04/26/2017 12:49 EDT | Updated 04/27/2017 09:42 EDT

Quebec cabinet minister apologizes for replying in French to English question

Quebec's public security minister apologized Wednesday for replying in French to an English-language question in the legislature.

Martin Coiteux said he did not mean to offend Quebec's English-speaking community when he answered Quebec solidaire's Amir Khadir in French on Tuesday.

Khadir prefaced his question by saying he was asking it in English because it was about allegations of illegal fundraising within the Liberal party, a topic he said Quebec anglophones don't hear enough about.

Coiteux then said, in French, he would reply in French in keeping with the "tradition" of the national assembly.

That triggered a pointed response from an organization that links more than 50 English-language community groups across Quebec.

The Quebec Community Groups Network noted that 44,980 of Coiteux's constituents in his predominantly anglophone riding of Nelligan "have a tradition" of speaking English, as do "more than one million Quebecers." 

"This is an affront to his constituents and to the English-speaking community of Quebec," said president James Shea.

"The tradition in the national assembly is Section 133 of the 1867 Constitution Act which clearly states that French or English may be used in debates in the national assembly."

On Wednesday, Coiteux said he didn't mean to offend anybody and that he was sorry if that were the case.

"I'm really sorry about what this produced," he said. "Perhaps my words were not well-chosen. I didn't want to offend anybody. And if I did offend somebody with the words I used, I am really, really sorry."

Asked whether he would reply in English if Khadir were to ask him another question in English, Coiteux replied: "The next time I will. If he repeats a question in English... part of the answer will be in English. Maybe all of it. Depends on the question."

Geoffrey Chambers, vice-president of the Quebec Community Groups Network, said he was satisfied with Coiteux's apology.

"We got what we wanted," he said.