Statement by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in parliament

March 18, 2019

Mr. Speaker, before I begin, I want to say that our hearts are with the people of Utrecht and the Netherlands, who are reeling from the news of a tram shooting. This is breaking news, but we know that people have been killed and injured. The police are considering this a possible terrorist attack.

We stand with our Dutch friends as they grapple with the consequences of this violence, and we will be reaching out to our counterparts to offer our unwavering support. Prime Minister Rutte addressed this House mere months ago, and he spoke of the close ties between our countries. Canada will be there, as we always are, for the Netherlands in the difficult days ahead.

I rise today to express Canada's deepest condolences to all those grieving in New Zealand. Just a few days ago, our friend and ally suffered the worst terrorist attack in its history, an attack motivated by Islamophobia. Fifty men, women and children were murdered at prayer and dozens more injured. They were gunned down by a monster, a terrorist, a coward.

I have spoken with Prime Minister Ardern. I offered our sincere condolences and our support. I also congratulated her on the leadership and compassion she has shown in response to this tragedy.

We share in the pain of the parents, brothers, sisters and friends of the victims who did not have a chance to say goodbye to their loved ones. These loved ones were killed by a hateful individual who chose to adopt a hateful ideology.

Canada is home to over one million Muslims who live and thrive in a free and open secular democracy. It is our responsibility to maintain this freedom, so that those who choose to practice faith can do so without fear of violence.

Our Muslim friends here in Canada, in New Zealand and around the world should know that we mourn with them. We feel their pain and we love them. We will stand by them in the difficult days and weeks to come. The Quran tells us, “The true servants of the Most Merciful are those who behave gently and with humility on earth, and whenever the foolish quarrel with them, they reply with [words of] peace.”

If that idea sounds familiar, perhaps people have also heard it in the Gospel of Matthew, which speaks not of revenge and retaliation but of turning the other cheek. Indeed, if we choose to look for them, the lessons found within our faiths will bind us together and are more powerful than those things that seek to divide us.

Just two years ago I participated in a vigil in honour of six innocent men from Sainte-Foy, Quebec. These men were brothers, fathers and sons who, like the victims in Christchurch, were fatally shot while they were praying. I mourned with their families. These families could not believe that their community had experienced an act of such hatred.

Tragedies like the ones in Sainte-Foy and Christchurch have become too common. Innocent people killed; headlines sounding the alarm as countries are plunged into chaos and violence; mass shootings; massacres targeting religious communities; terrorist attacks.

It is shameful. Unfortunately, world leaders share in the responsibility, and we cannot refuse to acknowledge this responsibility by pointing fingers at others. These days, those driven by anger have a bigger platform than ever.

Toxic rhetoric has broken into the mainstream. It is anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, anti-black, anti-indigenous, misogynistic, homophobic. The list goes on and on.

This rhetoric is dangerous, hateful and vile. It lives and festers online, spilling out into the real world with deadly consequences. We see it here in Canada, in online harassment, anonymous letters, defaced places of worship, acts of violence and even murder. When we fail to denounce hatred with total conviction, we empower those people and legitimize their violence.

Over the years, we have seen an increase in the number of terrorist attacks targeting Muslims all around the world, so families flee to democracies like Canada, the United States and our allies, praying that their new homes will give them safety, hoping that their kids will know a place where they are not targeted because of faith.

Sadly, these same families who fled violence in their homelands are now too often met by a new kind of violence when they reach new shores: anti-immigrant hatred, right-wing extremism, white nationalism, neo-Nazi terrorism.

These groups are alive in Canada, a nation that, under the leadership of Laurier, Diefenbaker and my father, has long championed the protection of minorities and promoted our diversity as our greatest strength, and yet, while the majority of our citizens welcome these newcomers with open arms, small, toxic segments peddle the belief that greater diversity is a weakness.

The irony is that these fringe groups say they despise Daesh, al Qaeda, Boko Haram and others, but they spew hatred, incite violence and murder the innocent just the same. They are no better than those they claim to hate.

The problem is that politicians not only do not denounce hate firmly enough, but in many cases they court those who make hateful comments. I would say this to politicians and leaders around the world: partisan politics, the ease with which some choose to adopt extreme views, that has to stop. It is not just that people are dying, it is that people are getting killed. Mothers and fathers are ripped from their families and carefree, innocent children are shot down in an instant, without hesitation.

