MONTREAL — The Premier of Quebec applauded a decision by Montreal authorities to deny an imam the right to open a community centre because of his past comments deemed homophobic, sexist, and against Canadian values.
Premier Philippe Couillard said the issue of freedom of expression is a delicate one, but added that municipal authorities made the right call, invoking public safety and the risk of radicalization to justify intervening.
“I am very pleased that the City of Montreal acted with the tools at their disposal,” Couillard told reporters while attending a gathering of the aluminium industry Monday in the province’s Saguenay region, north of Quebec City.
City of Montreal officials said on the weekend they would not grant Hamza Chaoui an operating licence to open an Islamic centre in an east-end neighbourhood.
The Moroccan-born Islamic preacher made headlines recently after describing Islam as “completely” incompatible with democracy.
Chaoui did not speak to The Canadian Press when reached Saturday, but told Montreal La Presse that he is not an agent of radicalization.
Couillard said the provincial government currently has little legislative means to intervene in similar situations, but is promising to change that.
He gave little details, however, about the kinds of “measures” the government intends to introduce to prevent people from being radicalized.
Couillard said that Chaoui’s past statements on homosexuals and women is not the kind of speech welcomed in the province.
He added that the issue of freedom of expression, which is the heart of the debate over the controversial imam, remains very delicate.
“From the moment one begins to define how far freedom of expression goes, you have to be very careful,” Couillard said. “We must ensure that we intervene in the right way.”
In Quebec City, a Muslim community member said tinkering with zoning laws will not be enough to silence radical speech.
Haroun Bouazzi said legislative tools are needed to counter religious fundamentalism and he urged the Liberal government to stop procrastinating on the issue.
Bouazzi, co-chair of an Arab and Muslim group in favour of a secular Quebec, made the comments at a parliamentary hearing at the legislature on Monday looking at the future of the province’s immigration policy.
Bouazzi said the government needs to legislate quickly to make clear the state’s pro-secularism position and its stance against religious fundamentalism.
“We have to end this debate,” he said. “The faster we fix these problems the better.”