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Politics Trudeau says he will continue to denounce extremist groups

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Quebec City Mayor Regis Labeaume and Quebec Prime Minister Philippe Couillard lay flowers in memory of the victims near the Islamic Cultural Center in Quebec City on Jan. 29, 2018.

ALICE CHICHE/AFP/Getty Images

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he will keep confronting intolerant groups such as Quebec-based La Meute, which he called a group of "bozos" at Monday's one-year commemoration of the Quebec City mosque killings.

Asked by a reporter whether he was unwittingly giving far-right groups free publicity, Mr. Trudeau said he prefers to take on extremists rather than pretend that they do not exist.

"I will always be there to denounce those who don't want to build a better and more open society," Mr. Trudeau said at a news conference on Tuesday. "It is my responsibility as a leader and as Prime Minister … to make it clear when there is hate speech, when there are statements or acts that are unacceptable."

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La Meute (the French word for wolf pack) is a self-styled anti-Islamist and anti-multiculturalism group. Some of its members participated in a campaign against the creation of a Muslim cemetery near Quebec City last year.

On Tuesday, a member of the group said the Prime Minister was wrong to make a link between La Meute and the Quebec City tragedy of Jan. 29, 2017, in which six Muslims were gunned down.

"A bozo is someone who compares homophobia to Islamophobia. We have no reasons to fear homosexuals, but we have a ton of reasons to fear … Islamists," said Sylvain Brouillette, who insisted his group was not against Muslims.

Mr. Brouillette went on to attack Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, who said in his speech on Monday that citizenship does not depend on the date someone or one's ancestors arrived in the country.

"A bozo is someone who compares the colonization of Canada with modern immigration," Mr. Brouillette said in his Facebook post.

Conservative MP Pierre Paul-Hus said the attack on La Meute was unbecoming of a Prime Minister, saying groups should not be targeted because of their vision of the country.

"Canada's Prime Minister must speak in a way that is respectful of people. Calling people bozos, those are not words that should come out of the Prime Minister's mouth," Mr. Paul-Hus said after Mr. Trudeau defended his comments.

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Mr. Paul-Hus added the timing of Mr. Trudeau's comments was particularly ill-chosen given the sombre tone of the event, which was attended by the victim's families and various political leaders.

"Why did he feel the need to speak about these people? Why, in a speech in front of people gathered to commemorate an attack, did he talk about these people and call them bozos?" Mr. Paul-Hus asked.

Mr. Trudeau spoke without notes at the event in Quebec City. Still, his speech was prepared on the flight from Ottawa, with Mr. Trudeau deciding it was an appropriate moment to confront any lingering unease with Islam and Muslims.

"It's easy to condemn racism, intolerance and discrimination against the Muslim community. We know who the racists are, they are the others, the bozos with dog paws on their T-shirt," he said in an obvious reference to members of La Meute.

The time has come, he said, to go further and confront Islamophobia.

"We are all afraid sometimes, afraid of what we don't know, afraid of strangers. But we have to go beyond that, my friends," Mr. Trudeau said.

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Mr. Trudeau's comments came as many politicians in Quebec have refused to use the word Islamophobia, arguing it prevents legitimate criticism of Islam.

"I'm disappointed that our Prime Minister emphasized what divides us instead of giving a speech that would have unified us," Conservative MP Gérard Deltell said. "The Prime Minister acted like the leader of a political party rather than as a statesman."

On Tuesday, Mr. Trudeau said he supports the designation of Jan. 29 as a national day of commemoration and action against Islamophobia. "We are working with the community and with different parties to ensure that it is done correctly," he said.

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