This happens at mosques, temples, synagogues, churches, concerts, malls and schools. People are murdered while vulnerable and defenceless here in Canada, south of the border and around the world. The response is always the same. We are aghast, as the headlines blare and moms and dads hug their kids a little tighter and thank God it is not happening to them.

As politicians we stand around and offer our condolences, and we say nice things in the aftermath. We say that we will do better. We will say that never again will such hatred be allowed to fester unchallenged. Then, when the flames die down and the smoke clears, we look the other way. We revert back to politicking, figuring out how we can tap into that powerful rage to harness a few more votes. We scapegoat the “other” to play to our base. With a wink and a nudge, we legitimize this evil.

I stand here today to cast a light on this hatred and on our unwillingness to call it out. As leaders, as a privileged few with power and an audience, we have a responsibility to do something. This responsibility is not negotiable. It is not to be waived when it is politically convenient. Courting these views is always the wrong choice to make. We have to chase out this hatred from our parties, fight it online, denounce it at town halls and push back when it reaches our front door. Choosing to stay silent while hatred stews is complicity in its most cowardly form.

Year after year, decade after decade, we mourn the loss of innocent lives in this and that country and we promise to do better, but then the cycle repeats itself. Leaders decide that hate is a feeling they can exploit, that insatiable anger will help them gain power.

As a society, as a global community, and as human beings have we learned nothing? To be honest, I am sick of this. I am sick of sending our thoughts and prayers. If I am sick of it, I can hardly imagine how it must feel for those who are affected by violence every day.

People around the world are exhausted by the carnage. They reach out to console friends and neighbours when these tragedies rock their communities, incensed by their leaders' inability to take a principled stand. People come out to vigils in the hundreds, in the thousands, and plead for action, and we fall short.

Our communities set an example that our leaders consistently fail to follow. After tragedies like these, politicians often say that it is not a time to talk politics, but that instead we should grieve and support the affected communities. I think that is a farce. I think this is exactly the time to talk politics, because the best way to support people is to acknowledge that there is a problem and take concrete steps to fix it.

As a global community we have a choice to make.

Will we denounce our leaders who turn a blind eye to those who incite violence?

Will we denounce our colleagues who tell racist or misogynist jokes without anyone saying anything?

Will we denounce Internet trolls, these cowards who spread hate and hurl insults under the cover of anonymity?

Ultimately, will we do the right thing? Will we bury our heads in the sand today only to bury them in our hands later? The tragedy in New Zealand is, sadly, yet another example of how far we have gone astray. However, we cannot let the lessons of those 50 deaths go unlearned.

The path we are going down is dangerous and unsustainable, and people are tired of fighting this alone without the full backing of their leaders. However, we can take a stand here and now in Canada and around the world and say that enough is enough, that the days of spewing hatred and inciting violence without consequences are over. We owe it to the people of Christchurch. We owe it to the people of Sainte-Foy, of Pittsburgh and of Manchester. We owe it to our kids, and we owe it to ourselves.

I am calling on like-minded countries of the world to stand with Canada in this fight. Muslim, Christian, Jewish, black, white, all of us must fight this hatred as a team, a team that refuses to accept this as the new normal, a team that is tired of sending “thoughts and prayers”.

Here in Canada, we have already taken important steps to combat discrimination and hate. We have stepped up investigations into groups that spread hate propaganda, including white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups. We have implemented significant gun control reforms. We have increased funding to protect places of worship. We have also invested in programs that promote inclusion, build bridges between people and celebrate our diversity.

Nevertheless, we know there is still a lot of work to do, but I want everyone to hear me when I say that we are going to do what needs to be done. That is the message we are going to convey to the world.

To our partners around the world, the fight against racism and intolerance will be a major fight, but we cannot put it off any longer. I know that we can make real change here. We can turn the page and get off this dangerous path that we are on. We need only look to our communities for inspiration.

There are more good people than bad in this world; the light outweighs the dark, and the good greatly outnumber the evil. We see it when our citizens come together at vigils in the wake of tragedy. We see it when strangers link arms to protect places of worship. We see it in offers to walk with those who feel unsafe. We saw in in Sainte-Foy, and we are seeing it now in New Zealand.

This is an important fight. I am calling on politicians of all stripes to follow the example set by the good people we serve to do the right thing. We must counter this hatred, and together we will.