The federal government’s new anti-Islamophobia representative Amira Elghawaby was compelled to apologize Wednesday February 2, 2023, for past remarks about the prevalence of anti-Islam sentiment in Quebec, Canada.
Elghawaby, who was initially appointed as the special representative on combating Islamophobia last week,commented before the meeting with Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet, who had requested the meeting to push back against her 2019 remarks, according to CBC News.
“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, and this is what I am going to express to Mr. Blanchet,” she said.
“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.”
The controversy goes back to 2019, when Elghawaby co-authored an opinion column with Bernie Farber, who was the former CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress. This piece was featured in the Ottawa Citizen.
The column spoke of Quebec’s controversial Bill 21, which bans provincial public servants from wearing religious symbols such as hijabs.
“Unfortunately, the majority of Quebecers appear to be swayed not by the rule of law, but by anti-Muslim sentiment,” Elghawaby and Farber wrote. They further mentioned that their conclusion following a Leger Marketing poll resulted in 88% of Quebecers held negative views of Islam and further supported the ban on religious symbols for people working in the public sector.
“It seems clear to me that following that meeting with her, Ms. Amira Elghawaby cannot occupy the position for which she was designated because through her apology, she has voluntarily agreed that she has disqualified herself,” Blanchet said in French as reported by the Record.
The source further stated how Blanchet expressed his dismay over the Prime Minister’s decision to appoint Elghawaby, asking not only to revoke her position as the anti-islamophobia representative but to get rid of the position itself.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Treudeau appointed Elghawaby last week. The former journalist who used to write for the Star is now the first person assigned with the role which is expected to “promote awareness of the diverse and intersectional identities of Muslims in Canada and provide advice to the government in the development of inclusive policies, legislative proposals, programs and regulations that reflect their realities, according to the Record.
The position came to be following a demand from Canada’s Muslim community after the 2021 killings of four Muslim people who were slain for their faith. This hate crime unfolded in London Ont, when the four family members were killed by a truck driver while taking a walk on the sidewalk.
The decision to have an anti-Islamophobia representative was also likely impacted by the incident that occurred in a Quebec Mosque back in 2017 where six people were mercilessly killed.
Alexander Boulerice, the New Democrats’ only Quebec MP said, “They don’t want anybody to look at what is happening to the Muslim community in Montreal and in Quebec, and we all know that Islamophobia exists and people are suffering,” Boulerice said.
“People in my riding are telling me stories about discrimination and insults, and I think it’s a really deplorable position that the Bloc just did today.”
Memoma Hossain, a member of the board of directors for the Muslim association of Canada said that Blanchet’s reaction “reinforces the need” for the role in the first place.
“We believe that she’s qualified and she has the support of the Muslim community in Quebec and Canada,” Hossain said.
“She’s open and willing to have those conversations and address issues head on. So whether she had to (apologize) or not, I think the bigger question is that she did it, and that is her approach to problem solving, which we support.”
“Quebecers are not racists,” Trudeau said. “Quebecers are among the people who are the strongest defenders of individual rights and freedoms, along with a lot of other Canadians.
The Canadian prime minister also expressed his confidence in Elghawaby as qualified for the job who is capable of reaching out to both secular and religious Quebecers.
“I want to bring people together. I want people to listen and Mr. Blanchet has demonstrated that he does too, and he had a very good discussion and [we] are looking forward to more opportunities for dialogue,” she said.
Amira Elghawaby is also a human rights advocate and has delivered various presentations and workshops on equity and inclusion.
She even leads strategic communications and campaigns at the Canadian Race Relations Foundation. Previously, Elghawaby worked for Canada’s labor movement in communications and human rights. She even spent five years of her life promoting the civil liberties of Canadian Muslims at the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) between 2012 to 2017.
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