Canadians must be on their guard for hatred spreading online that can lead to violence, including the race replacement conspiracy theory, says Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino.
His comments to the House of Commons public safety committee come as the conspiracy theory and far-right proponents of it are facing intense criticism following a massacre at a Buffalo, N.Y., grocery store on Sunday by an apparent white supremacist.
Police say the mass shooting is being investigated as both a federal hate crime and a case of racially motivated violent extremism. According to The Associated Press, the 18-year-old alleged shooter had repeatedly visited websites espousing white supremacist ideologies and race-based conspiracy theories.
“Words matter. Hate can lead to violence. The ‘great replacement theory’ is a conspiracy that is being driven by white supremacists and is leading to violence, not only in Buffalo but in Canada,” Mendicino said. “And we all have to be vigilant.”
Mendicino had been asked what more the government can do to force social media companies to remove content such as material promoting race replacement conspiracies.
NDP MP Alistair MacGregor said the continued spread of the content online shows social media companies are failing to enforce their terms of service when left to their own action.
“We’ve got to be sure we’re putting in place the tools that are necessary to prevent these crimes, these awful crimes, from occurring in the first place,” Mendicino said, adding that governments need to work together with stakeholders and companies to find solutions.
At the core of the conspiracy known as race replacement or white replacement theory is the baseless claim that governments and other actors around the world are working to replace white citizens and diminish their political power by bringing in growing numbers of more diverse immigrants.
Typically associated with fringe elements online, the conspiracy is gaining traction in more mainstream society as far-right personalities and actors propagate it to wider audiences on a range of social media platforms, cable programming and websites.
It is part of the spectrum of far-right conspiracies raising growing concern among police and national security agencies, prompting them to focus in on the threat posed by ideologically motivated violent extremism.
The term, often shortened to IMVE, refers to a broad swath of anti-immigrant, anti-government, antisemitic, and anti-women extremist ideologies with overlapping and deep roots in white supremacy.
IMVE is a major concern for Canadian national security authorities.
Global News reported in March that the Canadian Security Intelligence Service now devotes almost as much attention to “ideological” domestic extremism as it does to religiously motivated terrorism, marking a paradigm shift in the spy agency’s priorities.
Documents reviewed by Global News suggest CSIS has gone from closing its right-wing extremism desk in 2016 to spending almost as much time and resources tracking “ideological” domestic extremism as religious terrorist groups like Daesh and al-Qaeda in 2021.
David Vignault, director of the spy agency, said extremists are using anger over the pandemic to recruit new followers and adherents, and fuel violence.
— with a file from Global’s Alex Boutilier.