THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
QUEBEC — A political commentator who joked that he'd rather hunt Quebec separatists than squirrels has been taken off the air after police received a complaint against him, a television network said Wednesday.
Groupe TVA said it was suspending Luc Lavoie from its programs while Quebec provincial police look into the matter.
"The management of TVA Nouvelles/LCN has just been informed by the Surete du Quebec that a complaint has been filed and an investigation is ongoing into comments made yesterday by analyst Luc Lavoie concerning separatists on the show 'La Joute,'" the network said in a statement.
"Under the circumstances, the management took the decision to pull Luc Lavoie from the air until the conclusion of this investigation."
A provincial police spokesman confirmed that several citizens had contacted police following the broadcast.
Sgt. Stephane Tremblay said investigators were analyzing the statements to see if a criminal infraction had taken place.
Lavoie, a former spokesman for ex-prime minister Brian Mulroney, made the remark while on the air Tuesday discussing petitions for and against the legalization of squirrel hunting tabled at the provincial legislature.
"We could take our guns like Americans, and shoot at squirrels ... actually, I would have liked to be able to hunt the separatists, but it looks like it's not possible," he said with a chuckle on a French-language current affairs show.
The remarks caused an uproar on social media, prompting Lavoie to apologize later Tuesday evening for what he called "stupid" remarks.
Earlier Wednesday, TVA released an initial statement saying it considered Lavoie's comments unacceptable but didn't immediately announce any further action, given Lavoie had already apologized.
Parti Quebecois Leader Jean-Francois Lisee was among those who called on TVA to go further and sanction the commentator, claiming Lavoie would have been taken off the air had he made similar statements about religious minorities or people with disabilities.
"If in his sentence he'd replaced the world 'separatists' with 'Muslims,' 'Blacks,' 'women,' 'handicapped,' 'Jews,' he wouldn't be on the air, it would be terrible," Lisee said Wednesday morning.
The French language television network is owned by Lisee's predecessor as Parti Quebecois leader, Pierre Karl Peladeau.
The controversy erupted hours after the tabling of petitions for and against the legalization of squirrel hunting in Quebec.
A Quebec student started a petition in June to ask the provincial government to add squirrels to its list of game animals.
Martin Poirier argued that squirrels are edible and numerous, that they're legal to hunt in many other provinces, and that hunting is economically beneficial to the province.
Coalition for Quebec's Future member Mathieu Lemay appeared to be struggling not to laugh as he tabled the petition on behalf of its 1,270 signatories.
"We, the undersigned, ask the Quebec government to modify the regulations regarding hunting in the goal of legalizing squirrel hunting on the Quebec territory," he read, as scattered laughter could be heard around him.
Sylvain Roy of the Parti Quebecois tabled a second squirrel-related petition that had been started by opponents of Poirier's plan.
That petition, which was signed by 1,690 people, noted that animals are considered "sentient beings" under Quebec law and that shooting them could cause them to suffer.
— with files from Morgan Lowrie in Montreal