MONTREAL â€” In the soul-searching that has followed Sunday’s deadly mass shooting at a Quebec City mosque, the city’s controversial talk-radio hosts are facing a backlash for allegedly fanning the flames of Islamophobia and intolerance.
Little is known about what factors may have influenced the person who entered the mosque and shot six people to death.
But that hasn’t stopped critics from questioning whether Quebec City’s fondness for a brand of American-style conservative talk radio that critics have dubbed “radio poubelle” or “trash radio” may have helped to foster a climate of intolerance where such acts could take place.
The small number of hosts pride themselves on a provocative, anything-goes style whose commentary often targets women’s groups, the LGBT community, environmentalists and Muslims, according to Colette Brin of Universite Laval’s communications department.
“There’s this strong discourse (against) people who they see as wanting to change society, who are asking for special rights,” Brin said in a telephone interview. “In the case we’re looking at, there’s the fear of Islamic terrorism and the generalization that the Muslims’ Islamic faith in general is the problem.”
At a Monday vigil, Quebec City Mayor Regis Labeaume said he hoped one of the consequences of the tragedy would be a rejection of “those who enrich themselves with hate.”
When asked Wednesday to clarify his comments, Labeaume neither confirmed nor denied he was referring specifically to talk radio.
But in the wake of the tragedy, Labeaume hasn’t been the only one questioning the tone of heated public debate on issues such as religious accommodation.
Several speakers at a Montreal vigil on Monday called out politicians and media personalities for fostering divisive debates for their own benefit.
“The business of Islamophobia is very lucrative, and certain will defend it tooth and nail,” Asmaa Ibnouzahir said onstage.
Under a barrage of online criticism, some of those hosts have taken to the airwaves to say it’s unfair to blame them for the actions of one individual.
“We’re starting to stir the pot to find someone to hold responsible,” Jeff Fillion told a panel discussion on CHOI 98.1. “I find it irresponsible, adolescent.”
According to Fillion, there is “only one person responsible, and he’s behind bars,” he said.
Andre Arthur, the former Independent Quebec MP who Brin describes as the “father” of Quebec’s talk radio, also denounced what he called “the wave of self-blame that has hit the province since Sunday night.”
“I hope one day we’ll have the wisdom to see that mental illness doesn’t need to be explained,” he said during a segment on his show.
Brin said while hosts such as Fillion and Arthur can be accused of “feeding and lending legitimacy” to existing attitudes, it is unfair to single them out for criticism or imply they bear any responsibility for Sunday’s massacre.
Instead, she hopes the tragedy will prompt a wider discussion about responsible public discourse.
“Certain people have responsibilities toward the public in what they say and how they say things,” she said. “I think it’s a good time to think about the weight of our words and the weight of our attitudes toward other people.”
Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press