MONTREAL – A Quebec that was already under attack for denying the existence of Islamophobia is attracting further scrutiny for recent comments questioning whether Earth is round.
Nathalie Lemieux of Gatineau, New York State, created controversy last week after she told a reporter that the word "Islamophobia" does not exist for her, but remains a counselor in Quebec's fourth largest city.
In an interview on Tuesday, Gatineau Mayor Maxime Pedneaud-Jobin acknowledged that Lemieux's comments on Islamophobia could be damaging.
"Yes, that could affect the reputation of the city, but it's just one person," he said by telephone, calling Gatineau an "integration model." He said the city's quick action to dissociate itself from Lemieux's comments would limit the damage. "I do not think it will hurt too much," he said.
Fred Chartrand / CP
The mayor declined to comment on another revealing Lemieux comment, released this week by Le Droit newspaper. In an online comment two weeks ago, Lemieux suggested that there is a conspiracy to eliminate evidence that the Earth is flat.
"Who decided that the Earth is round and why should we believe?" she asked.
"The first question to ask," she wrote, "is now that people realize that it is possible for the Earth to be flat, because 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?Nathalie Lemieux, municipal councilor
"The world is a stage and a lot of actors have fun at our expense thinking they are smarter than we are," she wrote.
Lemieux's assistant confirmed on Tuesday that the advisor made the comments, which appeared under a YouTube report repressing videos that promote conspiracy theories. She said that Lemieux was not available for an interview.
Mayor called Islamophobia comments "dangerous"
The counselor came first in the spotlight last week when she told Le Droit that Islamophobia is a problem invented by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The paper also quoted her saying, "These people do a lot of wrong things, with their trucks and everything, it's normal to be afraid."
Pedneaud-Jobin said that Lemieux, who was first elected to the council in 2017, is a good person who did not like the impact of his comments on Muslims.
"To me, this is what is very serious – making a connection between Muslims and all terrorists – mixing things up does not make sense," he said. "It's dangerous because it harms and hampers the life of the Muslim community."
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Lemieux was applauding Quebec Prime Minister François Legault for his statement last week that there is no Islamophobia in Quebec. After Muslim groups denounced Legault's comments, the prime minister's office clarified that Islamophobia exists, but there is no culture or current in Quebec.
The councilman apologized if anyone was hurt by his comments, but remained defiant in a statement on his Facebook page on Monday. She said that Quebec society is far from being Islamophobic and remains critical of "all cultural or religious practices that do not respect human rights, equality between women and men and the rights of children."
She said the loss of her deputy mayoral title made her wonder if freedom of expression was in jeopardy at Gatineau. Later that same day, she changed her profile photo to a knight in armor with the statement: "Sometimes you need to remember that you are a warrior and the warriors do not give up."
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