Montreal police have arrested a man in connection with anti-Muslim remarks made on social media, the first such move since police beefed up monitoring of online hate speech in the wake of the Quebec City attack.
The man, a 47-year-old Kirkland, QC resident, was taken into custody overnight Tuesday and was set to appear in court Wednesday afternoon. The comment in question, which has not yet been made public, was discovered by the Sûreté du Québec, the provincial police force, and passed along to Montreal police.
Montreal police spokesperson Raphaël Bergeron says that while charges have not yet been determined, the prosecution would be arguing against the man’s release.
“We want to make people understand that you have to be conscious of the words you use on social media.”
On Sunday night, 27-year-old Alexandre Bissonnette, a man described as having nationalist and xenophobic views by people who know him, opened fire in a Quebec City mosque, killing six and injuring 19. The mass murder has widely been described as a terrorist attack, though Bissonnette does not face any terror-related charges.
Some reports have identified Bissonnette as an online troll who frequently made racist and anti-feminist comments.
In the wake of the tragedy, many online forums —especially those hosted by alt-right, anti immigration groups— were rife with racist commentary. Montreal police say they received more than a dozen complaints related to online hate speech since Sunday alone, and plan to hire 35 more cops and 20 civilian employees to help comb through social media posts and news organizations’ comment sections.
Montreal police chief Philippe Pichet told the CBC that in two other instances, they had tracked down the racist trolls who had offered their apologies.
Sûreté du Québec spokesperson Mélanie Dumaresq told VICE News that their team had fielded 175 reports of online hate-mongering since the attack, and hinted that other arrests could be in the works.
“We hope this is reminding people that making hateful remarks hidden behind their computers still exposes them to criminal prosecution,” she says. “Some people think they’re completely anonymous, but we have ways to investigate.”
Bergeron hopes this arrest will set the tone. “Threats are taken very seriously by different police forces and they lead to investigations and potentially to charges.”