One of Quebec's most outspoken advocates of secularism plagiarized a series of columns between 2014 and 2015, the province's press council has ruled.
But Djemila Benhabib, who was a Parti Québécois candidate in the past two elections, is unrepentant, and accused the press council of leading a witch-hunt.
The Quebec Press Council ruling "severely blames" Benhabib for plagiarizing articles that originally appeared on the Sympatico website, but have since been removed.
"In all the articles analyzed, the Council found, to different degrees, plagiarism in the form of passages reproduced word-for-word or reformulated from varying sources, including online dailies, literary authors or researchers or intellectuals," reads the council's decision, which Radio-Canada obtained a copy of.
"In all cases, the passages were not in quotation marks, sources were not identified and no link led to these sources."
Though the initial complaint filed against Benhabib included several dozen columns, the press council decided to focus on a sample of five from December 2014 to April 2015
From Benhabib's April 23, 2015 column:
"Il était en effet évident, pour qui osait regarder la vérité en face, que la disparition du "Guide libyen", loin d'apporter la paix à son peuple le plongerait inévitablement dans un chaos politique sur lequel surferaient des trafics de tous ordres."
From an article published on the Courrier international website, from April 22, 2015:
"Il était en effet évident, pour qui osait regarder la vérité en face, que la disparition du "Guide libyen", loin d'apporter la paix à ce peuple, le plongerait inévitablement dans un chaos politique sur lequel surferaient des trafics de tous ordres."
'Any means to keep me quiet'
Benhabib addressed a number of issues related to secularism and religious extremism in the columns, including the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris and the Mediterranean refugee crisis.
She is a well-known figure within francophone political debates. Along with running for the PQ, she was also a strong proponent of the party's controversial secular charter, a failed bill that sought to restrict religious symbols in public spaces.
Her book Ma vie à contre-Coran was a finalist for a Governor General's Awards in 2009. She was awarded the Prix international de la laïcité in 2012.
Benhabib told Radio-Canada that she "rejects" the press council decision, which she said was driven by her political rivals.
"Why did they do this? What was the goal? What was the motivation? With what money?" she said.
"My political adversaries will use any means to keep me quiet."
A freelance researcher and journalist, Odile Jouanneau, filed the initial complaint with the press council.
No sanctions come with the council's decisions, though it asks publishers to make them public within 30 days of being released.
Bell Media has indicated it will comply, even though it no longer runs an opinion page on the Sympatico website.