St-Georges-de-Beauce – Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard said Friday he doesn’t share the Muslim Council of Montreal’s view that laughing at religions should be punished.
Last week, Imam Salam Elmenyawi told committee hearings on Quebec’s proposed hate-speech legislation that mocking Islam was unacceptable.
“When you laugh at my religion, you’re laughing at me, you’re laughing at my wife, you’re laughing at the Prophet,” Elmenyawi told members of the National Assembly on August 20. “If your intention is to protect people, you have to understand that for a Muslim, when you mock his religion, you attack his very person.”
Bill 59 aims to eliminate all forms of hate propaganda. The act, “to prevent and combat hate speech and speech inciting violence,” proposes an anonymous procedure for reporting hate speech to the Quebec Human Rights Commission, and would grant the commission new powers, including the power to investigate.
According to the bill, if the commission found grounds for prosecution, it could pass the file to the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal. Offenders could be fined between $1,000 and $10,000 and their names would appear on the commission’s website.
Most of the groups that presented briefs to the National Assembly committee last week warned the bill could stifle dissent and hinder freedom of expression, but Elmenyawi said he thinks the bill should be widened and fines should also be given to those who disrespect religions.
Couillard told reporters at his party’s pre-session caucus in St-Georges-de-Beauce he disagreed with Elmenyawi.
“We’re still listening to people coming to the hearings, but we want to say very, very loud and clear that we don’t want to obstruct freedom of expression in Quebec. Freedom of expression means saying stupid things or even ridiculous things, and then it’s up to you, it’s up to us to say why it’s ridiculous and why it shouldn’t be said, but not to bar somebody from saying this.”
“The line has to be traced in the sand, though, and for us the line is calling for violence. This is what we want to do, this is what we want to achieve and, hopefully, with the hearings we’ll find a good balance,” Couillard said.