MONTREAL — After outrage from Jewish groups, a Parti Québécois (PQ) candidate has backtracked on comments she posted on the Internet appearing to suggest that the word “Jewish” be removed from the name of the Jewish General Hospital (JGH) and that circumcision be banned.
Tania Longpré, who is running in the Dec. 9 byelection in Montreal’s north-end Viau riding, made the comments on Facebook in an exchange on the proposed charter of state secularism.
She wrote: “Answer me publicly: must we include in the charter the withdrawal of the word ‘Jewish’ from the hospital? Forbid circumcision? Sidelocks in the public service?
“I answer yes! Anyway, thank you for the idea for the next text.”
After complaints from the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and B’nai Brith Canada and others via social media, Longpré, a former Journal de Montréal blogger, wrote on her Facebook page Nov. 10: “After what has circulated on social media, I would like to correct the facts: exasperated a few weeks ago, I responded nonsense to someone in a virtual exchange that does not reflect all my thoughts.” She said, however, that she supports the proposed charter as it is.
Longpré, who currently teaches French to immigrants, followed that up with a second message on her Twitter account referring to the incident as an “infantile controversy.”
Democratic Institutions Minister Bernard Drainville, who is responsible for the charter, told reporters, “Before she was a candidate, she was a citizen who had freedom of speech. Now she’s a PQ candidate and she must endorse the policies that were taken by the PQ government.”
Premier Pauline Marois did not take Longpré to task. On the contrary, she called her “an excellent candidate” on Nov. 12.
CIJA is “not buying” Longpré’s explanation, and won’t be satisfied until she “owns up to what she said, acknowledges that it was wrong and renounces it,” said David Ouellette, the organization’s associate director of public affairs.
Longpré’s Facebook comments were not isolated, he suggested. “In the past, she has made statements that reflect a radical conception of secularism,” and are especially troubling because she is a “passionate promoter of the charter.”
CIJA, he said, also wants to hear a clear statement from the PQ government that it “by no means seeks to suppress, question or challenge this Jewish institution [the JGH], which is the pride of Quebec Jews.”
Longpré’s comments show an “utter ignorance,” Ouellette added, of the JGH’s care of all Quebecers regardless of origin since its founding almost 80 years ago, and of Jews’ “rootedness” in Quebec for 2-1/2 centuries.
CIJA had earlier urged Marois to “call her candidate to order for this attack on Jewish identity and on the generosity provided by the community to the benefit of all Quebecers for many generations.”
CIJA took the occasion to further criticize the proposed charter, Bill 60, saying it would effectively prohibit Jewish doctors who wear a kippah from practising anywhere but in Jewish establishments. This was a reference to a clause that would allow health-care institutions up to five years to “transition” to compliance with the law and those with a “confessional” mandate possibly longer.
B’nai Brith urged the PQ to distance itself from Longpré, noting how especially insensitive her remarks were at a time when the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht was being commemorated.
“It is truly shameful that the lessons of Kristallnacht… have fallen on deaf ears,” stated B’nai Brith CEO Frank Dimant.
“In fact, the Nazis banned circumcision and often taunted Jews by cutting their beards and payot [sidelocks].
“Hopefully, the comments endorsed by Ms. Longpré are not reflective of the PQ. We call on party leadership to immediately disavow themselves from such offensive and worrying comments and thereby make it clear that such notions form no part of their platform.”
B’nai Brith said Longpré’s explanation of her comments to date are unsatisfactory.
Viau was held by Liberal Emmanuel Dubourg from 2007 until he resigned to enter federal politics. He is seeking the seat vacated by Denis Coderre, who was elected Montreal mayor this month.
On Nov. 13, the JGH board of directors affirmed its opposition to Bill 60, the charter of state secularism, calling it “discriminatory and deeply insulting to public-sector workers.”
Should the “offensive” bill pass, the JGH said that, as a matter of principle, it will not seek any delay in its application, as is foreseen in the law or that the government might extend to it.
“Since the bill is inherently prejudicial, there is no point in taking advantage of any clause that would grant us temporary, short-term relief,” said executive director Lawrence Rosenberg.
The JGH said many of its staff wear attire denoting a wide variety of faiths, and there are no complaints from users of its services.
“As long as services are delivered with professional competence, courtesy and respect, no legislation should be allowed to override the freedoms of religion or expression that are guaranteed by” both the Canadian and Quebec rights charters, it stated.
Public hearings on the bill will begin on Jan. 14 before the National Assembly’s commission on institutions. Deadline for the submission of briefs or requests to appear must be received by the commission no later than Dec. 20.