Since a deadly vehicle attack on a family in London, Ontario on June 6, 2021, media and politicians in English Canada have deepened their unhealthy obsession with Islam. The Trudeau government has even proposed new legislation to “curb online hate speech” in spite of the fact that no social media presence could be found for the perpetrator.
When 20-year old Nathaniel Veltman ploughed his pickup truck into the Afzaal family of five, killing four and sending the only survivor, a nine-year old boy, to hospital, police immediately announced that it was, in their estimation, a deliberate act and a hate crime motivated by anti-Muslim bigotry. This hypothesis is plausible, given the circumstances: the family was visibly Muslim; the driver was wearing what looked like a bulletproof vest; he is a practising Christian, etc. However, police offered no precise justification for their conclusion. There is no known connection between the targeted family and the perpetrator.
The theme of anti-Muslim hatred was immediately taken up uncritically by many media, and repeated ad infinitum. Allegations of “racism” have been thrown around a lot, thus confusing the issue by conflating two very different attributes: a religious affiliation and a racial identity. And of course the nonsense term “Islamophobia” has been trotted out frequently—nonsense because the obvious issue here is murderous violence against human beings, not criticism of a religious ideology.
Facebook announced that it deleted the killer’s account almost immediately, but gave no indication of its content. The London Free Press reported that “Anti-hate activists have unsuccessfully scoured social media sites for any trace of Veltman since police made his name public.”
It is therefore a mystery how this massacre can be used to justify proposed Bill C-36, recently announced by federal Minister of Justice David Lametti. According to the CBC, “Lametti referenced the deadly truck attack in London, Ont. as an example of the violence possible as a result of online hate” in spite of the apparently total lack of online evidence in this case.
The situation was made even worse by unscrupulous politicians and journalists exploiting this horrific killing for partisan purposes. Many have drawn a link between this horrific attack and Quebec’s State secularism law, Bill 21, a link which is utterly spurious and indeed defamatory. For example, federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra accused Bill 21 of fuelling an anti-Muslim backlash. Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi also attempted to link the London attack to Bill 21.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke out of both sides of his mouth, first saying that he disagrees with those who say Bill 21 fosters hatred and discrimination, but then adding a few minutes later that Quebeckers should reconsider the Bill because of “the rise of intolerance and Islamophobia.”
It is difficult to comprehend how opponents of Bill 21 could sink so low as to try to exploit the London attack for their purposes. Attempts to blame Quebec in this context are a mixture of extreme stupidity and anti-Québécois bigotry. The attack did not happen in Quebec, but in Ontario, where there is no such legislation. Furthermore, the January, 2017 Quebec City mosque attack happened long before Bill 21 was even proposed, let alone adopted, and it occurred years after a previous attempt to pass similar legislation, a Charter of Secularism, was soundly defeated in 2014. That mosque attack occurred during the mandate of the vehemently anti-secular Liberal Party of Quebec, a party whose orientation very much aligns with that of the current federal government.
Finally, in a July 2019 decision by Quebec Superior Court which rejected an attempt to have parts of Bill 21 suspended, judge Michel Yergeau responded to the complainants’ allegation that Bill 21 fomented religious intolerance, by observing that the law’s purpose is just the opposite, to curb such incivility.
Judge Yergeau’s observation is precisely the point which opponents of Bill 21 do not understand—or refuse to understand. By limiting the wearing of religious symbols by State employees, the Quebec law helps to reduce social tensions by insisting that all religions conform to secular legislation which applies to all, with no privileges to any one religion. But opponents of Bill 21 do precisely the opposite. They give special treatment to the most pious and fundamentalist of Muslims by celebrating the veil as if it were a symbol of freedom when in reality it is a publicity banner for the subservience of women. Opponents of Bill 21 vilify and defame secularists with specious accusations of “Islamophobia” and “racism,” even encoding such defamation in a parliamentary motion M-103. Furthermore, they threaten critics of their policies with censorship of social media or worse. All of these measures can only increase social tensions by inflaming resentment against a religious minority which is perceived to be coddled and privileged. In reality, it is only the most fundamentalist Muslims and those who promote political Islam, who benefit from English Canada’s obsession with Islam because secular Muslims who support Bill 21, as well as ex-Muslims, are systematically ignored.
In fact, all religions, whether minority or majority, enjoy considerable privileges in Canada. In particular, the religious exception 319(3)b) in the Hate Propaganda section of the Criminal Code grants impunity to “an opinion based on a belief in a religious text” thus allowing religious believers to make hateful statements against various groups such as atheists, women, gays and others, statements for which nonbelievers could be prosecuted. If the federal government were sincere about curbing hate speech, they would repeal 319(3)b), something which the Trudeau government refused to do when we, AFT, submitted our petition to that effect in 2018.
Perhaps if Ontario had a law like Bill 21, the recent London attack might not have occurred. Similarly, if the 2014 Charter of Secularism had been adopted in Quebec, perhaps the Quebec City mosque attack would never have occurred. We will never know. But to assert that secular legislation is a cause of such horrific violence is not only unwarranted and irresponsible—it is also hypocritical, because it is the opponents of Bill 21 and similar legislation who are exacerbating animosity towards a religious minority by continually treating one religion in a privileged manner.