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Amira Elghawaby makes her way to meet with Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet in his office on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Feb. 1. Ms. Elghawaby, a human-rights advocate and journalist, offered an apology ahead of her meeting with Blanchet.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Justin Trudeau and his special representative on combatting Islamophobia sought to calm an uproar in Quebec in the wake of criticism that a 2019 opinion piece that she co-authored on the province’s controversial secularism law contained anti-Quebec bias.

Less than a week after the appointment of Amira Elghawaby, the Prime Minister insisted Wednesday that he made the right choice in selecting her. However, he tried to defuse tensions, saying that Quebeckers are not racist and are ardent defenders of rights and freedoms. Mr. Trudeau also said there’s been some “Quebec bashing.”

Ms. Elghawaby, a human-rights advocate and journalist, offered an apology ahead of a meeting on Wednesday with Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet.

“As a member of Canada’s Muslim community, we know what it’s like to be stereotyped. We know what it’s like for people to have biases. And I understand the words and the way that I said them have hurt people in Quebec,” Ms. Elghawaby told reporters Wednesday. “I have heard you and I know what you’re feeling and I’m sorry.”

At a news conference before his meeting with Ms. Elghawaby, Mr. Blanchet said Liberal MPs in Quebec and those in the rest of Canada have been saying different things with respect to Ms. Elghawaby’s appointment. Asked if he thinks the position Ms. Elghawaby is filling is necessary, Mr. Blanchet said that “Islamophobia has to be better defined, but fought.”

After their meeting, Ms. Elghawaby told reporters that she and the Bloc Leader “agree to disagree” about Bill 21, which she called discriminatory. “But that’s what dialogue is all about,” she said.

Bill 21, which was passed in 2019, bans certain public servants from wearing religious symbols, such as hijabs, while at work.

At the root of the uproar was a sentence in the opinion piece that referred to a majority of Quebeckers appearing to be swayed, in regards to Bill 21, by “anti-Muslim sentiment.” Ms. Elghawaby told The Globe and Mail that the line in question was not her opinion, but rather, a summary of a specific poll, and last week, she clarified that she does not believe Quebeckers are Islamophobic.

Mr. Trudeau’s balancing act is one that some of his ministers have mirrored in recent days. And Mr. Trudeau referred to the need to bridge two realities – that of Muslim communities and of Quebec society at-large, which he called “uneasy with religion.”

Muslim communities pushed for the appointment of a dedicated federal representative on Islamophobia after the killing in 2021 of four members of one Muslim family – the Afzaals – in London, Ont. Police said it was motivated by anti-Muslim hate. In 2017, six Muslim men were killed and another 19 injured in a shooting in a Quebec City mosque, the sixth anniversary of which was marked on Sunday.

In recent years, hate crimes reported against Muslims in Canada have climbed sharply.

Ms. Elghawaby’s appointment has been celebrated by Muslim and non-Muslim organizations alike, which say she’s a dedicated advocate for Muslims and known for fostering cross-cultural dialogue. And as the criticism over her appointment has picked up steam in Quebec, some advocates and parliamentarians expressed concerns about a “piling-on” of a racialized woman.

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra, who represents Mississauga Centre, told reporters Wednesday that there seems to be two types of criticism arising: some from a genuine interest to understand what Ms. Elghawaby said and why – and some that is “purely political.”

Alia Hogben, former executive director of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, said in an interview that Mr. Trudeau should have been entirely prepared to stand behind his appointee – and not seem surprised by any positions that she has taken.

“Of course, you could always say this becomes an incident of Islamophobia itself,” she said, referring to the surge of criticism.

On Tuesday, Jean-François Roberge, Quebec’s minister of secularism, submitted a motion declaring that Ms. Elghawaby’s remarks concerning Quebeckers and Islamophobia were “unacceptable” and calling for her to be removed from the job. The motion received near-unanimous approval in the National Assembly.

Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, leader of the left-leaning Québec Solidaire (QS), said the representative’s remarks were “false and hurtful” and should be retracted, but did not ask for her to step down. QS instead invited her for a meeting, which Sandrine Bourque, media relations officer for the party, said Ms. Elghawaby has accepted.

With reports from Eric Andrew-Gee and Frédérik-Xavier Duhamel.