contribute to a constructive dialogue around these complex and sensitive issues and are committed to countering biases of all kinds.”

Constitutional lawyer Julius Grey, philosopher Charles Taylor and Boufeldja Benabdallah, co-founder of the Quebec City mosque where six men were shot in 2017 in an anti-Muslim attack, are among the letter’s signatores. 

In a media scrum outside the meeting with Blanchet, Elghawaby said her past comments about Quebecers were not intended to hurt, but rather to shine light on discrimination.

Last week, Elghawaby tweeted that she doesn’t believe Quebecers are “Islamophobic.” 

https://twitter.com/AmiraElghawaby/status/1619103403728326656

“My intention has always been […] to bring people together,” she said.

Amid Quebec’s CAQ government calls for Elghawaby to resign, Trudeau rejected calls to rescind her appointment, adding she is the right person to help Canadians grapple with tough questions about religion. 

On Wednesday, Trudeau conceded Quebec has a complicated history with religion. He referenced the oppression of the Catholic Church before the Quiet Revolution that removed the church from government services, including health care and education.

The Prime Minister claimed it is essential that all Canadians understand that before the Quiet Revolution, Quebecers “suffered the yoke and the attacks on individual rights and freedoms of an oppressive church.”

“And that comes with it a certain perspective around what secularism is, and the role of religion in society that informs what modern Quebec is,” he added. “Quebecers are not racists.”

The Anti-Hate Community Leaders’ Group, an Ontario-based activist organization, supported Elghawaby’s appointment. In a letter they penned, they said no one is better suited for the federal position, citing their experience working with Elghawaby for over a decade.

“We urge the federal government, other elected representatives and community members to let Amira do her much-needed job instead of playing politics — Islamophobia has taken the lives of too many people in Canada already and we need swift action,” wrote the group. 

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