QUEBEC — The Coalition Avenir Québec proposal to slap limits on freedom of expression could lead to the closing of churches and synagogues, Premier Philippe Couillard warned Wednesday.
Under fire in question period from the two opposition parties, which accused him of living in denial over the issue of religious fundamentalism and failing to act, Couillard fired back accusing them of proposing simple solutions to complex issues.
Couillard told the legislature he prefers to stay on solid legal ground even if, as unpleasant is it is, freedom of expression means people can say the most ridiculous things.
The courts have clearly established that the only restrictions on freedom of expression that can be seen as acceptable involve hate mongering and calls for violence, he said.
"As long as we are on this terrain, we are on solid ground legally," Couillard said in a heated exchange with CAQ Leader François Legault during question period.
And he noted it's not only some imams who make statements that question values of a modern liberal society. Some religious leaders also question the freedom of sexual orientation and the equality of men and women.
But Legault was not backing down. One day after saying municipalities need more tools to deal with issues of religious accommodations including the power to investigate mosques before they are allowed to open, Legault continued to hammer away.
On Wednesday, Legault said he did not blame the mayor of Shawinigan for refusing to allow a mosque to open in the city's industrial park because there are no guidelines for cities to follow.
In his opinion, Quebec should be able to investigate to see if persons asking for permits intend to preach, repeatedly, against Quebec values.
In his exchange with Couillard Wednesday, Legault said Couillard's statement that the police are available to municipalities that have fears about radicals setting up shop on their territory is not good enough.
"It is not just the responsibility of the police," Legault said. "It also requires political action. It's a question of security but it is also a question of social cohesion."
"What he (Legault) needs to realize is that his position could result in the closing of Catholic churches and the synagogues," Couillard fired back. "He needs to say that, too."
Couillard added his government will not go down the path of the Parti Québécois when it proposed its charter of values.
"I want to reassure the population," he said. "This very black episode of our history is behind us."
Later, Legault continued to milk the theme at a news conference, accusing Couillard of "gross demagogy" for saying his plan to restrict freedoms could mean closing of churches.
"I don't know any priests in Quebec who systematically denigrate Quebec values," Legault said. "What we propose is to ban someone who comes and repeatedly preaches the denigration of fundamental values.
"Mr. Couillard is hiding behind the police, is hiding behind freedom of expression to do nothing, to let the radicals do what they want, say what they want.
"At some point in time we have to put limits."