MONTREAL — A letter of support signed by 30 prominent Quebecers, including academics, activists and community leaders, is asking that Amira Elghawaby be given the chance to fulfil her mandate as Canada's first special representative on combating Islamophobia.
Provincial politicians in Quebec and Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet have called for Elghawaby's resignation for a 2019 article she co-wrote criticizing Quebec's Bill 21 and saying a majority of Quebecers appear to be "swayed" by anti-Muslim sentiment. That law, adopted in 2019, prohibits certain public sector workers — like teachers and judges — from wearing religious symbols at work.
The letter dated Friday acknowledged the concerns raised by Quebec's political class since her appointment last week but underscored her apology and her expressed desire to engage in further dialogue.
"We are sensitive to the concerns that have been raised since her appointment, but the challenge before her is a considerable one and we believe that Ms. Elghawaby should be given the opportunity to assume and pursue the mandate for which she was appointed," the letter said.
On Wednesday, Elghawaby apologized, saying she was "extremely sorry" for the way her words had carried and how they hurt the people of Quebec.
The letter said, "We stand ready to contribute to a constructive dialogue around these complex and sensitive issues and are committed to countering biases of all kinds."
Among the people who signed the letter are constitutional lawyer Julius Grey, philosopher Charles Taylor and Boufeldja Benabdallah, co-founder of the Quebec City mosque where six men were shot in 2017 in an anti-Muslim attack.
The Anti-Hate Community Leaders' Group, an Ontario-based activist organization, also released a letter in support of Elghawaby's appointment. It said that after working with Elghawaby for more than a decade there is no one better suited for the federal position.
"We urge the federal government, other elected representatives and community members to let Amira do her much-needed job instead of playing politics — Islamophobia has taken the lives of too many people in Canada already and we need swift action," the group wrote.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has stood behind the decision to name Elghawaby to the role, saying she is the right person to help Canadians grapple with tough questions about religion.
A news release Jan. 26 announcing her nomination said Canada’s special representative on combating Islamophobia "will serve as a champion, adviser, expert and representative to support and enhance the federal government’s efforts in the fight against Islamophobia, systemic racism, racial discrimination and religious intolerance."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 3, 2023.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
The Canadian Press