Last Sunday, four members of a Muslim family were killed in the city of London, Ontario province. A 9-year-old boy is the only survivor.
Canadian police believe that Nathaniel Veltman, the attacker, undertook a premeditated vehicle attack. Veltman, 20, was arrested without incident at a shopping centre about six kilometers from the crime scene.
Veltman is now charged with four counts of murder and one count of attempted murder.
The attack was the worst against Canadian Muslims since six people were killed in a Quebec City mosque in 2017.
It is not yet known if the suspect has ties to any hate groups, according to the police.
This kind of attack perfectly epitomizes the relevance of words when dealing with radicalization and extremism. Calling events and social phenomena by their names is not something that all politicians do. When this happens, form becomes substance.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford was among those who did not hesitate to talk about Hatred and Islamophobia and, paying tribute to the victims, tweeted: “Hate and Islamophobia have NO place in Ontario.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted that he was “horrified” by the news and it is necessary to use every tool to fight Islamophobia.
Even more importantly, word-choice is crucial as police are weighing possible terrorism charges.
“It is believed that these victims were targeted because they were Muslim,” Det Supt Paul Waight told a news conference on Monday.
Canadian federal authorities are increasingly using the phrase “Ideologically Motivated Violent Extremism”, or IMVE, to describe violence fuelled by far-Right and other extremist beliefs.
Unfortunately, the awareness of what IMVE means and the need to broaden the notion of terrorism to non-jihadist attacks has struggled to take root.
In 2017, Alexandre Bissonnette pleaded guilty to six counts of first-degree murder and six counts of attempted murder shot dead six worshippers at a mosque in Quebec City. In September 2020, Mohamed-Aslim Zafis, the caretaker of a mosque in Etobicoke, a Toronto suburb, was stabbed to death by a white supremacist who was charged with first-degree murder. In neither of these cases there were terrorism charges brought.
In a different ideological universe, it is worth remembering Alek Minassian. On 23 April 2018, in Toronto, a van drove into pedestrians killing ten people and injuring sixteen others in the deadliest attack of its kind in Canadian history. The attacker, Minassian, a self-described incel, was then arrested after trying to goad police into shooting him. In his statement, Minassian quoted incel terrorist Elliot Rodger.
While Minassian was held criminally responsible for his action and got hit with ten charges of murder and sixteen of attempted murder, the trial did not involve terrorism charges, despite the terrorist-like use of a vehicle as a weapon.
According to the Canadian Criminal Code, terrorism can be defined as “any act that is committed in whole or in part for a political, religious or ideological purpose, objective or cause”, which underlines how curious it was Minassian was not charged under this law.
The use of the term “terrorism” has been the pivot of endless disputes for decades, and the term is still more easily applied to the acts of Muslim perpetrators than those of “domestic extremists.”
Not only is being hesitant to use the word “terrorism” in a broader spectrum of incidents a problem when describing what happened, but also—more importantly—when describing what could be done: addressing phenomena, such as white supremacism, Islamophobia, Incel radicalization, and others, would benefit from the full range of tools, from preventing and countering violent extremism (PVE and CVE), all the way up to “hard” counterterrorism measures.
 Sara Brzuszkiewicz, Incel Radical Milieu and External Locus of Control, ICCT Journal Special Edition, International Institute for Counter Terrorism, November 2020.
 Criminal Code R.S.C. 1985, c. C-46, PART II, Offences Against Public Order.