Montreal

Quebec doesn't have a problem with Islamophobia, Premier Legault says

"I don't think there is Islamophobia in Quebec, so I don't see why there would be a day dedicated to Islamophobia," the premier said Thursday.

'It's voluntary blindness': Muslim leaders disagree with the premier's assertion

Premier François Legault is at a caucus meeting in Gatineau, Que., this week. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Premier François Legault says there's no need for a day devoted to action against Islamophobia — because Islamophobia isn't a problem in the province.

Legault made the comments two days after the second anniversary of the Quebec City mosque attack, when the deputy premier, Geneviève Guilbault, said the government would look into the idea. 

"We looked at it. There won't be one. It's clear," Legault told reporters Thursday at a caucus meeting in Gatineau.

"I don't think there is Islamophobia in Quebec, so I don't see why there would be a day dedicated to Islamophobia." 

Later, Legault's team clarified his answer, saying there have been incidents in the past, but the problem is not widespread.

The Coalition Avenir Québec government says it does not want to give the impression that Islamophobia is systemic in Quebec.

Six Muslim men were shot and killed and five more were seriously injured in the attack on the mosque during prayers on Jan. 29, 2017.

The idea of making the anniversary a day against Islamophobia has been put forward by Muslim groups, including the National Council of Canadian Muslims.

The organization's executive director, Ihsaan Gardee, has said such a designation would help enhance public education about hate, bigotry and anti-Muslim rhetoric.

'Unbelievable and deeply hurtful'

Gardee said he was shocked by Legault's comments, and pointed out that up to two-thirds of hate crimes go unreported.

"So what we know is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg," he said. "And for the premier to say make this kind of a statement is just unbelievable and deeply hurtful."

Statistics Canada reported last November that the number of hate crimes reported to the police rose sharply in the country in 2017, with incidents targeting blacks, Jews and Muslims causing most of this increase.

Montreal-area Imam Hassan Guillet told CBC Montreal's Daybreak that he was saddened, but not surprised by Legault's assertion that there is no Islamophobia in the province.

Imam Hassan Guillet says Islamophobia exists in Quebec, citing attacks on mosques and Muslim leaders. But, he says, the problem extends well beyond the province. (Isaac Olson/CBC)

"It's voluntary blindness," he said. "Islamophobia exists. It doesn't mean that Quebec is Islamophobic. It doesn't mean that Quebecers in general are Islamophobic. But it exists. It is very dangerous."

Two years ago, Guillet gave a speech at the funeral for three victims of the mosque shooting that went viral. In the speech, he denounced the "poisoned words" he said permeate the political and social discourse about Muslims in Quebec.

He said Canadians are making their own efforts to counter Islamophobia, even without an official day of commemoration.

"People are gathering, are recognizing the dangers of Islamophobia and are working on it," he said. "Sooner or later the governments will have to follow. The federal as well as the provincial."

With files from Cathy Senay and CBC Montreal's Daybreak

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