MONTREAL — A Quebec city councillor who was already under fire for denying the existence of Islamophobia is drawing new scrutiny for recent comments questioning whether the Earth is round.
Nathalie Lemieux of Gatineau, Que., created controversy last week after she told a reporter the word "Islamophobia'' doesn't exist for her. She was stripped of her title as deputy mayor but remains a councillor in Quebec's fourth largest city.
In an interview Tuesday, Gatineau Mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin acknowledged Lemieux's comments about Islamophobia could be harmful.
"Yes, it could affect the (city's) reputation, but it's only one person," he said by phone, calling Gatineau "a model of integration." He said the city's swift action to dissociate itself from Lemieux's comments would limit the damage. "I don't think it will hurt much," he said.
The mayor declined comment on another eye-opening remark from Lemieux, reported this week by Le Droit newspaper. In an online comment two weeks ago, Lemieux suggested there is a conspiracy to eliminate evidence that the Earth is flat.
"Who decided that the Earth is round, and why should we believe it?" she asked.
"The first question to ask" she wrote, "is now that people realize that it's possible that the Earth is flat, why do they want to hide the explanations that prove it." She also wondered how much money is diverted to NASA and said she does not believe anything on the news, preferring to conduct her own research.
Who decided that the Earth is round, and why should we believe it?Nathalie Lemieux, municipal councillor
"The world is a stage and several actors are amusing themselves at our expense thinking they are more intelligent than us," she wrote.
Lemieux's assistant confirmed Tuesday that the councillor made the comments, which appeared under a news article about YouTube clamping down on videos promoting conspiracy theories. She said Lemieux was not available for an interview.
Mayor called Islamophobia comments 'dangerous'
The councillor first entered the spotlight last week when she told Le Droit that Islamophobia is a problem invented by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The newspaper also quoted her saying, "These people do a lot of things wrong, with their trucks and all that, it's normal to be scared.''
Pedneaud-Jobin said Lemieux, who was first elected to council in 2017, is a good person who didn't appreciate the impact of her comments about Muslims.
"For me that's what is very serious — to make a connection between Muslims and all terrorists — mixing up things doesn't make sense," he said. "It's dangerous, because it prejudges and makes life difficult for the Muslim community."
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Lemieux was applauding Quebec Premier Francois Legault for his statement last week that there is no Islamophobia in Quebec. After Muslim groups denounced Legault's comments, the premier's office clarified to say Islamophobia exists but there is no culture or current of it in Quebec.
The councillor apologized if anyone was hurt by her comments but remained defiant in a statement on her Facebook page Monday. She said Quebec society is far from being Islamophobic and she remains critical of "all cultural or religious practices that don't respect human rights, the equality of women and men and the rights of children."
She said the loss of her deputy mayor title makes her wonder whether freedom of expression is in danger in Gatineau. Later in the day she changed her profile picture to a woman knight in armour with the statement, "Sometimes you need to remind yourself you're a warrior and warriors don't give up."
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