Fox News deletes false Québec shooting tweet after Canadian PM’s office steps in
The office of the Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau has forced Fox News to apologise and retract a “false and misleading” tweet that inaccurately described the suspect in the Québec City mosque shooting as a man of Moroccan origin.
Related: ‘Islamophobia killed Canadians’: anti-Muslim rhetoric blamed in Québec attack
Kate Purchase, the director of communications for the prime minister’s office, sent a letter to Fox News objecting to misinformation it had put out after the attack on the Québec City Islamic cultural centre.
Six people were fatally shot in the back as they prayed at the mosque on Sunday. Another 19 people were wounded. On Tuesday two people remained in critical condition.
Shortly after the attack police had arrested two men, one of whom was a Moroccan-born Québecer. By midday on Monday, police had clarified that only one was a suspect, and they had released the Moroccan-born man – who was now being treated as a witness – without charge.
Fox News later tweeted on Monday afternoon – after the police clarification – that the suspect in the attack was of Moroccan origin.
The Fox News tweet made no mention of the other man arrested, French-Canadian Alexandre Bissonnette, who now faces six charges of first-degree murder and five of attempted murder. Those who know Bissonnette have described him as pro-Donald Trump, anti-immigration and sympathetic to the far right.
— Fox News (@FoxNews) January 30, 2017
Hours after it was made clear that Bissonnette was the only suspect in the case, the “false and misleading” tweet was still on the Fox News Twitter account and remained in circulation, said Purchase.
While the Fox News story linked to the tweet had been corrected, the erroneous tweet had been retweeted more than 900 times and had racked up 1,600 likes.
In a letter to a top official at the network , Purchase asked Fox News to retract or update the tweet to reflect the suspect’s identity as a 27-year-old French-Canadian.
“These tweets by Fox News dishonour the memory of the six victims and their families by spreading misinformation, playing identity politics and perpetuating fear and division within our communities,” she wrote.
The letter continued: “We need to remain focused on keeping our communities safe and united instead of trying to build walls and scapegoat communities. To paint terrorists with a broad brush that extends to all Muslims is not just ignorant – it is irresponsible.
“If we allow individuals and organisations to succeed by scaring people, we do not actually end up any safer,” she added. “Fear does not make us safer. It makes us weaker. Ramping up fear and closing our borders is not a solution.”
Within hours, Fox News apologised for the error.
“FoxNews.com initially corrected the misreported information with a tweet and an update to the story on Monday. The earlier tweets have now been deleted,” Refet Kaplan, the managing director at FoxNews.com, said in a statement.
“We regret the error.”
— Josh Sánchez (@jnsanchez) January 30, 2017
Moroccan-born Québecer Mohamed Belkhadir has described how he spent the night in custody after a misunderstanding.
He said he had been clearing snow off the steps outside the mosque when he heard gunshots. When the noise stopped, he called 911 and entered the mosque, he said: “It was a reflex. You can’t leave people when they’re in need.”
He said he was giving first aid to a friend when he caught a glimpse of a man with a gun. “I didn’t know it was a police officer – I thought it was the gunman who had returned.”
Belkhadir said he bolted from the scene. Only when police ordered him to the ground did he realise what was going on. He was released hours later, but by then his identity had become synonymous with the attacks.