Trudeau calls debate question on Quebec’s secularism bill ‘offensive’

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said today a question asked during last night’s English debate regarding Quebec’s secularism law was “offensive.”

The debate kicked off with a fiery exchange between Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet and debate moderator Shachi Kurl over Bill 21 — which bans some civil servants, including teachers, police officers and government lawyers, from wearing religious symbols at work — and Bill 96, which would make French the only language needed to work in the province.

“You denied that Quebec has problems with racism yet you defend legislation such as Bills 96 and 21 which marginalize religious minorities, anglophones and allophones. Quebec is recognized as a distinct society but for those outside the province, please help them understand why your party also supports these discriminatory laws,” asked Kurl.

“The question seems to imply the answer you want,” Blanchet replied. “Those laws are not about discrimination. They are about the values of Quebec.”

WATCH | Moderator presses Blanchet on Quebec laws

Moderator presses Blanchet on Quebec laws

When debate moderator Shachi Kurl called Quebec’s secularism laws “discriminatory,” Bloc Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet disagreed and insisted they reflect “the values of Quebec.” 0:57

Kurl, president of the Angus Reid Institute, asked Blanchet more than once why he supports what she called “discriminatory laws.”

“You may repeat as many times as you like that those are discriminatory laws,” Blanchet said. “We are saying that those are legitimate laws that apply on Quebec territory and there seems to be people around here which share this point of view.”

Speaking during a campaign stop in Hamilton today, Trudeau said he was taken aback by the question.

“My position on this is known, not in favour of that particular law. But it is wrong to suggest that Quebecers are racist,” he said.

“As a Quebecer, I found that question really offensive. I think, yes, there is lots of work to do to continue to fight systemic racism across the country and in every part of this country. But I don’t think that question was acceptable or appropriate … I had a hard time processing [it] even last night.”

When asked why he didn’t push back during the debate, Trudeau said he didn’t think it was appropriate to interrupt the moderator.

At a separate news conference in Ottawa, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said it’s a mistake to think systemic racism is isolated to one province or territory.

“That hurts the fight against those forms of discrimination. We’ve got to acknowledge this exists everywhere across the country,” he said.

“We’ve got to be very clear, this is not a problem of any one province or territory. It exists everywhere in Canada. And to tackle it, we’ve got to acknowledge that it’s everywhere and work together towards eradicating it.”

WATCH | Key takeways from the English debate

The key takeaways from the leaders’ debate

CBC’s chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton discusses the key exchanges during the only English language leaders debate and why they’re unlikely to lead to a major momentum shift, except possibly in Quebec. 2:15