Hampstead Mayor William Steinberg is standing firm after being asked to apologize for his recent remarks about Quebec’s proposed secularism plan.
“To apologize would be to say that my arguments were wrong somehow and I’m not going to do that,” he said on Tuesday.
Quebec politicians of all stripes are calling on Steinberg to retract a statement where he compared Bill 21 to “ethnic cleansing” during a news conference last week.
“This is ethnic cleansing — not with a gun but with a law,” he said at the time. “It’s racist. It is despicable.”
The Coalition Avenir Québec government’s bill would prohibit civil servants in positions of authority — including teachers, police officers and Crown prosecutors — from wearing religious symbols at work.
While the province’s proposed religious neutrality bill has drawn widespread criticism since it was tabled in March, many say Steinberg’s words went too far.
Quebec Premier François Legault is demanding Steinberg issue an apology and called for calm over the secularism debate.
“Quebecers are hospitable people,” he said. “Quebecers have the right to ask that in Quebec, people who work for the government, who are in authority do not wear religious symbols.”
Liberal MNA David Birnbaum said he is personally offended by Steinberg’s remarks, describing them as “hurtful to all Quebecers.”
“It’s not responsible and it’s not worthy of his very passionate opposition of which I share to Bill 21,” he said, adding it distracts from the debate on religious neutrality.
Pascal Bérubé, interim leader for the Parti Québécois (PQ), has also described the west-end mayor’s remarks are “shameful.”
“He should apologize in English and in French as well,” he said.
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Québec Solidaire co-spokesperson Manon Massé also criticized Steinberg’s “unacceptable” choice of words.
“It does not make sense. I believe this is not the manner in which we want to have these discussions,” she said.
Quebec Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette, the bill’s sponsor, also called Steinberg’s comments unacceptable last week. He said people can disagree with the bill but added: “We don’t have to insult each other.”
The province hopes to pass the bill into law this summer.
—With files from Global News’ Raquel Fletcher and the Canadian Press