Quebec City (AFP) - After a shooting rampage at a Quebec City mosque, the Canadian province's popular conservative talk radio hosts have come under fire for allegedly spreading intolerance and hate.
Critics say the talk shows fuel a divisive climate that allows extreme ideologies to take root and flourish -- a charge that has taken on heightened relevance after a gunman with far-right sympathies opened fire on Muslim worshippers, killing six and wounding eight more.
While not pointing a finger at any specific person or organization, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard emphasized Tuesday that "words do matter."
Residents of Quebec City tend to vote more conservatively than the rest of the province.
Some say that radio stations like local FM93 and Radio X -- which are respectively the region's second and third-most listened to, with a combined 30 percent market share -- simply reflect their audience's views.
But others say the shows stoke dangerous beliefs.
"These are right-wing talk radio stations with little substance but a lot of opinions," said Stephane Leman-Langlois, a criminologist at Laval University, where the alleged shooter studied.
These "trash radio" stations, as they have become known locally, "contribute to legitimize increasingly adversarial discourse against minorities in general and Muslims in particular," he told AFP.
Leman-Langlois said they tout "white supremacy, white victimology and repeat over and over that Quebec is in grave danger."
Station managers did not respond to requests for an interview.
But Sylvain Bouchard, a host on FM93, said, "We must fight disinformation, and we failed to do this enough."
There is no indication the suspect arrested in connection to the attack at the Quebec City mosque on Sunday listened to these radio stations.
His online activities, however, suggest that he supports political leaders including US President Donald Trump and French far-right politician Marine Le Pen.
Muslims in the Canadian province lay the blame for rising Islamophobia squarely at the foot of local right-wing talk radio.
Some stations "have made it their mission to increase distrust and hate of Muslims," said Mohamed Yangui, head of the Islamic cultural center and mosque that was attacked.
- 'Spokesperson for racism' -
"Their comments are often over the top and blundering," said Leman-Langlois, recalling a one-hour episode last fall in which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was said to be an agent of the Muslim Brotherhood determined to Islamize Canada.
"There is really an examination of conscience to do on the part of these radio stations."
His words echo media research group Project J, which has called on the stations to take a hard look at themselves and reflect on how they cover communities -- "Muslims in particular."
The organization has highlighted the under representation of visible minorities in Quebec media, for example, compared to the rest of Canada.
Calls have also increased to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications agency, which regulates the industry, to take a hard line.
The CRTC has at times warned radio stations, and some hosts have been sued for defamation, but the stations themselves keep broadcasting.
Since the mosque shooting, these radio stations have said they deplore violence.
But on Tuesday morning, Radio X's broadcast quickly degenerated, decrying that the far-right's political agenda had come under siege from the left.
The host accused "leftists of rejoicing" over the opportunity to use the attack to thrash conservatives' views.
But for Mohamed Ali Saidane, who lost a friend to the shooting, some of the radio hosts "have become spokespeople for racism."
"The general climate remains negative," he said.