Mayor Valérie Plante promised Monday evening to consult Montreal’s ethics adviser to see what could be done about an Anjou councillor who posted anti-Muslim comments on her Facebook page.
When citizen Kamereddine Bensalem peppered Anjou borough mayor Luis Miranda during the public question period with questions about the comments by borough councillor Lynne Shand, Plante spoke up to say she did not intend to let the matter rest.
“When you have the privilege of being elected, you have to represent all the citizens of your district, your neighbourhood, and also the entire city,” said Plante, adding that she and most of her colleagues were shocked by Shand’s comments.
“We must not only apologize, but we must make sure that elected officials understand the responsibility they have when they have a platform and make comments,” she said. “When they convey prejudices or comments that can lead to hatred, for us, this is unacceptable. So we’re going to appeal to the ethics adviser.”
The issue was front and centre as councillors gathered for the monthly council meeting, which opened with a minute of silence to honour the 50 people killed and another 50 injured in the mosque attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 15.
“We have all been touched by what happened in New Zealand,” Plante said, noting the similarity of the murder of six worshippers at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City on Jan. 29, 2017.
“We elected officials who have the privilege of having a microphone, a platform, I invite us to show restraint and intelligence in these cases that can be so sensitive,” she said.
In a Facebook post Saturday, Lynne Shand said she was raging after having been treated by an ophthalmologist wearing a hijab on Friday. She accused Muslims of wanting to Islamicize Quebec and “convert the planet to Islam by massive immigration and multiple births.”
On Monday, Shand apologized on Facebook “to all my fellow citizens and especially to my fellow Muslim citizens if some of the statements that I wrote on Facebook hurt them.”
Miranda said he would not ask Shand to leave his Équipe Anjou party, saying that she lacked experience and had apologized.
Bensalem, 49, who owns a bakery and grocery store in St-Léonard, said in an interview after his intervention in question period that he was disappointed with Miranda’s response.
“She is treating a community in a discriminatory, inhuman manner at a time when the entire planet is in mourning (for the Christchurch victims),” he said.
“Do we belong to this society or not?” he asked.
Lahouari Belmadani, 54, a 22-year Anjou resident who took part in question period, said in an interview that Muslims are used to discriminatory and racist comments but “when they are by an elected official, it’s dangerous.
“How can I have confidence in my city?” he asked.
In her online apology, Shand said what she had meant to write was that no religions or religious symbols should influence public and government institutions.
She insisted that she opposes racism and denied that she had been a member of an extremist group.
Earlier, Plante and opposition leader Lionel Perez denounced Shand’s comments, saying Miranda should demand a formal apology.
“If one of my councillors or a member of my team made comments like that, I would act,” Plante told reporters before council.
Miranda should require an unequivocal apology for “comments that could incite hatred or promote racism,” she said.
Plante also took aim at part of Shand’s comments objecting to the removal of the crucifix at city hall.
Shand wrote that being treated by a doctor who wears the hijab is part of the “Islamization of our country” in which “we must accept everything, give them reasonable accommodations, take down our crucifix (and I’m not a believer) etc. etc.”
Shand’s comments “illustrate some miseducation and maybe a lack of information,” Plante said.
“There is a big difference between taking off the crucifix from a room where we are taking decisions, versus a doctor who has all the abilities and knowledge to practice and wears a veil,” she said.
Plante called for public education to promote a better understanding of secularism — the separation of religious institutions and state.
Perez said Shand’s statements were deplorable.
“They go against the very values that we hold dear in Montreal and in Quebec: values of tolerance, openness and respecting of one another,” he said. “There’s no space for those kinds of statements in our society, whether it be a citizen but especially by an elected official. We think Mr. Miranda has to explain his position for keeping her within his local party.”
Miranda issued a statement distancing himself and the three other councillors on his team from Shand’s comments.
“I will never endorse such remarks and I do not share her opinion. Her words represent her thoughts only,” he said.
“The director of our borough, whom I myself chose and hired, is of Muslim faith,” he added.
Shand, who represents the western district of Anjou, was elected in 2017.
In council, opposition councillor Chantal Rossi attacked the city’s recent decision to remove the crucifix from the wall of the council chamber when city hall undergoes a three-year renovation starting April 15.
“A decision like that should not be made on a whim,” Rossi said, saying public consultations on the issue should have been held first.
Laurence Lavigne Lalonde, the executive committee member responsible for democracy, said the decision made sense and reflected the change in attitudes since the crucifix was installed in 1937.
The city of Montreal “is a secular institution and it was not Projet Montréal (the ruling party) that decided that,” she said.
The Coalition Avenir Québec government is expected to table a bill Thursday banning the wearing of religious symbols by authority figures including teachers, police officers, Crown prosecutors and judges.