Politics

Blanchet seeks to drive values wedge between Quebec and Trudeau government

Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet is doubling down on efforts to draw a line separating his party's values from those of the Trudeau Liberals, particularly on the fraught ground of free speech.

MPs vote down on Bloc Québécois motion demanding official apology for October Crisis detentions

Bloc Quebecois leader Yves-Francois Blanchet speaks during a meeting of the special committee on the COVID-19 pandemic in the House of Commons on June 16, 2020. (Blair Gable/Reuters)

Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet is doubling down on efforts to draw a line separating his party's values from those of the Trudeau Liberals — particularly on the fraught ground of free speech.

Blanchet posted a tweet Sunday suggesting Justin Trudeau's response to attacks in France that authorities have attributed to Muslim extremists did not go far enough, and highlighted what the Bloc leader called a "disturbing gap" in values that he chalked up to possible "weakness" or "ideology" on the prime minister's part.

Blanchet said in French that Trudeau is threatening Quebec's friendship with France. He's sought to align his province with that country's "republican and secular" principles, contrasting them with what he called an "Anglo-Saxon multiculturalist doctrine."

The stern words compound Blanchet's criticism of the prime minister's reaction to a University of Ottawa professor's use of a notoriously derogatory word for Black people in class.

Last week, Trudeau condemned the attacks in France as "heinous" acts of terrorism that fly in the face of Canadian values and said Ottawa "would always defend freedom of expression, but freedom of expression is not without limits."

"In a pluralistic, diverse and respectful society like ours, we must be aware of the impact of our words, of our actions on others, particularly these communities and populations who still experience enormous discrimination," Trudeau told reporters in French on Friday.

At a press conference today, Blanchet argued that Trudeau's comments suggested "extenuating circumstances" might explain some acts of terrorism.

"My duty is to tell our sisters and brothers and friends in France that Quebec does not share this opinion being expressed by the prime minister of Canada," Blanchet said.

French attacks

Three attacks in France over the past two months have come amid a growing furor over caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad that were republished by the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.

Extremists attacked the Charlie Hebdo newsroom in January 2015, after the caricatures were first published, and killed 12 people.

Since their reprinting in September at the start of the ongoing Paris trial over the killings, France has endured three attacks blamed on Muslim extremists.

One saw two people injured outside the newspaper's old headquarters, allegedly by a teenage refugee from Pakistan.

On Oct. 16, a teacher name Samuel Paty was beheaded outside his school for opening a class debate on free speech by showing students the caricatures.

And on Thursday, a knife-wielding man attacked and killed three people in a church in the Mediterranean city of Nice.

A woman looks at flowers placed near the headquarters of magazine Charlie Hebdo in February 2015 in the wake of a deadly terror attack. (Remy de la Mauviniere/The Associated Press)

At his press conference today, Blanchet accused the Trudeau government of being slow to condemn the attacks. Blanchet said Quebec's National Assembly passed a unanimous motion condemning the attack on Paty and lamented the fact that the House of Commons chose only to observe a moment of silence.

Last month, the Bloc pushed the government for a response to a controversy over a university instructor's use of a racial slur in class, demanding that the Liberals state unequivocally whether they support the professor involved.

Blanchet said those subjected to hateful words deserve compassion and support, but using the term in an educational context isn't bigoted.

Trudeau had told the House of Commons that "we all need to be conscious of the power of our words."

MPs vote down Bloc motion on October crisis

Blanchet spoke about freedom of expression at a news conference this afternoon ahead of a House vote on his motion demanding an apology from the government for having invoked the War Measures Act during the October Crisis in Quebec 50 years ago.

That vote failed by a vote of 263 to 56. Liberal and Conservative MPs voted against the motion, while most NDP MPs joined their Bloc counterparts and voted in favour.

In October 1970, the Liberal government under then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau chose to suspend civil liberties by invoking the statute then known as the War Measures Act in response to the kidnapping of a Quebec cabinet minister, Pierre Laporte, and a British diplomat by members of the militant FLQ separatist group.

The move, which came at the request of the Quebec premier and Montreal's mayor, led to soldiers patrolling the streets as authorities rounded up hundreds of residents under suspicion of involvement in the abductions.

The three Green MPs also voted in favour of the Bloc motion, despite a statement released by the party's leader, Annamie Paul, that criticized it for politicizing a tragic historical event. 

"If the objective of the motion is to produce healing and reconciliation related to the events of October, 1970, then it is wrong to introduce a motion that fails to mention the assassination of Mr. Laporte and the impact on his loved ones, does not mention the Quebecers who were injured and terrorised during the bombings attacks carried out during that period, nor acknowledge the role played by the government of Quebec in invoking the War Measures Act," said Paul.

"Likewise, in responding to the motion, it is wrong for the government to solely mention the horrific assassination of Mr. Laporte, without acknowledging the federal government's role in the arbitrary arrest and detention of innocent Quebecers under the War Measures Act."

Paul said she's proud of the Green Party's tradition of not whipping votes.

Meanwhile, Quebec's highest court today began hearing a legal challenge to Quebec's secularism law — known as Bill 21 — which bans public school teachers, government lawyers and police officers, among other civil servants, from wearing religious symbols at work.

Blanchet has been a steadfast supporter of the law, while opponents argue it disproportionately targets Muslim women and is therefore unconstitutional.

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