Truck with anti-Muslim messaging registered to Rebel News Network

Rebel News owner says truck belongs to organization, but ad was created by 3rd party

Toronto police's hate crime unit is investigating a truck that was seen displaying anti-Muslim messaging as it drove around the city this week. One of its images of Muslims praying and protesting in Nathan Phillips Square is visible here. (@SURJto/X)

An advertising truck that is being investigated by Toronto police, after it was spotted this week driving through the city while displaying anti-Muslim images and messages, is registered under Rebel News Network, a provincial database shows.

A licence plate search through Ontario's Ministry of Transportation database shows the commercial plate attached to the truck is registered under the name Rebel News Network Ltd. — though the head of that organization says while the truck does belong to the agency, the ad itself was created by a third party.

In a phone interview with CBC News, Rebel News owner Ezra Levant said the ad was created by a group called Canadians Opposed to the Occupation of our Streets and Campuses. Levant would not divulge the identity of anyone behind the group, nor confirm if it is based in Toronto.

"They're worried about violence and they have every right to be," he said.

In a post on X, formerly Twitter, Wednesday, Toronto police said the force's hate crime unit is investigating the truck.

"We recognize the community's concern about a truck displaying Islamophobic messaging in Toronto," the post reads.

Investigators are asking anyone with information about the truck, or people who have seen it or have video footage or pictures of it, to contact police or Crime Stoppers.

In a post on Rebel News's website, Levant confirmed police are investigating and also pointed readers to a fundraising page set up for the truck and "to help me pay for our lawyer to fight this police investigation."

In videos posted to social media, video screens on the truck appear to display a series of questions that say: "Is this Lebanon? Is this Yemen? Is this Syria? Is this Iraq?"

The truck then displays images of what appears to be Muslims praying and protesting in Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto. Palestinian flags and the square's concrete arches are visible in the images.

The messages on the truck then say: "No. This is Canada. Wake up Canada. You are under siege."

Speaking with CBC News, Levant pointed to regular protests organized by pro-Palestinian groups in Toronto over the last several months, alongside shots being fired at a Jewish school last month — which he said happened under the "sleepy gaze" of Toronto police.

"But the moment a community group that's concerned about this has a peaceful, critical ad on a billboard truck, the Toronto police jumps to attention and calls their peaceful political viewpoint a hate crime," he said.

"It's obviously not, this is cancel culture being enforced by the Toronto police. They'll obviously lose in court, but it shows the kind of two-tier policing we have."

Barbara Perry, director of the Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism told CBC News in an interview that even if Rebel News didn't create the ad, the organization still has a responsibility for the imagery displayed on its truck.

"I think with [the advocacy group's] title, you can guess what kind of messaging that they are going to be advertising on their vehicles," Perry said.

Rebel News owner Ezra Levant arrives at the Law Society of Alberta in Calgary in 2016. Levant says the truck being investigated by Toronto police belongs to Rebel News, though the ads in question were created by a third party. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)
Rebel News owner Ezra Levant arrives at the Law Society of Alberta in Calgary in 2016. Levant says the truck being investigated by Toronto police belongs to Rebel News, though the ads in question were created by a third party. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Speaking at an unrelated news conference Thursday, Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow said she has asked other levels of government to join her in condemning the truck's "very hateful message."

"Toronto is a city where everyone belongs. Prayers are welcome, whether you want to pray in a synagogue, a mosque or a church — or in a local park or community centre. It's your freedom to do so," she said.

"Islamophobia has no place in this city. Neither does hate and divisiveness."

Advocates have slammed the truck's messaging as racist.

Amira Elghawaby, Canada's Special Representative on Combatting Islamophobia, said in an interview Wednesday that she was surprised and disappointed when she heard about the truck and believes it should be widely condemned.

"This type of messaging really does send quite an unfortunate message of division and hate," she said, adding it has no place in Canada.

"Sadly, Islamophobia and now anti-Palestinian racism, anti-Arab racism, these are not new phenomena. The forms that they can take can differ," Elghawaby said. "What is most alarming, of course, is when they lead to Islamophobic, anti-Palestinian, anti-Arab violence."

The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), a non-profit organization that describes itself as a "leading voice for Muslim civic engagement," said in a post on X Tuesday that the messaging on the truck is designed to incite a fear of Muslims in Canada.

"This is extremely dangerous messaging, and should not be condoned. We have seen Islamophobic hate kill in Canada, including in Ontario," the NCCM said.

"This public campaign is pure Islamophobia and hate," the NCCM said.

"We are expecting all of our leaders to condemn this form of hate in Toronto. This needs to stop now."