Montreal

'They don't represent Quebec,' Legault says after his Facebook post flooded with hateful comments

Legault posted to Facebook photos from the ceremony commemorating the third anniversary of the 2017 mosque shooting in Quebec City, along with a message of solidarity with Muslim Quebecers. Immediately, hateful, anti-Muslim comments started pouring in.

Premier released statement after dozens wrote hateful comments on his Facebook post for 2017 mosque shooting

Quebec Premier François Legault, left, meets Boufeldja Benabdallah, president of Quebec's Islamic Cultural Centre at a community dinner marking the commemoration of the mosque shooting Wednesday. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

Quebec Premier François Legault says the dozens of people who wrote hateful, anti-Muslim comments on his Facebook page are part of a "small minority" that use social media to propagate their hateful views.

"We have to denounce these people," Legault said in a statement Friday. "They don't represent Quebec." 

Legault posted to Facebook photos from a ceremony commemorating the third anniversary of the 2017 mosque shooting in Quebec City, in which six people were killed, along with a message of solidarity with Muslim Quebecers.

"To all the friends and relatives of the victims, I want you to know that all of Quebec is at your side," he wrote in that post.

Anti-Muslim comments immediately started rolling in. Legault's post was so inundated by them, his staff had difficulty getting rid of them.

Commenters called Muslims "vermin," and some posted conspiracy theories that there had been two shooters involved in the incident, and that one of them was a Muslim. 

Facebook's a barometer, Legault said in the past

In the past, Legault has used comments on his Facebook page as a barometer for how Quebecers are feeling about a given issue.

When he moved to scale back a program that fast-tracked immigration for foreign students and people working in Quebec on temporary visas, the premier justified that move, saying 90 per cent of people commenting on his Facebook page agreed with him. 

However, in his statement Friday, Legault said social media brings out "the best and the worst in human nature."

Boufeldja Benabdallah, the president and co-founder of Quebec's Islamic Cultural Centre, said welcomed Legault's statement. He said online attacks targeting Muslims are nothing new. 

"It's high time to do something," he told Radio-Canada. "The government must legislate."

The premier said he's open to proposals on how to act against messages of hate online. 

"It's not simple to find solutions," he said in a media scrum Friday at the National Assembly. "We have to be open to proposals."

The Quebec City police service's major crimes unit is in charge of monitoring Legault's Facebook posts.

"We are taking this very seriously," said SPVQ Chief Robert Pigeon

Pigeon said officers are more aware now of incidents that could lead to the commission of hate crimes. Even when no crime is committed, he said, police "pay attention" to individuals who, for example, yell out Islamophobic slurs. 

Legault said a committee within the Public Security Ministry will submit recommendations to the government, as part of  a sensitization campaign for police forces in the province. 

"The impact of social media on the intolerance of certain people and the ability to hide behind an account will be addressed," Legault said. 

With files from Radio-Canada and La Presse Canadienne

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