The pressure is mounting on Hampstead’s mayor to apologize after he compared Quebec’s secularism bill to ethnic cleansing.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau waded into the debate on Wednesday, joining the province’s political class in denouncing William Steinberg’s remarks.
“I hope he will apologize,” he said. “We don’t need to go to extremes.”
The Coalition Avenir Québec government’s Bill 21 would bar civil servants in positions of authority — such as teachers, judges and police officers — from wearing religious symbols at work.
The proposed religious neutrality ban has been widely criticized, but many say Steinberg went too far when he likened it to ethnic cleansing last week.
Quebec Premier François Legault also said the west end mayor’s remarks were unacceptable, claiming he is “not showing respect for the majority of Quebecers.”
Hampstead councillor Leon Elfassy said Steinberg’s refusal to apologize has put residents and town employees on edge.
“It’s very sad to say that our employees in town are dealing, answering phones and being harassed on the phone,” said Elfassy. “This is scary.”
Elfassy characterized Steinberg remarks as “sad and dangerous.”
“I wish he would retract his stupid statement,” he said, adding Steinberg is “stubborn.”
Mitchell Brownstein, the mayor of Côte-Saint-Luc, said he does not believe in Bill 21 — but he insists Steinberg isn’t helping further minority rights in the province.
He even penned an apology for Steinberg.
“Everybody makes mistakes, nobody’s perfect,” said Brownstein. “When you make a mistake it’s good to acknowledge it so we can move forward.”
Steinberg, for his part, said on Wednesday that he has no plans to apologize.
“I would say I’m principled,” he said. “And I would question the principles of politicians who pander to the popular sentiment at a moment in time.”
He stressed that some media outlets didn’t include his entire statement, saying he was referring to “peaceful ethnic cleansing.”
WATCH: Hampstead Mayor William Steinberg explains what he meant when he compared Quebec’s religious symbols bills to “ethnic cleansing, not with a gun, but with a law.”
“Let’s put it this way: Bill 21 is going to result in people leaving the province, religious minorities whose children will be limited. They’re not going to stay in a province that does that,” he told Global News.
“It will have the effect of reducing the diversity in the province, not because of violence, not with a gun, but this is the effect of the law.”
— With files from Global News’ Anne Leclair, Rachel Lau and The Canadian Press
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