Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday that online hate likely contributed to the radicalization of the man accused of killing members of a Muslim family in London, Ontario, over the weekend. That’s prompted human rights advocates to criticize his government for failing to meet its promise to deliver legislation to address the problem.
“They were viciously and inexplicably run down deliberately and we don’t yet know all the causes or reasons,” Trudeau told the Progressive Governance Digital Summit. “There is probably an element of online incitation to violence or access to things that we have to think about.”
On Sunday, four people — Salman Afzaal, 46, his wife Madiha Salman, 44, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna Afzaal and Salman Afzaal’s 74-year-old mother — were killed when a black truck rammed into them as they were walking. The youngest member of the family, Fayez, 9, survived.
On Monday, London Police charged a 20-year-old man with four counts of murder and one count of attempted murder for what they say was a “planned, premeditated act” against a family of five “because of their Muslim faith.”
After the New Zealand mosque shooting, Trudeau signed onto the Christchurch Call to Action that pledged to “to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online.” Trudeau followed that up with a promise to “target online hate speech, exploitation and harassment, and do more to protect victims of hate speech.”
But with just ten days to go before Parliament rises for the summer, no such legislation has been put forward by the federal government.
Human rights advocate Amira Elghawaby spent more than a year examining online hate. She said Canada’s regulations on hate speech are failing.
“It’s really unfortunate that the real work that would make a substantial change in the lives of people, not only Canadian Muslims, but other racialized groups that are targeted online, that type of change has not yet happened,” Elghawaby said. “And that really is a shame for us and Canadians.”
‘A pivotal point’
Elghawaby said there have been a number of “wake up calls” that have made it obvious something has to be done.
In 2017, Alexandre Bissonnette killed six men at a Quebec City mosque. An investigation revealed the gunman was radicalized online and was consumed by far-right media sources.
An investigation into the London attack is ongoing but Trudeau’s remarks about his possible “online incitation to violence” raise concerns about the lack of progress on legislation.
“If this individual was indeed radicalized online, then I think that is a terrible, terrible reality that we have to face,” Elghawaby said.
Bernie Farber of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network said the majority of people who commit crimes like the mosque shooting and the London attack have been radicalized online and the best way to prevent further attacks is with legislation.
“There have to be laws that are imposed, there have to be fines that are imposed for hate material that will hit them literally right in the belly, that will make them want to change, because without that it’s not going to happen,” he told CBC.
Despite the lack of movement from the federal government, Farber said that he’s optimistic governments will be prompted into action.
“There seems to be a different excuse every time something happens, but now, with the terrible tragedy that happened in London, I think this has refocused everybody,” he said. “I think very much this may become a pivotal point.”
The office of Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault says it’s committed to tabling a bill in “a timely manner” that forces online platforms to monitor and remove illegal content. But with only 10 sitting days left before Parliament breaks for the summer and with a possible election looming, any legislation introduced now would die as soon as the election is called.