Transgender rights activist charged with assaulting Quebec premier

Esteban Torres, a transgender rights activist, has been formally charged with assaulting Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard.

'You can't govern from an office,' Quebec premier says after run in with protester at Orlando vigil

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard had to be rushed from the scene of a vigil in Montreal's village Thursday evening after an altercation with a protester. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

A well-known Montreal transgender rights activist was charged Friday with assaulting Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard.

Esteban Torres, 20, was handcuffed as he was escorted into Quebec court, where he was arraigned for assault with a weapon and causing a disturbance. Torres pleaded not guilty. 

He is charged in connection with an altercation at a vigil Thursday night in Montreal's Gay Village for victims of the Orlando nightclub massacre.

Couillard was involved in an altercation with a member of the crowd, before being whisked away by his security detail.

The Crown did not oppose Torres' release on bail. He will have to post a $500 bond and was ordered to stay away from Couillard. 

The Crown also asked that Torres undergo a medical evaluation in the coming days.  

"We want to make sure he is able to understand the charges that he is facing, and that he isn't a danger to himself or others," prosecutor Amélie Rivard told reporters. 

He is also banned from taking part in the Pink Bloc activist group.

"We believe his activism for the moment must be curtailed, he needs to have a calm and peaceful conduct until the end of the procedure."

Torres is next due in court on Sept. 15. 

Transgender activist Esteban Torres was quickly detained by police after an altercation during a vigil with Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard. (The Canadian Press)

Couillard downplays 'physical assault' 

Earlier on Friday, Couillard downplayed the altercation at the vigil. 

In an interview with a private broadcaster in his home riding of Roberval, Couillard labelled the incident a "physical assault" but said he is fine.

"Unfortunately, in a society like ours, these things happen," he said.

"Our society is more peaceful and more tolerant than others but we're not exempt from this kind of thing."

It was the first time such a thing has happened to him while attending a public event, he said, and he thanked his security detail for their professionalism.

"Luckily, there were no serious consequences," he said.

"We're turning the page and moving forward."

'You can't govern from an office'

In a later interview with Radio-Canada, Couillard said he had no plans to limit his public appearances.

"If I withdrew from the community, that wouldn't be very useful for anyone, and certainly not me — I have to meet people," he said.

He said each event he attends is evaluated in terms of security and potential risks.

"You can't govern from an office," he said.

As thousands of people gathered in Montreal Thursday evening for a vigil in honour of the victims of the Orlando shooting, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard was rushed from the scene after a protester threw something at him. 0:32

Rushed from the scene

Couillard was rushed from the scene after being struck by an unidentified object.

Torres was detained by police in the moments following the incident. 

Torres, who is affiliated with the anti-capitalist Pink Bloc movement, was heard shouting in Spanish for a revolution to begin.

He had spoken earlier at the podium as one of the event's speakers. 

In an interview on CBC Montreal's Daybreak, Quebec Justice Minister Stephanie Vallée said she knows Torres from efforts to get the government's new legislation in support of transgender rights passed.

Vallée was also at the vigil Thursday, and crossed paths with Torres before the incident.

"He looked me straight in the eyes and said 'thank you,'" she said.

"I just couldn't believe what happened."

A 'moving event' no less

The incident didn't affect Couillard's views on Thursday night's vigil, which he called "very moving."

"It was the whole LBGT community that was there to commemorate together the memory of those killed in Orlando," he said.

"It's a community that often feels isolated, threatened, and this was an important event for them."

The event was attended by a number of municipal, provincial and federal politicians of all stripes, Couillard noted.

"Everyone was united by tolerance, openness and saying 'no' to discrimination," he said. "It's too bad this incident left a stain on that."

Vigil organizers estimated a turnout of around 5,000 Thursday night. (Radio-Canada)

Not the forum for political action, says vigil organizer

Louis-Alain Robitaille, one of the vigil's organizers, said the incident "makes no sense."

Robitaille said Torres was not invited to speak at the event, but he approached organizers and asked if he could say a few words on behalf of the trans community.

"Naturally, we wanted to be inclusive and he presented himself as a brother who wanted to talk about the cause," Robitaille told CBC Montreal's Daybreak

"This was a day of mourning, 49 of our brothers and sisters died and we're there to mourn them." 

With files from Neil Herland