Legault slams 'ridiculous' question on Quebec secularism, language laws during federal debate
Debate moderator's question was an 'attack for sure against Quebec,' premier says
Premier François Legault is calling a question posed during last night's English federal election debate an attack on Quebec — and he wants an apology.
The debate moderator Shachi Kurl asked Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet why his party supports the province's secularism law — which bars some civil servants from wearing religious symbols at work — and Bill 96, a proposed law that would make French the only language needed to work in the province.
"To claim that protecting the French language is discriminatory or racist is ridiculous," Legault told reporters.
"I will certainly not apologize for defending our language, our values, our powers. It is my duty as premier of Quebec."
WATCH: Legault slams 'ridiculous' question posed during federal debate
In her question, Kurl, president of the Angus Reid Institute, said to Blanchet, "You denied that Quebec has problems with racism, yet you defend legislation such as Bills 96 and 21, which marginalize religious minorities, anglophones and allophones. Quebec is recognized as a distinct society, but for those outside the province, please help them understand why your party also supports these discriminatory laws.
Blanchet replied: "The question seems to imply the answer you want." He then added, "Those laws are not about discrimination. They are about the values of Quebec."
On Friday, Legault said Kurl's question was an "attack for sure against Quebec," specifically against two "perfectly legitimate" pieces of legislation.
"Somebody who's supposed to be the referee decided to be part of certain teams, saying that those laws are discriminatory," he said. "It's unacceptable."
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The premier asked for an apology from the Leaders' Debates Commission, which said Friday it doesn't write the questions.
Still, Legault argued that the question was not appropriate at the federal debate.
"Bill 21 doesn't apply in the rest of Canada. So please, please, it's none of your business," he said.
In a statement Friday evening, the Debate Broadcast Group, selected by the Leaders' Debates Commission, said Kurl's question "was asked to give Mr. Blanchet an opportunity to explain his party's view of these bills."
"The question addressed these bills explicitly; it did not state that Quebecers are racist," said the group's spokesman Leon Mar.
However, both Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole took issue with parts of the debate last night, with Trudeau calling the question posed to Blanchet "really offensive" and inappropriate, while O'Toole said he found some of the questions during the debate "a little unfair."
The World Sikh Organization of Canada (WSO) says it finds both federal leaders' reactions to the question to be what is actually offensive.
"It is outrageous that Mr. Trudeau and Mr. O'Toole would be more offended by a question on Bill 21 than the fact that this discriminatory law is driving people out of their homes and jobs," WSO president Tejinder Singh Sidhu said Friday in a statement.
"Commitments to fight racism in Canada ring hollow when our federal leaders are willing to defend a racist and discriminatory law like Bill 21."
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Several provincial politicians in Quebec, including Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade and Parti Québécois Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon, were also quick to criticize what they described as "Quebec bashing" at last night's federal debate.
"Yesterday was not a debate, it was a trial against Quebec," the PQ leader said. "It was a Quebec-bashing festival."
Law violates rights, judge rules
Earlier this year, a Quebec court found that Bill 21 violates the basic rights of religious minorities in the province, but that those violations are permissible because of the Constitution's notwithstanding clause.
In his ruling, Quebec Superior Court Justice Marc-André Blanchard said "the effects of Law 21 will be felt negatively above all by Muslim women."
"On the one hand by violating their religious freedom, and on the other hand by also violating their freedom of expression, because clothing is both expression, pure and simple, and can also constitute a manifestation of religious belief," Blanchard wrote.
Blanchard also declared that the most contentious parts of the law — the religious symbols ban for many government employees — can't be applied to English schools.
With files from Catharine Tunney