04/18/2019 21:42 EDT | Updated 04/18/2019 21:42 EDT

Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante Threatened Online After Denouncing Quebec Secularism Bill

Messages that cross a line have been sent to police.

Canadian Press
Montreal mayor Valerie Plante responds to a question as opposition leader Lionel Perez looks on during a news conference in Montreal on Monday.

Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante spoke out Thursday about threats directed against her over her stance on the province's secularism bill.

Plante told reporters Thursday the online attacks have intensified, and she is taking them seriously.

"I'm always open for debate, but I will not accept that," Plante said. "This is not the kind of society we want. This is not what we want to encourage."

The threats, including some of physical violence, are in messages posted online or sent directly to her social media accounts. "Freedom of speech is important, but we need to realize we're also talking to human beings," Plante said.

Messages sent to police

A senior aide to the mayor told The Canadian Press that messages deemed to have crossed a line have been flagged and sent to Montreal police.

Quebec's Bill 21 would prohibit public servants in positions of authority — including teachers, police officers, Crown prosecutors and prison guards — from wearing religious symbols on the job. A grandfather clause would protect people already hired in those positions.

The debate surrounding the proposed legislation has been divisive since the bill was tabled last month. On Monday, Plante and Lionel Perez, the opposition leader at Montreal city hall, issued a joint motion denouncing Bill 21.

On Wednesday, Toronto city council passed a resolution supporting Montreal and declaring its opposition to any legislation restricting freedom of religion.

Premier urges calm

Quebec Premier Francois Legault called the attacks on Plante unacceptable and urged calmer debate.

Legault also downplayed a recent article in the Chinese daily Global Times, praising the proposed legislation and comparing it to China's own policy of repression of the Uighurs, a Muslim minority group often sent to re-education camps.

The premier said Thursday he couldn't stop the Chinese daily from applauding his government's legislation. The April 2 dispatch called the Quebec's proposed legislation a good way of ensuring separation of church and state.

Legault said neither the Chinese nor Toronto would ultimately have an impact on the debate in Quebec.

"I don't think so, when you compare what's happening in large countries like France, Germany, Belgium, they took decisions to forbid some religious signs," Legault said in Quebec City. "So we're doing that with the support of the majority of Quebecers, and it's not up to Ontario people to decide what's happening in Quebec."

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