Only one day after Trump’s Muslim ban, Alexandre Bissonnette murdered 6 Muslims in a mosque in Quebec in an act of racism and Islamophobia. In a talk on Islamophobia at the Islamic Studies Institute at McGill shortly after, one professor said that the attack was unsurprising. It is no secret that under the banner of free speech and bashing political correctness that anti-Muslim rhetoric has become more visible in the United States. There is also no denying that we are seeing a frightening pattern of terrorists, like Dylann Roof, commit atrocities and murder individuals because of racist or anti-religious sentiment. With Trump’s electoral victory and stream of blatant racist rhetoric, our focus for the past few months has mainly been on racism in the United States. But what about Canada?
For those who are more critical of race relations and aware of systematic oppression in Canada, it is apparent that this country is not as inclusive as it claims to be. This week, the Quebec government voted to denounce a Washington Post opinion piece that said Quebec is more racist than the rest of Canada. Although we cannot be sure whether or not Quebec is “more racist than the rest of Canada”, to deny it has a racism problem is misguided. Many Canadians are racist, particularly in Quebec. For some, however, the racist attack in the mosque was a complete shock. How could something like this happen in Canada? It was only a few days earlier when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted: “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength.” Many Canadians could not help but feel proud to be a part of this country after they read that tweet. Canadians seemed to be the good guys amidst the sea of Islamophobia that is plaguing the West. But when we read the news a few nights later notifying us of the mosque attack, we were taken aback. How and why did this happen in Canada?
Over two years ago, I wrote an article on Islamophobia for the MIR that asked “Is the Media to Blame for Islamophobia?” Today, asking this question seems frivolous. When I wrote that article, presidents and global leaders were not so blatantly fostering Islamophobia and fear of Muslims – I had to dig for information in news outlets. These “Global leaders” are not only Trump. They include Tony Abbott who claimed “a culture that believes in decency and tolerance is much to be preferred” to Islam, Dutch MP Geert Wilders who said he does not hate Muslims but “hates Islam,” and Marine Le Pen, who said the progressive Islamicization of France calls “into question the survival of our civilisation.” Although the question of whether or not the media fosters Islamophobia may seem unimportant to explore in national contexts where Islamophobia is so publicly articulated by national leaders, it may be useful to look at media coverage in the Canadian context.
At the meeting on Islamophobia, a man mentioned a radio station in Quebec called Radio Poubelle, or Trash Radio, that continuously attacks Muslims and Islam. He said that he has to listen to it on the bus to school everyday, because his bus driver listens to it. In fact, a few days after I wrote the first draft of this article, a report came out claiming La Capitale school board is “asking drivers to use discretion concerning talk radio content played in the presence of students”, referring to Radio Poubelle. Currently, it is unclear whether school bus drivers will follow the initiative.
Radio Poubelle is not only Islamophobic, but homophobic, sexist, racist, and provides incitement to violence. Ex-host Andre Arthur once “complained of not being able to understand taxi drivers in Montreal because he couldn’t speak “n–ger.” This is so incomprehensibly racist and disgusting that I am embarrassed to include it in this article, but the reality is that thousands and thousands of Canadians listen to Radio Poubelle every day.
It is useful to provide some quotes from Radio Poubelle to explain how it fosters Islamophobia in the Quebec context. On September 19 2016 host Jacques Brassard said in French, “They [Muslims] abhor Western values, freedom, democracy, gender equality. They want to destroy this civilization that is ours.” The same day referring to Muslims he said “we are not made to live together. Is that clear enough?… We do not have the same values, we do not have the same goals, we do not see things in the same way.” Referring to the incident where a pig’s severed head was left in front of the Quebec’s city mosque last year, speaker Eric Duhaime said “It is written where in the criminal code that I have no right to give a pig’s head? It is perhaps a silly joke… How is it hatred?” In March 2016 he claimed, “we must start being afraid… we have to put a stop to the Muslim immigration”. On March 22nd, Marine Le Pen was interviewed and referring to Muslims said, “we are all in danger, we are all afraid that these attacks will be repeated everywhere, at any time and in any place.” What we really need to start being afraid of in Canada is the rise of racism and terrorists like Bisonnette. At no point in Canadian history has an attack of this scale been perpetrated by Muslims. We need to ask ourselves: what purpose does such speech has in our society other than to foster hate against Muslims? Can Trudeau really say that “Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith”, when Muslims are forced to listen to such hateful speech?
It is a disgrace to have a radio station like Radio Poubelle in a nation like Canada whose values claim to be embedded with multiculturalism, diversity, and inclusivity. It is reprehensible that we claim to “openly welcome refugees.”, whilst at the same time having a radio station that does nothing for our society other than spew hatred towards minorities. Must we really protect such “free speech” even if it means that its existence may lead to terrorist attacks like Bissonnette’s? When a racist hears that other people share the same views as them, they feel they are more supported and justified in their beliefs. Such radio stations provide a sense of validation for terrorists like Alexandre Bissonnette, and give them support to murder minorities. The stakes are high for the existence of a radio station like Radio Poubelle.
As an insult to Canada and its communities, Radio Poubelle needs to be shut down. Luckily, this may not be impossible. Thanks to our free speech and hate speech laws which, for example, differ from the United States’, we may be able to make the case for why it has to be shut down. According to Section 319 of The Criminal Code of Canada, it is a punishable crime for anyone to incite hatred against any identifiable group and under Section 320, a judge may confiscate publications which seem to be hate propaganda. Freedom of speech is also not absolute in Canada, and one can argue to limit free speech if it consists of hate speech. Better yet, Radio Poubelle has been forced to pay thousands in damages to people in the past and has lost some of its most famous hosts in the past few years. Maybe this is our opportunity as a community to take the final steps and work together to finally shut down Radio Poubelle.
For an archive of Radio Poubelle’s Islamophobic, racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-immigrant recordings, visit Sortons les Radio-Poubelles.