Hampstead Mayor William Steinberg will not apologize amid a controversy over his remarks, but he says he will no longer use the term “ethnic cleansing” when referring to Quebec’s secularism bill.
“I’m not going to keep going around using those two words,” he told Global News on Thursday.
Steinberg argues: “Bill 21 is legalized discrimination against visible religious minorities, which will result in fewer religious minorities coming or staying in Quebec.”
“It’s a different version,” he said. “It’s the same thing though.”
The move comes on the heels of Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante calling on the west-end mayor to apologize and withdraw from the public debate on Quebec’s secularism bill.
Steinberg made “absolutely unacceptable comments” when he compared the province’s proposed religious-neutrality legislation to ethnic cleansing, she added.
“These comments sparked outrage throughout Quebec, with good reason,” said Plante in a statement. “Mayor Steinberg’s comments have no place in this public debate.”
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.”
The Coalition Avenir Québec government tabled its controversial Bill 21 in March. It would bar certain civil servants in positions of authority — including teachers — from wearing religious garb in the workplace.
While the legislation has been widely criticized, municipal and provincial politicians of all stripes have distanced themselves from Steinberg’s remarks.
Quebec Premier François Legault said the west-end mayor failed to show respect for the majority of Quebecers. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has also waded into the debate, saying he hopes Steinberg will apologize.
Plante has also criticized the province’s bill, saying it violates the fundamental rights of certain individuals. However, she said Steinberg’s choice of words and refusal to apologize have “diverted the debate from the proposed law on secularism to become the subject of the debate itself.”
“This attitude is irresponsible and must be denounced,” said Plante.
Steinberg, for his part, said he has received widespread support from residents of Hampstead for his stance against the bill.
“I have countless emails saying ‘Don’t apologize,’ and I tell them ‘Don’t worry, I’m not apologizing. I’m not going to apologize for telling the truth, for using strong words to cut people’s attention to a very important issue,'” he said.
— With files from The Canadian Press