The Current

Mosque attack forces Quebec politicians to confront inflammatory rhetoric

After the shock of Sunday's mosque shooting in Quebec City, people in the province are taking stock of the often inflammatory language in Quebec politics and media, and the climate it creates. The Current examines mea culpas.
'Words can be knives slashing at people's conscience. And we have to be more cognizant of this,' says Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

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In the wake of the Quebec City mosque shooting, Jan. 29, there's been a lot of soul-searching in the province over the power of language — words that can inflame, lead to hatred and even worse.

While we don't know what motivated the alleged shooter Alexandre Bissonnette — charged with six counts of first degree murder for the attack — it hasn't stopped much reflection about the inflammatory rhetoric public figures have been using toward Quebec's Muslim community in recent years.

Several prominent journalists have apologized for statements they had made in the past. But Mireille Paquet tells The Current's host Anna Maria Tremonti that many of the mea culpas have still been framed to avoid taking full responsibility.
Parti Québécois leader Jean-Francois Lisee says rhetoric has to be toned down on every side of the debate. (Clement Allard/Canadian Press)

Paquet, an assistant professor of political science at Concordia University and author of The Federalization of Immigration in Canada, says Quebecers like to think of themselves as inactive witnesses to xenophobia, which isn't the case.

"Quebecers are themselves part of power struggles, part of the power dynamic and are contributing voluntarily and in some cases involuntarily to this [situation]," she tells Tremonti.

Parti Québécois leader Jean-François Lisée used inflammatory language in the party's recent leadership race, alluding to the danger that Muslim women wearing burkas In Quebec could be hiding AK-47s under their robes. He admitted to CBC Radio host Mike Finnerty that his language went too far.

"I think the rhetoric has to be toned down on every side of the debate," Lisée tells Finnerty.

"I used an example of a terrorist in Africa where it actually happened. [It was] not a good choice of argument, I agree with you."

Haroun Bouazzi says Lisée's comments are only one example of the rhetoric he's been using about Muslims.

Bouazzi, the co-president of the Association of Muslims and Arabs for a Secular Quebec, pointed to another suggestion he says Lisée made: firing female public servants who wear a headscarf at work.
It may be tempting to connect the Quebec shooting with Trump, says Mireille Paquet but Islamophobia has been going on long before his victory. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

"Mr. Lisée doesn't seem to understand that actually taking [civil] liberties from these people and turning it into a public debate is actually part of the problem, and not just burkas and AK-47s," Bouazzi tells Tremonti.

Quebec City radio morning show host Sylvain Bouchard also admitted on air that he now realizes he's spent too much time talking about Muslims in the province, not to Muslims in the province.

André Pratte, an independent senator from Quebec and former editor-In-chief of La Presse, says he's not surprised journalists are now reconsidering the tone they've been using.

"The challenge is what happens in the long term. The challenge is to maintain that type of empathy," Pratte says.

"I don't think everyone's minds have suddenly changed because of what happened on Sunday."

Paquet says it may be tempting to connect the Quebec shooting with Donald Trump's presidential win, but she says the reality is more complicated than that.

"This has been going on way before Trump's [victory]," she says.

Paquet says only seeing Muslims in news reports about terrorist attacks and refugees casts them solely as perpetrators or victims.

She tells Tremonti that seeing Muslims portrayed in popular Quebec culture, doing everyday things would help normalize them for other Quebecers.

Listen to the full segment at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Karin Marley and Sam Colbert.