Statement – We must do more to curb online hate

Four years ago today, a young man walked into the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City and opened fire, killing six and wounding several others. The attack shook the nation to its core.

In the days following the attack, we learned that the shooter was inspired and emboldened by hateful rhetoric he found online. What he saw and read gave him the validation and encouragement he needed to pull the trigger. 

Four years later, my heart still aches for the families and friends of those taken by this violent and senseless act. My anger is just as raw. But as we remember and reflect on this tragic day, sorrow and outrage are not enough. 

We must do more to curb hate in this country, wherever it is found. The internet, and how we use it in our daily lives, is evolving faster than we can understand. We have all been given the power to be a broadcaster. The scale and scope of how we can reach each other and share information is staggering. Social media, our constant connection to our phones and the algorithms pushing content tailored to us are all so new. It is impossible to fully grasp their impacts and influences on our lives.

The online world has so many incredible and positive benefits for society, but it can also be dangerous. In recent years, hateful rhetoric has exploded online. Vile and dangerous ideas are no longer skulking in dark corners. Hate and the people who spread it have gone mainstream.

Hate is a precursor to violence. It shuts down debate. It scares people from speaking up for fear of being targeted or threatened. At its most serious, hate incites violence, and leads to real-world tragic consequences.

Hateful, racist, xenophobic and violent incidents have been rising year after year. The COVID-19 crisis is making it even worse. The federal government may soon introduce a bill containing measures aimed at curbing on-line hate speech. This is an encouraging development and it is my hope that it will spark a paradigm shift. 

But this law alone will not be enough. Confronting hate in Canada is going to take a coordinated effort that spans both the civil and criminal systems. How we address and prevent hate speech will take new and bold ideas – new ways of thinking. It will take a concerted effort from our political leaders and our industry leaders.

Social media companies face a daunting challenge. It will take the same degree of innovation and creativity that has made all of this possible, to ensure that hate is no longer allowed to capitalize on our technological progress. It will take proactive solutions so that individual messages of hate are addressed before they have a chance to do harm. This responsibility should not fall to the individual, especially not to the victim, and it should definitely not fall to any one organization alone.

We all have a responsibility in this fight against hate, to ensure that our public spaces — both virtual and physical — are safe for all.

This is bigger than the Internet. All laws in this country, all policies and all services should endeavor to acknowledge systemic racism, break down barriers, and foster a sense of belonging. Any law that does otherwise is counterproductive.

As Canadians, we all have a responsibility to shut down hate. We must make an effort to be actively anti-racist – to call out inequality and to challenge prejudice and bigotry even when it does not affect us.

We cannot stand by and watch hate undermine our peace, our prosperity and our democracy. The victims of the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre shooting and their families deserve no less. An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us. We are not safe unless we are all safe. 

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