New Zealand thanks Canada for condemning online extremism after Christchurch attacks

New Zealand's high commissioner is thanking Canada for condemning online extremist content after a statement from the prime minister.

Trudeau to join meeting aimed at stopping terrorist material from circulating on social media

People pay their respects at a memorial site at the Botanical garden in Christchurch on March 18, 2019. (Marty Melville/AFP/Getty Images)

New Zealand's high commissioner is thanking Canada publicly for condemning online extremist material following the mass shootings at two mosques in Christchurch in March that left 51 people dead.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be travelling to France next week to participate in the Christchurch Call, a multilateral meeting aimed at stopping the spread of terrorism and extremism online.

Trudeau released a statement this week ahead of the summit, saying that while information technologies have "connected people in many positive … ways," they "have also increasingly become used as tools to incite, publish and broadcast extremist violence and hatred."

Those comments — and other statements of support from Canadian leaders — have been invaluable in moving forward after the tragedy in Christchurch, High Commissioner Daniel Mellsop said in an interview airing Saturday morning on CBC Radio's The House.

The governments and tech companies gathering in France for the multilateral meeting will discuss ways to curb violent content on the internet — a mission driven by the fact that the Christchurch gunman live streamed his attack. That video has been shared online thousands of times since, and social media companies have struggled to wipe the video from their services.

Mellsop praised Canada's willingness to collaborate on efforts to ensure such attacks don't happen again.

Immediately after the New Zealand shooting, Trudeau condemned the hateful, "toxic segments" of society that peddle the belief that diversity is a weakness. Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland also told the United Nations that neo-Nazism, white supremacy and Islamophobia are among the "gravest threats" the world is facing.

And while official Washington condemned the violence in Christchurch and U.S. President Donald Trump expressed sympathy for the victims, Trump also downplayed the threat of white nationalism across the world, saying he did not consider it a rising threat, despite data suggesting it's growing.

No one from the White House has been invited to the Christchurch Call meeting.

Two countries in lockstep

"It's wonderful that Prime Minister Trudeau has confirmed he's coming, and that goes back to the point that the support we've had from the Canadian government on this has been outstanding," Mellsop said.

Canada and New Zealand aren't quite in lockstep on policy measures to prevent future massacres. New Zealand's sweeping post-Christchurch ban on so-called "military-style" semi-automatic firearms prompted many Canadian activists to redouble their efforts to bring in stricter gun control. 

Of all the violent gun crimes in Canada in 2017, 59 per cent involved a handgun, 18 per cent involved a rifle or a shotgun, six per cent involved a fully automatic firearm, sawed-off rifle or shotgun, and 17 per cent involved a firearm-like weapon or an unknown type of firearm, according to data from Statistics Canada.

The government is currently studying the idea of a ban on handguns.

Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern, left, talks to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as they arrive for the the second day of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Windsor, England, April 20, 2018. Ardern's rapid response to the Christchurch mosque shooting has prompted calls for more action on gun control in Canada. (Frank Augstein/AP Photo)

Work has to be 'collaborative'

At the summit in France, participating countries and companies will be asked to sign a declaration committing them to concrete actions to curb violent material online.

Mellsop said that a private-public partnership will be essential to that effort. It's nearly impossible to regulate online content to the extent required to completely ban violent or extremist posts, he said, but you have to start somewhere.

"I think it has to be collaborative in order to work. There are things that can be done by the tech companies. There's potentially things that can be done by governments to address the problem," Mellsop said.

"But I think all the tech companies, the countries involved, we all agree that there is a set of terrorist content, violent extremism that we don't want to have on the platforms."

Lessons from Quebec City

New Zealand has been in contact with Canadian officials to discuss lessons learned from the Quebec City mosque shooting. Six worshippers were killed in January 2017 when a gunman opened fire during Sunday-evening prayers.

"In the aftermath of the Christchurch incident, we've certainly been talking to authorities up in Quebec, and I've had fantastic support from officials up there in … sharing the lessons learned," Mellsop said.

The Christchurch Call meeting runs concurrent with the G7 digital ministers gathering, which will also examine ways to combat online hate and abuse.

With files from J.P. Tasker