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HomeWorld NewsCanada newsQuebec lawyers, activists back Amira Elghawaby as pressure for resignation mounts

Quebec lawyers, activists back Amira Elghawaby as pressure for resignation mounts

A large group that includes lawyers and community leaders in Quebec have signed a letter to support Canada’s first special representative on combating Islamophobia and push back against calls to have her step down over past comments she has made about Quebecers.

Amira Elghawaby has been mired in controversy since being appointed to the role last week due to a 2019 opinion column about Quebec’s religious symbols law — widely known as Bill 21 — that she co-authored.

In that column, Elghawaby and the former CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress, Bernie Farber, wrote: “Unfortunately, the majority of Quebecers appear to be swayed not by the rule of law, but by anti-Muslim sentiment.”

In the column, Elghawaby and Farber said that they came to that conclusion after a Léger poll found that the 88 per cent of Quebecers who held negative views of Islam overwhelmingly supported the law.

Critics, including elected officials in Quebec, have accused of Elghawaby of harbouring anti-Quebec views that make her unfit for her new role.

The letter supporting Elghawaby states that she deserves a chance to do her job.

“We are sensitive to the concerns that have been raised since her appointment, but the challenge before her is a considerable one and we believe that Ms. Elghawaby should be given the opportunity to assume and fulfil the mandate for which she was appointed,” reads the letter.

The signatories who backed the letter include human rights lawyer Julius Grey, Boufeldja Benabdallah, the co-founder and spokesperson of the Quebec City Mosque, McGill University professor emeritus Charles Taylor and Jack Jedwab, the president of the Association of Canadian Studies.

This week, Elghawaby apologized for her comments in the 2019 column.

WATCH | Amira Elghawaby apologizes: 

quebec lawyers activists back amira elghawaby as pressure for resignation mounts

‘I understand the words and the way I said them have hurt people in Quebec’: Elghawaby on her comments about Bill 21

2 days ago

Duration 1:16

Ahead of her meeting with Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet, newly appointed federal anti-Islamophobia representative Amira Elghawaby discusses the importance of having ‘difficult conversations.’

“I would like to say that I am extremely sorry for the way that my words have carried, how I have hurt the people of Quebec,” she said on Wednesday.

“I understand that the words and the way that I said them have hurt the people of Quebec. I have been listening very carefully. I have heard you and I know what you’re feeling and I’m sorry.”

She issued the apology while sitting next to Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet, moments before they met in private.

For Blanchet and other politicians in Quebec, the apology wasn’t enough and they’ve reiterated calls for her leave her position.

Grey said it’s become too common for controversies to be dealt with by calling on someone to step down.

“Civil debate is not just insisting on one’s position and being angry,” he said in an interview with CBC News.

“Too often, people simply get indignant when a controversial statement is made. They don’t debate it. They simply demand resignations, apologies.”

A person is standing.
Samaa Elibyary, a longtime member of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women (CCMW), says she hopes Elghawaby will be given a chance to show she is qualified for the job. (Chloe Ranaldi/CBC)

‘Blown out of proportion’

Samaa Elibyary is a longtime member of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women and one of the signatories to the letter.

She says she has known Elghawaby for more than 20 years

“I never heard a racist comment toward Quebec or toward Quebecers,” Elibyary told CBC News. “She should be given a chance to prove what her intentions are.”

In her view, Elghawaby’s words in 2019 conveyed what many Muslims believed at the time: that, based on data, there appears to be an anti-Muslim bias in the province.

“It’s a tempest in a tea cup,” she said, when describing the controversy the two-and-a-half year old column has caused.

“It’s really unfortunate that this comment she made based on a survey where she says that it appears that there’s a prevailing anti-Muslim sentiment in Quebec would be blown out of proportion and taken for political debate.”

Elibyary describes the situation as “problematic,” and says she hopes it will be resolved soon.

Earlier this week, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre also weighed in. He asked that Elghawaby be removed and he accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of appointing someone who has insulted Quebecers.

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