QUEBEC — The major political parties of the National Assembly have agreed to uninvite a militant right-wing nationalist with anti-immigrant views who managed to get himself on the list of witnesses at a committee studying Quebec’s immigration reform plan.
Alexandre Cormier-Denis was still on the list of witnesses as late as Wednesday morning, but the four sitting parties rapidly agreed to reverse course after the news broke.
The tone was set by Premier François Legault, who made it clear what he thought as he arrived for daily question period.
“I think not,” Legault said when asked whether such a person was welcome. “I think we will come to an agreement with the opposition parties so he does not come.”
“I in no way condone the views of Cormier-Denis,” added Immigration Minister Christine Fréchette. “As a political party, we are not interested in hearing from him tomorrow. We will see if the other parties share our views.”
It turns out they did, even if they initially argued in public over who had agreed to let Cormier-Denis appear in the first place and whether he should be allowed to speak. Cormier-Denis was scheduled to appear Thursday at 5:30 p.m. as the last witness at the committee, which is wrapping up three weeks of hearings.
“It’s up to the government to explain” how he got on the list, said Parti Québécois MNA Pascal Bérubé. “We indicated that if someone was to be cut, there was this person.”
He steered the responsibility back to the government.
“We will have to live with it. There were situations in the past where we were ill at ease, we expressed it and chose to not ask questions (of the witness). But ultimately we are not going to comment on a decision which ultimately belongs to the CAQ.”
“We are ill at ease and against the views of this personality,” added Québec solidaire MNA Haroun Bouazzi. “I think this is clear. Do we agree with his conspiracy theories, his theories about supremacy? Clearly not.
“As for the procedure of the National Assembly … if he has hateful views, it will be up to the chairperson of the committee to take action.”
“I don’t agree with this guy,” said the Liberal member of the committee, Monsef Derraji. “I in no way share the views of this individual. But we have a procedure. These are general consultations on immigration. Everyone can send in a brief. We will try to find a solution to this today.
“But who am I to muzzle a group? Do I agree with everyone who appears before a committee? My role is what? Hear from groups. This is where we are at.”
A few hours later, following some closed-door talks, the four parties agreed to drop Cormier-Denis.
“We agreed (the invitation) should be withdrawn,” said Liberal media spokesperson Maxime Doyon-Laliberté.
But even as Cormier-Denis was being dumped, Coalition Avenir Québec government house leader Simon Jolin-Barrette insisted the CAQ had reservations about allowing him to testify from the get-go and even warned the opposition parties about him last summer.
“We have no problem uninviting Cormier-Denis,” Jolin-Barrette said. “There is no issue. The government had already warned the other parties to be certain they wanted to hear from him. And, by the way, the Parti Québécois gave its accord to hear from him. Today, the PQ is peddling backwards.”
Later, after the dust had settled, Fréchette was reluctant to discuss the matter further. Asked how Cormier-Denis got on the list, she said Jolin-Barrette had already explained the procedure when it comes to witnesses.
“It’s not us who manage this,” Fréchette said. “I am at ease with the decision we took. It is a general consultation, so everyone who asked to intervene during the commission is allowed to.”
She noted the views Cormier-Denis holds were not visible in the brief he submitted, so he was allowed on the list.
Cormier-Denis became known in 2016 because of his friendship with right-wing French politician Marine Le Pen, former president of the Front National (now known as Rassemblement National).
He is described by Pivot Media as a conservative militant indépendantiste, an ethnic nationalist and a backer of right-wing national movements. He is a regular on social media, founding an alternative media, Horizon Québec, that pushes Front National ideas.
He hosts broadcasts on Nomos-TV, a web platform that says it speaks to “patriots” who seek to defend the “culture, language, religion and ethnicity” of the French nation of America.
He has spoken out against French immigrants to Quebec, gay marriage, Indigenous Peoples and abortion. According to Pivot, he was banned from YouTube because of his views. He ran for office under the banner of the Parti indépendantiste in a 2017 byelection in the riding of Gouin.
The PQ disassociated itself from him years ago.
Late Wednesday, Cormier-Denis issued a statement on X (the former Twitter) in which he complained he is being muzzled.
“A sane and mature democracy should be able to hear contradictory voices who do not following the line of consensual media,” he wrote. “Censuring nationalists critical of immigration will only erode the already weakened confidence the population has in its democratic institutions.”
Quebec has reached turning point on immigration levels: Montreal chamber
Public consultations on Quebec’s immigration strategy begin
McGill, Concordia say Quebec’s new immigration rules will deter international students