Guelph man gets grocery store to pull National Enquirer issue with 'Islamophobic' cover

A Guelph man offended by what he calls an Islamophobic National Enquirer cover convinced a grocery store manager to take the tabloid off store shelves.

Tabloid pulled off shelves of Guelph Zehrs store

Ryan Johnston believes this cover skirted with Canada’s hate crime laws but a Wilfrid Laurier University law professor believes the word 'infested' is more likely to be considered hate speech than claims there are Muslim spies in the CIA. (Ryan Johnston)

Issues of a recent National Enquirer magazine have been pulled off the shelves of a Guelph Zehrs grocery store, after a customer complained the tabloid's front cover was offensive and Islamophobic.

The Enquirer headline read "Muslim Spies in Obama's CIA!" while a sub headline underneath read, "Infested! 55 double agents exposed!"

Guelph's Ryan Johnston was waiting in line to pay for his groceries when he said he was 'confronted' with a headline that he had never seen in Canada.

"To have this kind of hatred, this clear Islamophobia, just sitting comfortably at the checkout as if it's supposed to be there," said Johnston. "And people were walking past it either noticing it and not doing anything about it, or not noticing it, which I even think is worse, because it just says how embedded it becomes in our culture if we don't do anything about it."

Johnston says he was surprised that he was the first who had complained to the store manager about the headline.

CBC K-W approached the grocery store for a comment but the store declined. However, CBC did determine the National Enquirer pays to have its newspaper displayed and sold at the store.

Hate speech

Johnston believed the cover could run afoul of Canada's hate crime laws.

But Mark Davidson, an associate professor in the law and society program at Wilfrid Laurier University says there are two parts of the criminal code the paper doesn't meet. 

"I'm not sure that the intention of the paper is to create hate. Surely suspicion, concern and feelings of dislike, but I'm not sure it's hate toward Muslims. But I can certainly see how you could see it that way," said Davidson

"The other question is whether the feelings this paper generates are strong enough to be considered hate. Hate according to the criminal code includes strong feelings of vilification....and I'm not sure this does that."

Davidson believes the larger question with the headline is not whether the headline is hate speech, but how the newspaper creates and fosters negative attitudes toward Muslims. 

In Canada, it's a crime to incite hatred against an identifiable group, for example by colour, race, religion, ethnic origin or sexual orientation, and it is illegal to communicate hatred in a public place by telephone, broadcast or other audio or visual means. However, it's not a hate crime if the statement is true, or the expression of a religious opinion. 

Davidson thinks the more worrisome part of the cover is the word "infested." He says it brings to mind metaphors that have been used throughout history to persecute minority or targeted groups.

"It creates the impression that American society is a pure homogeneous biological entity and that Muslims are a kind of sub-species that has infected that community and going to bring disease and undermine those communities values and style of living," said Davidson.

Johnston hopes people will speak up

Johnston said he hopes people will take action when they hear or see offensive comments – like he did.

"The best way to make change for incidents of hatred in your day to to not stand by idly," said Johnston. "The amount of power I have as just an average citizen is to step forward and say this isn't okay."

Johnston said he sent a letter to the head office of the grocery store but had not received a response.