How to make a tragedy fit your desired narrative: Robyn Urback

Within hours of the deadly attack on a Quebec mosque that left six people dead, everyone — the left, the right, francophones, anglophones, Trumpists, Leitch rivals — knew exactly where to lay blame.

Take square peg, whittle corners, blame [insert desired scapegoat]

Even before any information about the perpetrator of the deadly shooting at a Quebec City mosque was known, resolute onlookers were sure where to lay the blame. (Andre Pichette/EPA)

There were a good 12 hours when detached observers of the deadly shooting at a Quebec City mosque — which left six people dead and several injured — were quietly praying that the perpetrator or perpetrators would be either white and Christian or brown and Muslim, depending on which square peg of a political narrative they had waiting.

Twelve hours was more than enough time for benighted skeptics to declare some sort of conspiracy in the works, seeing as it had been hours since two individuals had been arrested and Quebec police still hadn't released their names. Was it possible that police were hiding their identities because they didn't fit the narrative the left was crafting about a hate crime by whites against Muslims? (Spoiler: No. Quebec police often wait to release names until people are formally charged.)

We still know little about the shooter who stormed the Centre Culturel Islamique de Quebec Sunday evening, killing six people and critically injuring five. (Andre Pichette/EPA)

Twelve hours was enough time for others to submit alternative names to shoulder culpability until the actual perpetrators were identified. U.S. President Donald Trump was the obvious one, especially in the wake of his executive order banning citizens of certain Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S.

Knowing nothing about the shooter(s) who stormed the Centre Culturel Islamique de Québec Sunday evening, observers declared the attacker emboldened by Trump's poisonous Islamophobic rhetoric, enough so to kill half a dozen people who had gathered to pray.

No, stupid, others said: that's not it. It was Kellie Leitch's poisonous rhetoric that emboldened the unidentified shooter to target this Quebec City mosque. Granted, we can't be sure that the perpetrator could identify the Conservative leadership contender in a lineup, but we nevertheless can be sure that his actions were de facto sanctioned by Leitch's dog-whistle promise to screen newcomers for so-called Canadian values.

No, English Canada: it was the poisonous "Values Charter" rhetoric championed by the Parti Québécois that sanctioned this despicable act of violence, insisted some armchair analysts in Quebec. All of that talk about "conspicuous" religious symbols — remember that cartoonishly menacing ad about the niqab released by the PQ's federal counterpart, the Bloc Québécois, last year? — created an air of intolerance that culminated in this devastating act of terror.

Hey, wait: don't call this "terrorism," urged the other armpit of the internet, which occupied its early hours objecting to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's characterization of the incident, which was by definition an act of terror. Someone on Reddit said that one of the perpetrators has a Muslim name. And how do we know that this wasn't just a random shooting that, by coincidence, targeted people of a particular faith in a place where they gather to pray, they asked. Maybe the mosque just happened to be on the shooter's bus route?

By noon the day after the shooting, the media released the names of the two men arrested. Police followed up by saying only one of the two was considered a suspect and the other had been a witness. That only amped up the silent prayers for the desired profile of the culprit: I hope it's the brown guy; Please be the white one.

It is, perhaps, a bit too doe-eyed to think the first 12 hours of a tragedy could be just about that tragedy — and not about whittling the corners of that square peg to land another blow against Leitch, or the mainstream media, or Trump, or Trudeau. It's nevertheless worth remembering that prayers for a desired narrative are a luxury afforded only to those removed enough — literally and figuratively — from the events to preoccupy themselves with fighting futile battles on the internet. Surely, there's a better way to spend those first 12 hours.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.


Robyn Urback


Robyn Urback was an opinion columnist with CBC News and a producer with the CBC's Opinion section. She previously worked as a columnist and editorial board member at the National Post. Follow her on Twitter at:


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