A U.S. website misidentified a Toronto university student as the teen charged in a mass stabbing attack at an Ontario high school, leading to a slew of hateful online comments against her.
This week, a 14-year-old girl allegedly injured both staff and students in a stabbing attack at Dunbarton High School in Pickering, Ont. Now charged with 15 offences, she cannot be named by law that protects the identity of young offenders.
Zahra Vaid, a 21-year-old studying at the University of Toronto, had been initially been interviewed for a Globe and Mail story about the accused's blog. After that article was published, Vaid was named as the suspect in a post on The Gateway Pundit , a right-wing political website.
"An innocent mistake, perhaps? Not at all," Vaid wrote in a Facebook post.
The Gateway Pundit post was originally called, "Canadian Muslim Girls on Mass Stabbing Spree – 8 Injured."
Vaid pointed out: "While the Globe and Mail article mentioned that I was 21 and a student at the University of Toronto, these men purposefully utilized my name to state, "Police accused 14-year-old girl Zahra Vaid of the crime."
She told CBC News the fact that the story mentioned she was Muslim resulted on online attacks.
"It was misinterpreted in such a dramatic, almost violent way against me," she said.
A victim of a stabbing attack in Pickering, Ont. is taken away for medical care. (Photo: The Canadian Press)
After the comments, The Globe and Mail honoured Vaid's request to rework their story to distance herself from details about the accused.
Reporter Selena Ross told the CBC she still thinks the original story was clear, and that it was "incredibly irresponsible" for a blogger to misinterpret the story.
The Gateway Pundit story was later edited to omit Vaid's name, and the headline was changed to "Canadian Girl Goes on Mass Stabbing Spree – 8 Injured." A line at the end of the story says the post was "updated," but does not mention any corrections or previous mistakes.
Facebook comments on the article pointed out the initial errors.
"This is absolutely disgusting, all of it - this article and all the comments attached to it. If the author of this post read a little more than 5 sentences of the original Canadian report, or if anybody here even clicked on the link provided by this author, it would have been ABSOLUTELY CLEAR that the suspect is a minor whose identity was withheld," Michelle Lee wrote.
"It's been mentioned MULTIPLE times that the 14-year-old that committed this crime cannot be named due to her age. Zahra is 21.
In conclusion, what the HELL is this?" Kristen Lewis wrote.
"This could have taken such a different direction if Islamophobes or people who engage in hate speech didn’t take this and completely alter it."
The article's author, Jim Hoft, created the Gateway Pundit in 2004, according to site. In 2013, he won the Reed Irvine Accuracy in Media Award.
A Google search of the story's original headline shows right-wing websites linking to the article are still using it.
Vaid told Canadaland she didn't want to take the attention off the 14-year-old accused, whose cries for help on social media had sparked empathy from other students, including one who was hurt in the stabbing.
"This could have taken such a different direction if Islamophobes or people who engage in hate speech didn’t take this and completely alter it,” she said.
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