POLITICS

Montreal-area mayor speaks out after receiving threats over language spat

06/25/2015 10:42 EDT | Updated 06/25/2016 05:59 EDT
MONTREAL - The mayor of a predominantly francophone city near Montreal says she won't be bullied after receiving threats over online comments she made about an opposition politician using English during council meetings.

Caroline St-Hilaire wrote in a Facebook posting Thursday she's been subject to hateful insults and bullying related to a June 23 post on the same site complaining about the use of English during Longueuil council meetings.

In a post published Tuesday that was widely shared and commented on, the former Bloc Quebecois MP explained why she was "irritated" by Opposition Leader Robert Myles' insistence on translating everything he said in French into English.

Police are investigating some of the more than 800 Facebook comments. While some sided with her, others were intimidating, said St-Hilaire, who asked people to avoid disrespectful and hateful remarks.

"I will not be bullied," she wrote Thursday in response to the backlash. "No one will shake my beliefs and certainly not my desire to serve my fellow citizens and protect the French language."

Myles is one of just a handful of opposition councillors in Quebec's fifth largest city.

He hails from the borough of Greenfield Park, a former city that has bilingual status and a sizable anglophone population. He makes his comments in French and translates them to English for those in attendance or watching online.

No one had complained until May, when a member of St-Hilaire's party asked the Speaker to rule on English usage and she concluded the bilingual interventions were allowed under Bill 101 — Quebec's French Language Charter — as long as French came first.

"I respect the French language, I respect Bill 101 and I have no intention of going against that," Myles said in an interview. "But I'll speak French first and English after ... we are a very proud community in Greenfield Park and we want to maintain what we have."

Myles also spoke out against online bullying and alleged threats against St-Hilaire.

"That's wrong and no one should be doing any online bullying whatsoever," he said. "It shouldn't be tolerated. I think we've both received some nasty emails but there shouldn't be any threats on anyone's life."

A spokesman for the Longueuil police says an investigator has been examining the mayor's Facebook page since receiving a complaint on Wednesday.

St-Hilaire was more measured on Thursday, reiterating that Longueuil is legally a francophone city, citizens are always served fairly and that language has never been an issue. She added that all elected officials have a responsibility to respect the French language.

On Tuesday, she was far more forceful in her Facebook post.

"What irritates me about the Opposition leader, and the president of the Greenfield Park borough, is that he insists on making Longueuil council bilingual," St-Hilaire wrote, noting that 96 per cent of Longueuil residents understand French, making translation unnecessary.

"We are in Quebec and council meetings MUST be conducted in French. The City of Longueuil is not a bilingual administration, period. It is French and will remain so as long as I'm here to run it."

St-Hilaire called it "a matter of common sense and respect."

In an interview with Radio-Canada following her online musings, St-Hilaire suggested the provincial government should amend Bill 101 to forbid English at council.

For his part, Myles said he has no intention of changing how he conducts council business.

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