Plante joins chorus against Steinberg comments; Hampstead mayor responds

Montreal mayor Valerie Plante has become the latest public figure to publicly denounce Hampstead Mayor William Steinberg's comments on the Legault government's religious symbols bill.

Before leaving on a mission to South America, Plante had come out against Bill 21's restrictions on government employees wearing religious symbols at work. On Thursday, she called William Steinberg's ethnic cleansing comments "irresponsible" and "absolutely unacceptable."

"These comments sparked outrage throughout Quebec, with good reason,” Plante said in a statement, released the day after she returned from abroad. “Mayor Steinberg's comments have no place in this public debate. Mayor Steinberg's words and his refusal to apologize have  diverted the debate from the proposed law on secularism  to become the subject of the debate itself. This attitude is irresponsible and must be denounced.”

In the statement, Plante also called on Steinberg to withdraw from the secularism debate entirely.

Steinberg has been taking heat from all sides for the past week or so, particularly in the francophone media, over his likening of the secularism bill to a form of "peaceful ethnic cleansing".

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also referred to the comments as “unacceptable”, joining premier François Legault, Liberal MNA David Birnbaum, former Cote St. Luc mayor and current Mount Royal MP Anthony Housefather and city hall opposition leader Lionel Perez — among many others — in calling for the Hampstead mayor to apologize.

'It was not my intention to hurt anyone'

Meanwhile, in a Facebook post Thursday, Steinberg attempted to clarify his comments, insisting that his critics have been taking them out of context.

He began the post by repeating what he had said at the public meeting on Friday in Cote St. Luc, where he first made the "ethnic cleansing" comments, and said he was not referring to genocide.

"I clearly stated [during the meeting] that I was not talking about violence and I explained how Bill 21 would lead to fewer religious minorities coming to Quebec and those already here leaving," Steinberg wrote. "I understand that these words are painful to some and it was not my intention to upset anyone, only to have people see the effects of an odious Bill. Sometimes strong words are necessary to open people’s eyes."

He ended his post by urging people to attend a planned rally against Bill 21 on Sunday at 11:30 a.m. outside Cote St. Luc city hall, but added he won't be there, because "I don’t want the story to be about me."