How a misleading YouTube video is stoking fears about Shariah law before the federal election
Video posted to Facebook groups that spread disinformation
A short, grainy YouTube video circulating on social media purports to show evidence of an imam claiming that if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is re-elected, he will institute Shariah law, the legal code of Islam, based on the Qur'an.
But the video was taken out of context, according to the man featured in it, and it was posted by Sandra Solomon, known for her anti-Islam views.
The video has about 50,000 views on YouTube, a middling amount, but it has been posted on at least three different Facebook groups that are critical of Trudeau. Altogether, the groups have more than 185,000 likes, and posts of the video were shared more than 7,000 times.
The three pages get high engagement in terms of reactions, comments and shares, and they are in some of the most popular groups spreading memes and disinformation online. These groups equal or often exceed many traditional media outlets for engagement on Facebook.
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The video itself includes a short section from a speech about Islam delivered by Mufti Aasim Rashid in Kamloops, B.C., in October 2017. It also features a picture of Justin Trudeau praying at a mosque and ends on a clip of Trudeau championing diversity, which is then covered up by a photo illustration of a small child wearing a "Make Canada Great Again" hat.
What's in the video
In the full-length recording of Rashid's speech posted to YouTube, he is critical of fears over Shariah, saying it is a principle that underpins Islam, and there is no conspiracy among Muslims to bring Shariah to Canada.
Nowhere in the video does Rashid mention Trudeau or the 2019 federal election. In fact, during the portion of the speech used in the misleading video, Rashid said he was actually referring to the former Stephen Harper Conservative government.
Taken out of context, the section that Solomon posted appears to show that Rashid believes the Canadian government wants Shariah law.
"The Canadian government wanted the Muslims to be able to regulate their own issues of marriage and divorce and set up systems of mediation and arbitration to solve their problems amongst themselves through Shariah law so that it's not a burden on the court system, which is already so bogged down," he said.
"The Canadian government wanted people like myself to sign off on custody cases, where there was an allegation of parental abduction," he said in the video, specifying it relates to Muslim countries who might seek the approval of Muslim clerics in such cases.
Reached by phone, Rashid was surprised to find that a clip of his speech was circulating.
"I had no idea that someone would use that clip in that way," he said.
Rashid told CBC News that his comments on arbitration referred to the Ontario government, which had allowed religious-based arbitration from 1991 until Premier Dalton McGuinty said in 2005 that "there will be no Shariah law in Ontario, there will be no religious arbitration." The Liberals then passed an amendment to the province's arbitration act.
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Rashid said his second comment concerned the Stephen Harper government, and that representatives of the government had approached Muslim leaders in 2015 to help regarding custody cases where one parent in a couple has taken a child or children to a country whose legal system uses Islamic law. He specified that many countries with Islamic law haven't signed on to the Hague convention on international child abduction, so according to Rashid, the federal government was meeting with Muslim organizations to see if they could offer endorsements or rulings that would be accepted by those countries, affirming whether a parent had permission to take their child.
Rashid said he was the director of religion for the B.C. Muslim Association when they were approached by the government.
A Senate committee in 2015 did look at the issue of cross-border child abduction, and did focus on the issue of working with countries whose legal systems are based in Islamic law.
Shariah law fears unfounded
Disinformation about the government and Shariah isn't new — and some of it can be traced to fears around the federal government's motion to condemn Islamophobia, religious discrimination and systemic racism in 2017.
This year, posters claiming the government wants Shariah were on display at a yellow vest protest in Alberta. Yellow vest protesters often espouse anti-immigration views, and the City of Hamilton is currently investigating the legal ramifications of banning yellow vest protests in front of city hall over safety concerns.
Just this week, People's Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier accused Trudeau in a tweet of having room in his party for people who want to institute Shariah law. In another tweet this week, Bernier accused both Trudeau and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer of pandering to people who "promote sharia law."
Trudeau has been clear on several occasions this year that Canada doesn't have Shariah law and he is not seeking to implement it.
At a town hall in Ste-Hyacinthe, Que., in January, Trudeau said when asked about Shariah law that "Canada doesn't have it and will not have it."
The Prime Minister's Office also referred CBC News to another town hall in Regina the same month, when Trudeau said that "misinformation" was circulating about his position on Shariah law.
"You should be looking into what the facts are, you should be a responsible consumer of information," he told a woman who claimed to have read a report indicating Trudeau had said Shariah law was compatible with Canadian values.
"I am pleased to be able to tell you that that also is not something that I ever said," he told her.
A longer clip from Rashid's speech circulated on anti-Muslim websites last year, but got little traction. Even Solomon's video, a minute-long clip of his hour-long speech, didn't get much attention when it was posted on her YouTube page in November 2018. It wasn't until April this year that it first appeared on a Facebook page called United Conservative Movement of Canada. Then it appeared on two more pages in June and July and began to circulate more widely on Twitter.
Who's behind the video
Sandra Solomon was investigated by Peel Police in March of 2018 for ripping out pages of a Qur'an and placing them on the windshields of cars parked outside an Islamic centre in Mississauga, Ont.
At the time, police investigated the behaviour as possibly "hate-motivated" but they did not lay charges in the case because "it was determined that no criminal offence has taken place," a Peel Police spokesperson said.
CBC News reached out to Solomon by phone and email. She did not return emails before publication, and a person who answered the phone at a number listed on her website said it was a wrong number.
After publication, Solomon contacted CBC by email.
"I don't trust talking to you unless it's public live on Facebook and recorded from my fellow Patriots," she wrote.
She was critical of CBC and wanted to be clear that she is a former Muslim.
Evan Balgord, the executive director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, said the video plays into two primary fears pushed by anti-Trudeau and far-right groups online.
"That there is a secret Muslim conspiracy to take over Canada is like, their No. 1 thing, and their No. 2 thing is that Trudeau is a secret Muslim," he said.
Balgord said the video hit on those two points, and since the comments were made by a Muslim man, it has all necessary conditions to be shared widely in outrage.
Andrea Bellemare is part of a CBC team investigating online disinformation and attempts to disrupt the upcoming Canadian election.
- This story has been updated from a previous version that stated the video was created by Sandra Solomon. In fact, while it was posted by Solomon, it is unclear who created it.Jul 26, 2019 6:06 PM ET