Quebec’s premier says France’s Emmanuel Macron has thanked him for backing on free speech

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks after a video-conference summit on vaccination at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Monday, May 4, 2020. (Gonzalo Fuentes/Pool via AP)

France’s president called Quebec Premier François Legault to thank him for his defence of free speech, Legault said Tuesday.

The Quebec premier then criticized Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the issue by suggesting he was giving into blackmail.

Legault said he and Emmanuel Macron spoke during a phone call Tuesday morning that touched on the recent terrorist attacks in France, which authorities have attributed to Islamic extremists. In one of the recent attacks, a French teacher was beheaded after showing students caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.

READ MORE: Bloc leader seeks to distance party from Trudeau government’s position on free speech

The Quebec premier said Macron called to thank him for the “clear position” he took in defending freedom of expression “without any hesitation.” Legault made the comments at a Monday news conference, during which he said, “I do not agree with Justin Trudeau; I agree with Emmanuel Macron … we need to protect freedom of expression.”

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Trudeau had described the attacks as “heinous,” but last Friday, the prime minister said citizens in pluralistic societies need to be aware of the impact of their words, particularly regarding “communities and populations who still experience enormous discrimination.”

At a Tuesday news conference, Legault suggested world leaders such as Trudeau are giving in to blackmail. Without citing the prime minister directly, he said some leaders are willing to compromise on fundamental values when pressured by what he called “radical religious groups.”

READ MORE: Protesters in Pakistan chant anti-French slogans after Macron pleads for understanding

“It’s certain, now, there are certain political leaders who fear terrorism, and, when faced with blackmail by certain radical religious groups, are ready to make accommodations that are not reasonable,” Legault said.

The premier compared the debate over freedom of expression in France to his government’s defence of its secularism law, which limits religious symbols in the workplace. Legault said nations have to defend their fundamental values without bowing to pressure.

On Tuesday, Trudeau once again condemned the “hateful and unjustifiable” attacks in France and promised that Canada would always defend freedom of expression as well as the right of journalists and artists to publish freely. He denied the issue had created a rift with Macron.

“We have long worked together, the president of France and myself, on a broad range of issues that matter deeply to our citizens and the world, whether it be fighting terrorism or standing up for human rights, and we will continue to do that,” Trudeau said. He said he expected to speak with Macron later that day.


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