There’s no easy answer when it comes to tackling online hatred and racism.
But part of the solution is going to need all Canadians — not just the government — to commit to finding ways to address the fear and discrimination they see in their daily lives and that can mutate into violent hate online, says one expert.
“I think Canadians need to step up in a way that’s real,” said Mohammed Hashim, executive director of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, in an interview with The West Block‘s Mercedes Stephenson.
“We all have crazy uncles. They all say crazy stuff, and I think that we just have to have greater conversations with them because we might think that they’re harmless at home and not doing anything, he added. “But they might be liking something, they might be sharing something online and that fuels this environment.”
Four members of a Muslim family were struck and killed in a vehicle attack in London, Ont., one week ago. Police said they believe the family was targeted because of their faith.
A nine-year boy who survived the attack is now an orphan.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned the attack as a “terrorist act,” as did Ontario Premier Doug Ford and the National Council of Canadian Muslims last week.
The attack has led to calls for the government to act on a promise to implement online hate legislation that would crack down on hateful material posted on the internet.
Hate speech is prohibited in Canada, but experts have warned over recent years that legislation needs to be strengthened and modernized so that the same rules apply consistently online.
Members of the House of Commons unanimously called on the government on Friday to hold an emergency action summit to develop a plan to tackle Islamophobia, and plans are already under way to hold a summit focusing on fighting antisemitism.
Both have increased along with anti-Asian hate during the pandemic, according to data from police departments across the country in recent months.
Hashim said while it’s clear the government needs to take the lead on measures that are within their control to tackle hate, it isn’t only up to government to solve the problem.
He pointed to the importance of having conversations with family and friends who express racist or hateful ideas to try to dismantle their misconceptions, pointing to comments made by former Progressive Conservative candidate Jeff Bennett on Facebook last week.
In a post on the social media platform, Bennett described comments he got while doorknocking and as a candidate in 2014 that left him certain some voters supported him because they “were happy only that my name was English and my skin was white.”
“I had volunteers on my campaign who told me they were happy to be able to contribute again. They ‘had tried to volunteer a year earlier but the campaign office felt like the Middle East,'” Bennett wrote.
“I should have asked them to leave. I did not.”
Bennett said he should have spoken up — a sentiment also shared in a blog post by Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner in which she apologized to the Muslim community for not speaking out against proposals her party made in 2015 including the barbaric cultural practices tip line and a niqab ban.
“Those policies were wrong. To the Muslim community, I’m deeply sorry for not fighting it then. I can assure you I won’t make the same mistake again,” she wrote.
“None of us can afford to be silent. We have too long watched the debate in the halls of power of our country echo with what clothes a woman should wear, or how those who are oppressed can be protected from themselves, as opposed to enacting real change.”
Hamish said the onus is on everyone to all Canadians to do what they can, when and where they can, to step up and try to counter the unprecedented speed that hate is spreading online.
“Hate is actually fear turned into extreme violence. And what we’re seeing is that fear is being fuelled dramatically, especially online,” he said.
“Polarization is really where we see that being the nucleus of how hate is fuelled.”
Green Party Leader Annamie Paul said in an interview with Stephenson that she’s been trying to “inoculate” herself from some of the “toxic” comments aimed her way as her party grapples with an internal fight over its response to the recent escalation in conflict between Israel and Hamas.
Paul, who is Black and Jewish, said she hadn’t closely followed some of the social media posts between one of her staffers and former Green MP Jenica Atwin, who accused Israel of “apartheid.”
Atwin crossed the floor on Thursday to join the Liberals and said she still holds the same views.
Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said when asked about her stance that the party welcomes “respectful” debates within its caucus.