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Crucifix at centre of debate in Quebec election

Thursday 30 August 2012, by siawi3

By Brian Daly, QMI Agency


MONTREAL - Religion, secularism and Quebec identity are proving a volatile mix in a battle of words on the provincial election trail.

Parti Quebecois candidate Djemila Benhabib drew a vitriolic response from a local mayor Wednesday for saying the crucifix should be taken down from the Quebec legislature chamber.

Jean Tremblay, mayor of Saguenay, Que., and a professed Catholic, told a popular Montreal radio program that voters should be wary of her because she “comes from Algeria.”

“Our Quebec culture ... our Quebec flag — does she know that it’s the Christian cross on there?” Tremblay told the talk show.

“What shocks me ... is to see that we ... soft French Canadians, are being told how to behave, how to respect our culture by a person who comes from Algeria, and we can’t even pronounce her name.”

Tremblay repeated his comments on the radio show and in subsequent interviews.

Benhabib had broken with the PQ party line in calling for the removal of the cross of Jesus Christ from the legislature.

PQ Leader Pauline Marois says that while she wouldn’t ban the crucifix if elected Sept. 4, she would introduce a “secularism charter” that would restrict religious symbolism in the public service.

Marois also demanded an apology from the mayor.

“He is completely ignorant about Djemila Benhabib,” said Marois. “(She’s) been exemplary in her integration into Quebec society.”

Tremblay stuck to his guns.

“It’s childish to apologize,” he told QMI Agency during an interview in which he again repeated his attacks on Benhabib.

Benhabib has been Quebec’s most outspoken critic of religion in general and Islam in particular.

Her book “My life against the Koran” and her frequent criticism of Islamic fundamentalism has made her the target of death threats.

But the outspoken author and political candidate decided Wednesday to stand down from the latest battle.

“I do not wish to respond to Mayor Tremblay and I do not want the debate to become focused on me,” she said Wednesday in Trois-Rivieres, Que., where she’s trying to unseat the incumbent for the governing Liberals.

Ironically, the riding encompasses the town of Herouxville, which made international headlines in 2007 when town council passed an “immigrant code of conduct.”

The document, reflecting concerns about Muslim immigration, included a ban on stoning women and the ensuing controversy led to a commission on the integration of immigrants into Quebec society.

In another ironic twist, the commission’s final report included a recommendation that the crucifix be removed from the Quebec legislature.