Mixed signals from province prompts wronged philosopher to skip ethics forum

In the end, McGill University philosopher Daniel Weinstock skipped a public forum to which the Quebec government had invited him, then disinvited him, then reinvited him with a partial apology, then possibly disinvited him again.

The province withdrew Weinstock's invitation shortly after the publication of a Journal de Montréal column Wednesday that incorrectly accused the philosopher of advocating symbolic circumcisions on young girls.

The apology came Friday morning via a personal call from Education Minister Jean-François Roberge, after the column's misrepresentations came to light.

But the apology only partially restored Weinstock's invitation. Roberge said he could attend the forum — on the future of the religion and ethics course taught in the province's schools — but he would not be able to deliver the opening remarks as originally intended.

And later Friday, after Roberge's call to apologize, Premier François Legault told reporters it wasn't a good idea for Weinstock to attend the forum. At that point, Weinstock decided to stay away.   

"When I heard that Premier Legault basically seemed to be reaffirming the position that they had yesterday or even the day before yesterday, I decided that I would stick to my day job," Weinstock said.

"I was disinvited on Wednesday and very harsh language was used by the attaché of the minister of education. Later that afternoon I got a call where they said they basically realized that they'd made a mistake but that I would still be welcome to come and be part of the discussion.

"This morning I got a message from the minister saying that I could expect an apology and then an hour-and-a-half later Mr. Legault said that they were sticking to their original position."

David Champagne/Radio-Canada

The story began Wednesday when the Journal de Montréal published a column by Richard Martineau that incorrectly represented Weinstock's past remarks. Weinstock has made his opposition to symbolic circumcisions clear in the past and did so again on Facebook on Wednesday

On Friday afternoon, Roberge told reporters that he understood that his ministry should have contacted Weinstock before making the news public.

"I think we should have called him first," Roberge said. "He was advised of this decision through the media and it's not the way it should happen."

On Wednesday, the Journal de Montréal quoted Roberge's press attaché saying the disinvitation of Weinstock was directly connected to Martineau's column.

Roberge denied this on Friday, saying that the decision to withdraw Weinstock's invitation based on internal department research. The ministry worried that Weinstock would be a "distraction" from the forum's focus on the religious and ethics education course, Roberge said.

In their phone call, the education minister told Weinstock that while the allegations were inaccurate, the government didn't want the controversy surrounding him to cloud the work of the forum.

"So there's something a bit paradoxical about saying 'we've created this controversy out of our own error, but now given the fact that there's a controversy, we think that you better not speak,'" Weinstock said.

Martineau admitted in Friday's Journal de Montréal to attributing beliefs to Weinstock that he in fact did not hold.

But Weinstock takes greater issue with the government's reaction.

"I am concerned that the government, which basically signed on to Martineau's claims by making a decision half an hour after his column was published, and on the sole basis of that column, that they set the record straight."

Weinstock said he was assured by Roberge that it would be done sometime Friday.