On February 23, a 14-year-old student injured nine staff with a knife at a high school in Pickering, Ontario. University of Toronto student Zahra Vaid was one of many interviewed by the Globe and Mail for their coverage of the incident.
Vaid later received a Facebook message from a stranger containing a link to an article on The Gateway Pundit, a right wing news blog based in the US. The article was entitled “Canadian Muslim girl goes on Mass Stabbing Spree” and 21-year-old Vaid was profiled and misidentified as the teenage perpetrator of the stabbing incident.
“An innocent mistake? I think not,” Vaid said of the misidentification in a Facebook post that has since gone viral.
“[The] Globe and Mail article had nothing to do with the fact that I was Muslim. It didn’t even mention that,” Vaid told The Varsity.
“And the fact that a very… right-wing supporter extracted that information related directly to my religious identity is just beyond me, and I think that what this did… was bring up the fact that Islamophobia is real,” she said.
Vaid shared her thoughts about being named in the blog over social media. She also expressed sympathy for the 14-year-old student accused of the stabbing, who had a history of being bullied and suffered from mental health issues. The minor is being charged with 15 offences and cannot be identified under the Youth Criminal Justice act.
The Huffington Post, CBC, and several other news outlets covered the story of The Gateway Pundit’s accusation and Vaid’s reaction to the personal attack. The Gateway Pundit later altered their article, which now appears four short sentences shorter, followed by a long quote from Fox News. To date, The Gateway Pundit has released no statement of apology, informational sources, reasoning for the changes, or transcript of changes made.
“The author of The Gateway Pundit’s article targeting me did not reach out to anyone, myself, my family who has [tried to] contact them, media, twitter… there has been no contact,” says Vaid.
“Social media, while it could be something dangerous, in that you can be targeted and violently accused of things that you didn’t do, it’s also a place for community, and for people to mobilize for your cause, and that’s something that I really saw, in a very profound and heart-warming way,” Vaid said of the reaction she received online from those who left comments supporting her.
In her interview with The Varsity, Vaid expressed deep gratitude to her extended community for supporting her, as well as to the many people who expressed solidarity and understanding, adding that they have also been profiled and marginalized.
While Vaid believes that the incident speaks to a prevailing anti-Muslim narrative, she thinks that the focus should be the mental health of youth.
“While this incident has so many different messages… I really do still want to hold true to the fact that this incident could have been prevented, and that it has to do with mental health and bullying, and those are still issues that are so pervasive and real in our education system that need to be dealt with,” Vaid said.
Vaid said that she wants an apology from both The Gateway Pundit and The Globe and Mail, and that she may consider taking legal action against the news blog.
The Varsity did not approach The Gateway Pundit for comment.