Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchet returned to a page from a book that served his party’s electoral fortunes well in 2019, praising equality between men and women in Quebec and raising his allegiance to Bill 21, the controversial piece of provincial legislation that bars public servants from wearing religious symbols at work.

But in the same breath, Blanchet found himself preventing one of his party’s female candidates from speaking to the media. 

“I don’t think we’re going to go there this morning, ma’am, sorry,” he said after a reporter asked a question to Ensaf Haidar, who is running for the Bloc in the eastern Quebec riding of Sherbrooke. 

In this Dec, 16, 2015 file photo, Ensaf Haidar, wife of the jailed Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi, shows a portrait of her husband as he is awarded the Sakharov Prize, in Strasbourg, France. (Christian Lutz/Associated Press)

Haidar is the spouse of Raif Badawi, a blogger and prisoner of conscience in Saudi Arabia. In 2018, Haidar had voiced support for the far-right People’s Party of Canada and its leader, Maxime Bernier. 

“Mrs. Haidar has had an evolution in her way of thinking that brought her along to the Bloc Québécois as a candidate,” Blanchet eventually said. 

Asked a third time by journalists why Haidar could not be allowed to speak for herself, Blanch replied: “I think ‘allow’ is a big word,” before suggesting normally she would be around on her own and available to speak when he was not. Then his staff ended the press conference.

Blanchet’s Bill 21 bet

Two years ago, Blanchet brought his sovereigntist movement back from the brink, more than tripling the Bloc’s seat count at the House of Commons and helping to prevent Justin Trudeau and the Liberals from returning to a majority.

In part, he accomplished that by drawing a contrast between the Bloc standing up for Quebec’s secular values legislation and Trudeau’s suggestion he could intervene in court to protect minority rights. 

But that debate has largely fallen to the wayside this year. Trudeau said in April he recognizes there is a new Quebec court decision mostly upholding the bill, and moved to suggest it would be up to Quebecers to challenge the law in court themselves. 

Other political parties have said they would not challenge the bill in court either, the Conservatives going so far as to put that in writing in their platform this year. 

Blanchet’s party’s asking all other federal leaders to take a commitment not to allow taxpayer money to fund legal challenges to any Quebec legislation, including Bill 21. 

“We haven’t seen anything done since 2019 to allow us to relax on this issue,” Blanchet said.

Asked on Tuesday if the secularism dossier is resolved, Trudeau said it is always important for a society to ask itself questions, and added he was following the issue closely while Quebecers “defend their rights in court.” 

“Mr. Blanchet is always looking for a fight,” Trudeau said.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole repeated his party’s pledge not to contest Bill 21, but defended the idea of public money funding court challenges. “That program is independent. and I’d like to respect that,” he said. 

Blanchet singled out Jagmeet Singh, claiming the NDP leader was calling “Quebecers of all sorts racists.” 

Singh said in response he was against Quebec-bashing, and said systemic discrimination is “something that impacts people across the country.” 

Parties’ Bill 21 response disappointing: Activist

The lack of forceful opposition to the Quebec law from parties in the federal election campaign has left many observers and minority-rights activists dismayed. 

“Essentially, what all the federal leaders have done is they’ve decided to sacrifice human rights on the altar of political expediency, given the number of seats there are in Quebec,” said Fareed Khan, the founder of Canadians United Against Hate.

The founder of Canadians United against Hate, Fareed Khan, says he’s disappointed in all of the federal leaders’ responses to Bill 21. (Robyn Miller/CBC)

Khan said he believes the law is about bigotry, especially against Quebec Muslims. 

“For Mr. Blanchet to claim that this is about enshrining secularism, well, secularism already exists in Quebec,” he said. “If it was left up to people in certain provinces, members of the LGBTQ community wouldn’t have rights.” 

Bloc values ‘are also mine,’ says candidate

As for Haidar, the party did offer journalists a scrum with her once Blanchet’s morning media availability was done.

“The values of the Bloc Québécois are also mine,” Haidar said, and cited Bill 21 as an example.

She also said she voiced enthusiasm for Maxime Bernier three years ago because he supported her husband.

“Maxime Bernier is one person and he just called me to say ‘I’m with you,’ ” she said. “But in politics it’s different.” 

Raif Badawi has been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia since 2012, for expressing liberal views on Islam.

In January, the House of Commons unanimously approved a Bloc Québécois motion to grant her jailed husband a Canadian citizenship. 


Source From CBC News

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