The Quebec cabinet minister responsible for the government's proposed charter of values pulled out of a debate on the topic Thursday because of security concerns.
Bernard Drainville said he had no choice but to cancel his presence at Montreal's Concordia University because there was a real risk it could get out of control.
The Quebec Public Interest Research Group at Concordia had promised to protest outside the event, describing the charter as "xenophobic." The secularism charter proposed by the Parti Québécois government would ban anyone working in the public service from wearing overt religious symbols such as the hijab while on the job.
Drainville said he decided not to take part in the debate because members of the Concordia group refused to commit themselves to keep the peace.
"I think we have to keep on debating respectfully," he told reporters in Quebec City. "I think the risk of things getting out of control was far too high for this particular event and I decided to make the reasonable and responsible decision not to attend."
Only a handful of demonstrators ended up attending the protest.
Concordia official Chris Mota said the minister's office contacted the university once it became clear several protests were being mobilized and asked if it could ensure there would be no disruptions.
Mota said Concordia could offer no such guarantee.
"As is the case for all events on campus, the university cannot – with any certainty – assure the minister's office that the event would go ahead without any disruption," she said in an interview.
"We conveyed that to the minister and the minister's office decided to withdraw from the event based on that."
Drainville said he hopes to able to go to Concordia eventually and take part in a discussion on the controversial charter.