Funding for women’s group under review after call for ban on man-woman relationships

Funding for women's group under review after call for ban on man-woman relationships

MONTREAL — The Quebec government says it will re-evaluate the $120,000 annual public funding it gives to the province’s biggest women’s federation after its president suggested that heterosexual relationships should be banned.

Gabrielle Bouchard, president of the Federation des femmes du Quebec, made the controversial comment Tuesday on Twitter, before issuing an apology on Facebook and during televised media interviews later in the day.

Bouchard says her original tweet was in reaction to news that a man out on parole after being convicted of killing his female partner had been arrested in the slaying last week of a 22-year-old woman in Quebec City.

In it she said heterosexual relationships were violent, mostly based on religion and possibly should be banned.

Labour and Social Solidarity Minister Jean Boulet said he will analyze whether the organization still qualifies for its annual subsidy in light of Bouchard’s comments.

He said in an interview that Bouchard’s words were unacceptable and lacked respect, but that he felt her apology was also sincere.

“All I can do,” Boulet said, “as a good manager of public money, is to analyze the situation … and I’ll take into consideration all the facts, including her apology.”

Bouchard’s controversial tweet on Tuesday said: “Heterosexual relationships are really violent. In addition, the vast majority of those relationships are based on religion. It may be time to have a conversation about banning them and abolishing them.”

A couple of hours after the original post, Bouchard tweeted about how “femicides are an issue that need to be taken seriously.”

After received heated criticism online and from other members of the Quebec government, Bouchard wrote on Facebook that her message “was out of place and hurt many people. I deeply apologize for this lack of judgment and promise to be up to the challenges we have to face.”

The federation did not return a request for an interview.

Bouchard’s initial tweet was in response to the killing of Marylene Levesque, which prompted federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair to announce an investigation Monday. Eustachio Gallese, 51, was charged last Thursday with second-degree murder in the death of the 22-year-old sex worker.

In 2006, Gallese was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 15 years after he killed his 32-year-old partner, Chantale Deschenes, by beating her with a hammer before repeatedly stabbing her.

The parole board initially concluded Gallese posed a “high risk” of committing violence against a partner. But the board later revised its evaluation to “moderate” and by 2016 had allowed him out of prison on supervised outings. He was released to a halfway house in March.

Blair said a full investigation would be conducted jointly by the Commissioner of Corrections Services and the chair of the Parole Board of Canada to determine the circumstances surrounding Gallese’s release and to ensure lessons are learned from it.

The women’s group president has attracted attention in the past for other provocative musings. She suggested last June the state should make vasectomies obligatory for men as soon as they reach 18 years old.

Bouchard said at the time the tweet was made in jest, as a way to spark discussion around anti-abortion policies and laws in Canada and around the world that seek to control women’s bodies.

The recent positions of the federation under Bouchard have reflected divisions in the province’s women’s movement. Bouchard has taken the group in a more radical direction, and alienated certain feminists who have publicly declared the organization no longer spoke for them.

An issue that highlighted the split came in 2018, when a number of the federation’s member organizations quit after it passed a resolution declaring that women can freely choose to become sex workers.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Jan. 28, 2020.

— With files from Jocelyne Richer

Giuseppe Valiante, The Canadian Press

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