A Toronto university student is speaking out after a right-wing American blog falsely identified her as the teen who went on a stabbing spree at a Pickering high school earlier this week, and insinuated religion was behind the attack.
Zahra Vaid posted on Facebook after Tuesday's stabbing at Dunbarton High School, where her sister's friends go to school. Vaid, who attends the University of Toronto, said after reading the 14-year-old accused's blog, it was clear she'd been suffering.
"We need to take better care of our children and understand the complexities of these issues, particularly around mental health," she told CBC News.
"This young girl was going through so many difficult things in her life … whether it was mental health, bullying, things around her identity. So it was quite alarming."
Vaid provided comment to The Globe and Mail newspaper, expressing similar ideas. But from there, an American blog, citing the Globe's report, identified Vaid as the accused in the stabbing.
A barrage of hateful comments
Gateway Pundit, a right-wing blog, made the error in a post called "Canadian Muslim Girl Goes on Mass Stabbing Spree – 8 Injured => Authorities Baffled on Motive Behind Attack."
The blog — written by Jim Hoft, who is active in the Tea Party movement — has since been updated to remove the inaccuracy.
Vaid was shocked when she saw the initial version of the blog late Thursday. What concerned her even more was that the headline mentioned she is Muslim. That, she says, led to a barrage of hateful comments online.
"It was misinterpreted in such a dramatic, almost violent way against me," she said.
After that, Vaid took to Facebook to complain about the blog and to clear her name. She also asked the Globe and Mail to rework its story to distance her comments further away from the details about the accused.
"It's obviously frustrating for me as a reporter," said Selena Ross, who wrote the Globe story.
"You write a story and you can't anticipate the way it will be twisted."
Originally, Ross' story read: "The students, earlier angry and scared, were full of sympathy for the 14-year-old girl police accused of the crime. Zahra Vaid, as she texted with one of seven people slashed — none were seriously injured — found that victim, a family friend, changing his tone."
Ross said the newspaper rearranged the sentence to make sure there was no further misunderstanding, even though she believes it was clear.
"I think that's incredibly irresponsible amount of attention for a blogger to read it that way," she said.
In 2013, Hoft was awarded an honour from a self-described news watchdog group called 'Accuracy in Media', along with Fox News journalist Catherine Herridge. Identifying a minor accused of a crime is unlawful in Canada under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.