Pakistan's PM urges governments to fight online hate and extremism after London, Ont. truck attack

Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan is calling on world leaders to crack down on online hate and extremism following the deadly truck attack in London, Ont. — now being investigated by authorities as a possible act of terror.

Imran Khan did not address treatment of Muslims in China

Pakistan's prime minister calls for action against anti-Muslim racism

2 years ago
Duration 11:04
Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan talks to CBC's chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton about the need for Western nations to take action again Islamophobic "hate websites," his thoughts on Quebec's religious symbols ban and why he hasn't publicly advocated for Uyghur Muslims in China.

Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan is calling on world leaders to crack down on online hate and extremism following the deadly truck attack in London, Ont. — which is being investigated by authorities as motivated by hate.

Four people were killed and a nine-year-old boy suffered serious injuries when they were run down by a pickup truck a week ago Sunday.

Police say the family was targeted because they were Muslim. The family moved to Canada from Pakistan in 2007. A funeral for the family was held this Saturday, and Pakistan's ambassador to Canada spoke at the event.

"Everyone is shocked in [Pakistan], because we saw the family picture, and so a family being targeted like that has had a deep impact in Pakistan," Khan told the CBC's chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton in the full interview that aired Sunday on Rosemary Barton Live.

Khan, a former captain of Pakistan's national cricket team, entered politics shortly after his retirement from the sport in 1992 and became Pakistan's prime minister in 2018.

"I think there should be a very strict action against this," said Khan of online radicalization.

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"When there are these hate websites which create hatred amongst human beings, there should be an international action against them."

Online radicalization a factor in recent mass killings

While investigators have not yet determined if the accused, 20-year-old Nathaniel Veltman, participated in online activity that promoted extremism or violence, Khan said the recent pattern of domestic terror in Western countries demands a heightened focus on online radicalization.

The perpetrators of other recent mass killings — such as the 2017 gun attack at a Quebec City mosque and the 2018 Yonge Street van attack in Toronto — took part in online activities that are believed by investigators to have contributed to their radicalization.

Khan said he has raised the issue with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. He described Trudeau as a leader who understands the importance of fighting online hate and Islamophobia, though he said other leaders have not yet made the same commitment.

A family stands outside, looking to the camera. There are trees in the background.
Yumna Afzaal, 15, left, Madiha Salman, 44, centre left, Talat Afzaal, 74, and Salman Afzaal, 46, right, were out for an evening walk when they were run over by a man who police say was motivated by anti-Muslim hate. (Submitted by the Afzaal family)

"The world leaders, whenever they decide upon taking action, this will be dealt with," Khan said. 

"The problem is at the moment, there is not enough motivation and that some international leaders, or leaders in the Western countries, actually don't understand this phenomenon."

Treatment of Uyghurs in China

Khan has been vocal about defending Muslims worldwide against Islamophobia, criticizing, among others, French President Emmanuel Macron and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. He's also attempted to rally the heads of Muslim states to advocate for Muslims in non-Muslim majority nations.

But Khan has avoided addressing the state of Muslims in China's Xinjiang province. Canadian MPs voted in February to label China's treatment of Muslim Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities as a genocide.

Asked by Barton why he would not defend those Muslims, Khan replied, "Islamophobia does not affect us Muslims living in Muslim countries. It only affects Muslims in Western countries."

"Our relationship with China is such that whatever issues we raise with China are always behind closed doors," Khan went on to say.

"We have economic ties with China, China is our neighbour. They've been very good to us in our most difficult times, so we respect the fact that if we have concerns we talk about them behind closed doors."

China and Pakistan have long enjoyed a close political and military relationship, dating back to both countries' conflicts with India and the Soviet Union.

Pakistan itself has been criticized concerning a surge in violence against members of the Ahmadiyya religious community, a minority branch of Islam. Human Rights Watch says there have been at least five targeted killings of Ahmadis in Pakistan over the past year.

Canada to host summit on Islamophobia this summer

Trudeau pledged to crack down on online hate speech when he introduced a new digital charter in 2019, though critics say Ottawa has been slow to implement changes that could stop online radicalization.

The government is now poised to tackle Islamophobia once again. MPs voted today in favour of an NDP proposal to hold an emergency summit on Islamophobia by the end of July.

New Democrat Leader Jagmeet Singh said Canada must address the threat of white supremacy and far-right radicalization and make policy changes at every level of government to prevent another attack.

While Khan said he "mostly agrees" with Trudeau and his position on extremism, he also expressed concern with some Canadian laws that he believes are contributing to Islamophobia.

Khan described Quebec's Bill 21 — which bans public servants, including teachers and police officers, from wearing religious symbols at work — as a form of "secular extremism" that leads to intolerance against Muslims.

"You want humans to basically be free to express the way they want to be, as long as it doesn't cause pain and hurt to other human beings," Khan said.

With files from Rosemary Barton