No link between secularism bill and incident at Quebec mosque, ministers say

Rania El-Alloul speaks to the media as her lawyer, Julius Grey, looks on at a news conference Friday, March 27, 2015, in Montreal. El-Alloul is seeking a declaratory judgment after a Quebec judge refused to hear her case because she was wearing a hijab. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Quebec’s immigration minister on Sunday denounced a violent incident that took place outside the Quebec City mosque where six men were shot dead in 2017, but said it has nothing to do with his government’s proposed secularism bill.

Police arrested a 47-year-old man after a skirmish broke out between the suspect and a few others including a taxi driver in the parking lot of the Centre culturel islamique de Quebec shortly after noon on Saturday.

They said the suspect was arrested after allegedly punching at least one other person.

Immigration Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette said the altercation was “unacceptable” and that such violence has no place in Quebec.

But he insisted the incident was not connected to the government’s proposed secularism bill, which would prevent some employees in the public sector, including teachers and police officers, from wearing religious symbols on the job. It would also require those receiving public services to uncover their faces when necessary for identification.

“There is absolutely no link between Bill 21 and what happened,” Jolin-Barrette said in Montreal, where he was attending the Coalition Avenir Quebec party’s general council meeting.

When asked to comment, Premier Francois Legault agreed with Jolin-Barrette’s assessment. “I don’t think there’s a connection to make between the two,” he said.

The National Council of Canadian Muslims denounced Saturday’s incident as a hate crime, and said in a statement that the suspect had “yelled Islamophobic and anti-immigrant messages while physically assaulting one of the congregants.”

The mosque is the site of a Jan. 29, 2017 shooting that left six men dead and several injured after a gunman stormed the building and opened fire.

NCCM executive director Mustafa Farooq said that while the mosque community was saddened by the most recent incident, “we are not shocked.”

“The Quebec City mosque has continued to face threats since the tragic events of January 29,” he said in a statement. “Furthermore, minority communities continue to be under the microscope as divisive legislation like Bill 21 moves through the National Assembly.”

Jolin-Barrette, however, dismissed the notion of a connection. “There is no tension and no division, I am absolutely clear about that,” he said.

Public Security Minister Genevieve Guilbault, who also denied a link between the incident and the legislation, expressed her sympathies to the Muslim community.

She said that while Quebec City police generally increase their vigilance following such incidents, there was no plan to put new security measures in place.