Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Site nixes Quebec Muslim gathering

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MONTREAL -- A Muslim youth conference in Montreal, which had drawn criticism from the Parti Qu©b©cois government, has been cancelled by the convention centre where it was supposed to be held.

The Palais des congr®s, the city's largest convention centre, announced Saturday it won't hold next weekend's event for security reasons.

The decision was made after a "security review," the Palais des congr®s said in a brief statement. No specifics were offered about the finding of the review.

A spokesman for the convention centre said in an email no one would be available for comment until Tuesday.

The move comes as Quebec is embroiled in a debate over the accommodation of religious minorities.

The Parti Qu©b©cois government, which wants to introduce a new secular charter this fall, had asked Ottawa to block some of the conference's speakers from entering the country.

In a letter to her federal counterpart last week, Quebec's minister responsible for the status of women, Agn®s Maltais, said some of the speakers were circulating ideas that violated the province's "principles of equality."

Maltais said the PQ government is against the sexism of speakers, one of which reportedly said a woman not wearing the veil is worse than cancer.

The conference, which translates from French as Between Heaven and Earth, was held for the first time in 2012. More than 1,000 people were expected to attend this year.

The conference aims to bring together Muslim youth to exchange ideas and features internationally recognized religious speakers, according to its website.

This year's edition has four speakers, including Nader Abou Anas, the head of a Muslim youth association in France.

In online videos, Anas preaches the segregation of genders, warns women against wearing revealing clothing and tells them to wear the hijab.

Conference organizers did not return a request for comment on Saturday.

In a statement posted to its Facebook page, organizers said they were aware of the convention centre's decision and were "working on the situation." It's not clear whether they will try to find another venue.

On Friday, Ishaq Mustaqim, a spokesman for the organizers, said the conference had been unfairly targeted and that it did "not promote hate or violence toward women or any other group."

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 1, 2013 A6

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