The recent appointment of Angelo Persichilli as Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s communications director has sparked controversy in Quebec.
Persichilli, a former Toronto Star columnist and editor of the Italian-language newspaper Corriere Canadese, speaks English and Italian but cannot speak French. This prompted a Quebec group to file a complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Commission regarding the appointment.
Gilles Rheuame, from the Ligue québécoise contre la francophobie canadienne filed the complaint with the Commission on behalf of the Ligue, calling the appointment and previous comments made by Persichilli “absolutely unacceptable.” He claims that the fact Persichilli is unable to speak French violates the rights of francophone Canadians.
“It is against the constitution, against Canadian laws governing official languages and violates federal rules about linguistic aspects of civil servants of Canada,” said Rheaume.
Section 20 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom states: “Any member of the public in Canada has the right to communicate with, and to receive available services from, any head or central office of an institution of the Parliament or government of Canada in English or French.”
Rheaume continued, “We feel that Francophone Canadians, especially those who are members of the media, will not have access to the Prime Minister’s communications director.”
The Ligue has also criticized Persichilli for comments he made in April 2010 Toronto Star column. In the column, Persichilli writes, “Many are tired of the annoying lament from a province that keeps yelling at those who pay part of its bills and are concerned by the over-representation of francophones in our bureaucracy, our Parliament and our institutions.”
In the same article Persichilli also argues that “special treatment given to Quebec is balkanizing this country so that all provinces are starting to consider Ottawa only as an ATM machine.”
Rheuame is calling for Harper to fire Persichilli, saying that the comments made in his columns are “pure racism” and that “if we spoke this way about any other group in Canada in the same way he talks about the French Canadians in Quebec it would be a scandal.”
Persichilli told the Globe and Mail he will treat Quebeckers with the “utmost respect,” and that he will learn French, though he does not know how long it will take.
According to Rheuame, mobilization against Persichilli’s appointment will continue. “We will continue to inform the other French countries in the world who are members with Canada of the [International Organization of the Francophonie] of this appointment,” he said.
Persichilli’s first day in office was last Tuesday. He took over the position from former communications director Dimitri Soudas, who announced that he would be stepping down in June.
Persichilli could not be reached for comment by The Daily.