03/30/2015 03:19 EDT | Updated 05/30/2015 05:59 EDT

Hamza Chaoui sends Denis Coderre legal notice over radicalization comments

Controversial imam Hamza Chaoui has had his lawyer send a letter to Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre asking him to retract statements he made in public — or face a lawsuit.

Chaoui said he was unjustly accused of being an agent of radicalization by elected city officials and the mayor, and if he doesn’t get a public apology from Coderre he’ll sue for damages plus interest.

The 29-year-old imam, in his first interview with the media, told Radio-Canada that he rejects all accusations linking him to radicalization.

"I consider myself an agent of deradicalization," Chaoui said.

The affair began in January, when Chaoui tried to set up an Islamic community centre in the Montreal borough of Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve.

Ultimately, the borough denied him the permit required to establish his centre, citing zoning regulations. On Jan. 31, Coderre called Chaoui an "agent of radicalization."

The imam said that in all his eight years of preaching, he’s never entertained extremist propositions. "I encouraged young people to pursue their academic studies," he said.

Controversial views

Chaoui previously preached at the St-Jean-sur-Richelieu mosque that Martin Couture-Rouleau attended. However, he said he didn't personally know the man who killed Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent.  

He has been featured in a number of videos on YouTube and Facebook in which he expressed views sympathetic to Shariah law and in which he suggested that women should have designated guardians.

In his lawyer's letter, Chaoui said those statements were taken out of context. He said he supported Shariah law in Muslim countries and that marriage proposals should be presented to women's guardians.

Lawyer HabibRachidi said the goal of the letter is to get a public apology from Coderre. He said the statements made against his client, Chaoui, amounted to a public lynching.

The imam says his reputation has been tarnished and that his dignity and rights have been pulled through the mud. He’s asking for a written public apology from Coderre within five days or he will file a lawsuit.