Amira Elghawaby deserves ‘a chance’ to do her job post-apology: minister

Click to play video: 'Why is Canada’s new anti-Islamophobia advisor facing calls to quit or be fired?'
Why is Canada’s new anti-Islamophobia advisor facing calls to quit or be fired?
WATCH: Amira Elghawaby, Canada's first special representative on combatting Islamophobia, is facing calls — including from Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet — to either resign or be fired. She was appointed to the job only one week ago. Felicia Parrillo explains – Feb 2, 2023

Canada’s first-ever special representative on combating Islamophobia, Amira Elghawaby, should be given “a chance” to do her job, Justice Minister David Lametti says.

Elghawaby apologized on Wednesday for her past remarks about Quebec, which she made in an op-ed she co-authored in 2019.

In the piece, Elghawaby criticized Quebec’s Bill 21, which bans certain public-facing employees, including teachers and police officers, from wearing religious symbols on the job.

Pointing to a poll done at the time, she suggested “the majority of Quebecers appear to be swayed not by the rule of law, but by anti-Muslim sentiment.”

Speaking to reporters on Thursday in Ottawa, Lametti said he is “not going to assess the adequacy” of Elghawaby’s apology.

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“I raised concerns, she apologized,” said the justice minister, whose riding is in Quebec.

“We should give her a chance to do the job now that she has come out with apologies and clarifications.”

Elghawaby apologized in English on Wednesday for the remarks as she headed into a meeting with Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet.

She said she is “extremely sorry” for the impacts of her words and how they hurt the people of Quebec. Elghawaby pledged to listen carefully, adding that this is what dialogue is all about.

Click to play video: 'Trudeau says Quebecers are ‘not racists’ amid Amira Elghawaby backlash'
Trudeau says Quebecers are ‘not racists’ amid Amira Elghawaby backlash

In a tweet on Thursday, Blanchet continued to call for Elghawaby’s resignation and also demanded in French that her role be “abolished” altogether.

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Elghawaby and co-writer Bernie Farber, former CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress, said in the 2019 op-ed that a “poll conducted by Léger Marketing earlier this year found that 88 per cent of Quebecers who held negative views of Islam supported (Bill 21).”

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This, they wrote, suggested “the majority of Quebecers appear to be swayed not by the rule of law, but by anti-Muslim sentiment.”

The Léger poll Elghawaby and Farber referenced was published in the Montreal Gazette in 2019.

It also suggested that 28 per cent of those polled had a positive view of Islam, while 60 per cent had positive views of Catholicism.

While the Quebec government says Bill 21 is intended to defend secularism — the province’s official policy of separating religion and state — critics like the National Council of Canadian Muslims have called it discriminatory and a law that “causes second-class citizenship.”

Quebec’s minister responsible for state secularism has described Elghawaby’s remarks in the 2019 op-ed as “abhorrent” and called on her to “resign.”

Following Elghawaby’s apology on Wednesday, Roberge said he appreciates the gesture — but it does not change his government’s view.

“I still don’t believe she has the credibility, the legitimacy to occupy the role the prime minister has given her,” he told reporters in French.

“I think that now, the second thing for her to do is to submit her resignation.”

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, speaking Wednesday on his way into a caucus meeting, said the debate over Bill 21 is “easy for people to simplify.”

“What we need is a conversation about the fact that we all agree that rights and freedoms need to be protected and how, in a pluralistic society, a place of diversity and strength, we’re able to not just coexist, but understand each other, respect each other’s priorities and desires, and build a better future.”

Elghawaby he said, is “open to those conversations and open to that engagement.”

While Trudeau said on Tuesday that he supports Elghawaby “100 per cent,” he acknowledged on Wednesday that he was not aware of all her past remarks when he made the appointment.

He also spoke in English about the cultural differences in Quebec around secularism.

Quebecers, Trudeau explained as he walked into a caucus meeting, have come to “a place of defence of individual freedoms and rights and liberties” after they “suffered the yoke and the attacks on individual rights and freedoms of an oppressive church.”

“That comes with it a certain perspective around what secularism is and the role of religion in society that informs what modern Quebec is,” the prime minister said.

“Quebecers are not racists.”

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— with files from The Canadian Press

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