RNA - Prime Minister Francois Legault, who was elected to the post late last year, said on Thursday that he was opposed to devoting a day to act against anti-Muslim hate crimes, because he doesn't believe Islamophobia is a problem in his province.
“I don't think there is Islamophobia in Quebec. So I don't see why there would be a day dedicated to Islamophobia," he said.
He made the remarks only two days after the second anniversary of a deadly attack against the Islamic Cultural Center, which claimed the lives of six people in Quebec City on January 29, 2017.
On the day of the anniversary on Tuesday, Legault’s deputy Premier Genevieve Guilbault appeared open to the idea of naming a day to counter Islamophobia, but the prime minster said, "We looked at it, and there won't be any, that's clear."
NCCM: Premier Legault’s comments today denying the existence of #Islamophobia in #Quebec are “highly offensive and inaccurate”, & we urge him to publicly retract his statement. Full #PressRelease here: https://t.co/8ghPQZNo8B pic.twitter.com/GAEbj7kcUE
— NCCM (@nccm) February 1, 2019
This has prompted reaction from rights groups, including National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), which described Legault's comments as “an absolute insult.”
Executive director of NCCM, Ihsan Gardee, said the remarks “are an absolute insult to the families of the victims and to Muslim communities in Quebec and across Canada who continue to grieve this tragedy.”
“Premier Legault is clearly out of touch with the realities of Islamophobia on the ground in Quebec,” he said.
“The Premier should immediately retract and apologize for his highly offensive and inaccurate comments and acknowledge that Islamophobia, just like other forms of hatred and racism, exists in Quebec and must be addressed.”
The council, a prominent civil liberties and advocacy organization, was among many other Muslim community groups which put forward the idea of naming a day against Islamophobia.
It had written an open letter to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in November, calling on him to designate January 29 as a National Day of Action against Hate and Intolerance.
In the letter, NCCM described the mosque attack as “the most horrific large-scale expression of the kind of Islamophobia that too many Canadian Muslims face daily.”
Following the mosque attack, the Trudeau government proposed a symbolic motion which called on the government to condemn Islamophobia.
Far-right groups, however, immediately expressed their opposition, with white supremacist groups staging rallies across the country.
Data shows Quebec saw a surge in hate crimes in 2017, Statistics Canada released its annual hate crimes data on Thursday.
The agency concluded that hate crimes almost tripled from 41 reported incidents in 2016 to 117 on 2017 in Quebec. The incidents even increase in February, the month after the deadly mosque attack.
Canada’s police received 2,073 hate-crime reports only in 2017, an increase of 664 from 2016. The increases were largely in Ontario and Quebec.