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Canada’s new anti-Islamophobia representative apologizes for comments about Quebecers

OTTAWA — Canada’s new special envoy for combating Islamophobia said Wednesday that she is sorry her words hurt Quebecers.

OTTAWA — Canada’s new special envoy for combating Islamophobia said Wednesday that she is sorry her words hurt Quebecers.

“These are very difficult conversations and I want to say that I am very sorry for how my words have worn, how they have hurt the people of Quebec,” Amira Elghawaby said in English before meeting Bloc Québécois leader Yves met -François Blanchet.

She said she listens carefully and that’s what dialogue is about.

Several Quebec politicians have called for the repeal of Elghawaby’s appointment over her comments in a 2019 opinion piece.

The column, co-authored with former Canadian Jewish Congress CEO Bernie Farber, cited poll data to say that “a majority of Quebecers” who supported Bill 21 also held anti-Muslim views.

Farber and Elghawaby, a journalist and human rights activist, were then board members of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network.

Quebec’s Bill 21 has been heavily criticized – including by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau – for discriminating against members of religious minorities by banning them from wearing religious symbols in their public sector workplaces.

Trudeau said after Wednesday’s apology it showed the extent to which she is a sensitive person who is open to the concerns of others and wants to “build bridges” on a difficult file.

Earlier Wednesday, Trudeau said Quebec has a complicated history with religion, citing the province’s repression of the Catholic Church before the Quiet Revolution largely removed the church from state services, including health care and education.

He said it was important to him that all Canadians understand that prior to the Quiet Revolution, Quebecers “suffered from the yoke and attacks on individual rights and liberties of an oppressive church.”

“And with that comes some perspective on what secularism is and the role of religion in society that is influencing modern Quebec,” he said. “Quebecians are not racists.”

There are also Canadians, including in the Muslim community, for whom religion is extremely important, both publicly and privately, he said.

“What we need now are people who can understand and bridge these two realities,” Trudeau said.

Elghawaby, he said, is the right person to try to bridge that gap.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on February 1, 2023.

The Canadian Press

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