Hampstead mayor won't apologize for describing Bill 21 as 'ethnic cleansing'

Despite calls from other politicians to apologize for his comments, Hampstead Mayor William Steinberg opted instead to clarify them, somewhat.

François Legault says comments are 'unacceptable'

Mayor William Steinberg vetoed the July 15 vote against the project as councillor Harvey Shaffer was absent from that meeting. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Hampstead Mayor William Steinberg is facing growing pressure to apologize for saying Quebec's proposed religious symbol ban amounts to "ethnic cleansing."

But instead of apologizing, on Tuesday he opted to clarify his comments, referring to the ban's effect as a "peaceful ethnic cleansing."

Steinberg said. 

"This is much more subtle. But over time, it will have the effect of making Quebec a less diverse society and that just isn't good."

Steinberg made the remarks last Friday, when politicians in Montreal's west end came together to speak out against the ban and vowed to organize opposition to Bill 21, which would ban some public workers from religious symbols.

At the news conference, he said the bill is an attempt to force minorities from the province.

"This is an attempt to remove those who practise minority religions, leaving only non-believers and Christians in Quebec," he said.

"Ethnic cleansing" is a term used to describe the forced removal of ethnic, racial or religious groups from a territory by a more dominant group.

Quebec Premier François Legault was one of many who condemned Steinberg's comments during the day Tuesday.

"It's unacceptable, what he said. I think he has to apologize to all Quebecers," Legault said, calling Bill 21 "reasonable."

"You may disagree, but you cannot compare to what happened to the Jewish people."

Liberal MNA David Birnbaum, who represents the Montreal riding of D'Arcy-McGee, said Steinberg's comments were inappropriate and hurtful.

"I know him as a man of honour who cares about values of equality and fairness. His words on Bill 21 were most unfortunate. They were hurtful to me and to many Quebecers. This is a society that is open and tolerant and it needs to be governed that way," he said.

Birnbaum said he continues to oppose the proposed legislation and will be fighting it at the National Assembly, but that Steinberg's comments were out of line.

Liberal MNA David Birnbaum says the Hampstead mayor's comments were hurtful and inappropriate. (Radio-Canada)

Coun. Lionel Perez also weighed in on the matter, saying the term is used to reference violence, murder and genocide.

"I think it was a serious misjudgment," Perez said.

While he is opposed to the proposed law, Perez said remarks such as Steinberg's have no place in Quebec society and the debate should remain civil. He said he will file a complaint with Quebec's municipal commission if the mayor doesn't apologize.

With files from Radio-Canada