After mosque attack, Canadian Muslims point to anti-immigrant ‘trash radio’

Published February 2, 2017
PEOPLE place candles near a Quebec City mosque that was the location of a recent shooting spree in which six persons were killed and many wounded. The attack is being described as one of the worst attacks ever to target Muslims in a western country.—AFP
PEOPLE place candles near a Quebec City mosque that was the location of a recent shooting spree in which six persons were killed and many wounded. The attack is being described as one of the worst attacks ever to target Muslims in a western country.—AFP

THEY call it “radio poubelle”, or trash radio. Quebec City has developed the dubious reputation as Canada’s capital of shock jocks, online radio hosts who love to provoke with their outrageous talk about women, homosexuals and Muslims.

As this city of 800,000 deals with the emotional aftermath of Sunday’s shooting at a local mosque that left six worshipers dead and several wounded, the role of trash radio in spreading xenophobic attitudes is getting new attention. A 27-year-old local university student and follower of far-right causes was charged on Monday with murder and attempted murder in connection with the massacre.

While there is no indication that the alleged shooter, Alexandre Bissonnette, was particularly influenced by trash radio, members of the Muslim community were quick to complain about the corrosive impact of the anti-immigrant rhetoric heard on the city’s airwaves.

Even Quebec City’s popular mayor, Régis Labeaume, appeared to criticise the radio stations. Speaking at an outdoor vigil in memory of the victims on Monday evening, he denounced those who “get rich from peddling hatred”.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard acknowledged on Tuesday that the province has “its demons” and that “xenophobia, racism and exclusion are present here”. But he told reporters that Quebec society is generally open and tolerant.

“Whenever you happen to listen to this trash radio, you hear clearly xenophobic language,” said Mohammed Ali Saidane, a member of the Muslim community who has lived in Quebec for 30 years. “What I reproach with these media is that they import problems from elsewhere, especially France. We don’t live in ghettos here. It’s not the same as France,” he told the Journal de Quebec newspaper.

“The real danger of this kind of radio is that they play with the line between news, opinion and demagoguery,” said Louis-Philippe Lampron, who teaches human rights law at Laval University.

He said four or five talk-show hosts dominate the market. They move between a handful of stations and constantly compete for listeners with their outrageous talk, which is often right-wing and populist in tone. “It’s very insidious and aggressive,” he told The Washington Post.

Jeff Fillion, one of the best-known hosts, was fired last summer by Bell Media, owner of Energie 98.9 FM, after he ridiculed a prominent local businessman who had publicly grieved his son’s suicide. But soon after, Fillion was back on the air at another station.

“It’s like reality TV,” said Guillaume Verret, a 21-year-old college student and part-time barista as he sat with friends at a Starbucks in suburban Sainte-Foy. “It’s completely stupid and easy. They don’t give you facts. They just give you opinions that provoke people.”

Although Muslims make up a tiny percentage of Quebec City’s population, their presence has been growing as the provincial government encourages immigration by French-speaking Africans.

Quebec has been involved in an often-heated public debate in recent years over what is referred to as “reasonable accommodation” of immigrants and religious minorities, including a controversial effort to ban the wearing by government employees of “conspicuous” religious symbols such as hijabs, turbans and yarmulkes. The measure, known as the Charter of Values, was seen as a key reason for the 2014 election defeat of the Parti Quebecois government.

The hijab issue continues to bubble up in Quebec, as have cases in which mosques in the province have been denied permission to open or expand their premises. Two weeks ago, a judge ruled that a borough of Montreal had violated Canada’s constitutional protection of religious freedom by changing the zoning of a building rented by a local mosque, ruling that new places of worship could be housed only in an industrial zone.

In Quebec City, attention continues to be focused on the life of the suspected shooter. Although unknown to police, Bissonnette became increasingly attracted to far-right politics online and was considered a troll who railed on the internet against women and immigrants. A former military cadet, he was also reportedly obsessed with guns. Police have yet to give details on the weapon used in the attack.

Firearms are heavily regulated in Canada, and permits are required for restricted weapons such as semi-automatics. But they are available if people are willing to take the right legal steps and have no criminal record.

Doctors at l’Enfant-Jésus Hospital reported on Tuesday that two of the survivors remain in critical condition and need further surgery. But Julien Clément, the hospital’s trauma chief, said he expects both men to survive, though possibly with long-term damage. Each man was shot three to six times in the abdomen and other parts of the body.

“There could be other complications,” Clément told a news conference. “But because they were treated relatively quickly and are relatively young, there’s a good chance they will respond well.”

Two other victims remain in the hospital and are said to be recovering. A fifth man was released on Monday. An additional 13 people who had minor injuries were released earlier.

By arrangement with The Washington Post

Published in Dawn February 2nd, 2017

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