Canada’s election marred by rising Islamophobia 

September 21, 2021 - 11:33

TEHRAN- Throughout Canada’s general election campaign, the ruling Liberals party and opposition Conservative Party had been neck and neck in the polls, at times trading the lead within the margin of error. Canadian Muslims, who account for 3.2 percent of the country’s population, can play a decisive role.

As politicians groom this section of voters, Muslims say they have not done enough to tackle anti-muslim hate crime. According to the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), during the last five years, the country has suffered more mass killings motivated by Islamophobia than any other nation in the G7.

The NCCM says that while the current Liberal government has acted to address Islamophobia by taking a stance with a view to dismantling white supremacist groups, there are still wide gaps that have not been addressed.

The council noted that none of the federal leaders in the run-up to elections has committed to fighting Quebec’s Bill 21 in court.

Quebec’s Bill 21 was adopted in 2019 and bans civil servants including teachers, police officers, and government lawyers, from wearing religious symbols at work such as the hijab.

Since 2017, 11 Canadian Muslims have been killed in three deadly attacks driven by Islamophobia.
In 2017, a terrorist stormed a mosque in Quebec City, killing six Muslim worshippers and injuring several others, the worst anti-Muslim terror arrack in Canadian and United States history.

In September 2020, an alleged neo-Nazi terrorist fatally stabbed Mohamed-Aslim Zafis, 58, in an unprovoked attack outside of a Toronto mosque where he volunteered as a caretaker.

Mosques such as al-Rashid have been met with vandalism and threats. Earlier this month, the Langley Islamic Centre in British Columbia received an anonymous note, threatening the mosque to shut down within two months, or else a Christchurch-inspired terror attack would ensue.

Noor al-Henedy, the director of communications and public relations at al-Rashid Mosque in Edmonton, Alberta told al-Jazeera that while federal party leaders have all been verbally supportive, especially after Islamophobic attacks, “Not a lot of work is happening on the ground.”

Al-Henedy says the government of Alberta did provide the Mosque with some support but it was “more on a grassroots organization scale, not on a national or provincial scale”

“I don’t want to say that words no longer matter, but they’re no longer powerful enough. We need changes on the ground. We need this problem to be taken seriously because we can’t afford to lose any more lives.”

Statistics and surveys show that reported hate crimes against Muslims surged in Canada after the September 2001 attacks in United States, along with negative attitudes toward those of Islamic faith. And while the number of reports ebbed and flowed over the past 20 years, it never went back down to pre-9/11 levels.

A 2003 report from the Canadian Islamic Congress cited by researchers showed how quickly anti-Muslim hate crimes increased just a year after the 9/11 attacks.

Over 170 hate crimes were reported to the group in 2002, according to the report. In the year 2000, there were only 11 such reports, marking a nearly 1,500 per cent increase in just two years.

In 2002, the Canadian Council on American Islamic Relations, now the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), found nearly two-thirds of Canadian Muslims it surveyed had experienced “bias or discrimination” in the year since the 9/11 attacks. One-third told the group that their lives had gotten worse since that day, and felt Canadians disliked them.

The NCCM says “it’s become systemic since then and what we’re seeing now is that not only is it growing, but it’s also evolving.”

Statistics Canada data on police-reported hate crimes between 2009 and 2020, the most complete data available, shows a slow but steady increase of anti-Muslim incidents across Canada for the first half of the 2010s, from 36 reports in 2009 to 99 in 2014.

An official with the Canadian Anti-Hate Network says “there’s always what I’m going to call a ‘flavor of the month’ when it comes to who’s being targeted” by hate crimes and abuse”

During that time, The Canadian Anti-Hate Network says the seeds of the modern Islamophobic movement were being sown. “The first real rallying cry was the opposition to Motion 103” it said, referring to the non-binding motion in Parliament denouncing Islamophobia that was introduced in late 2016 and passed the following year.

“Everything we’ve sort of seen since then has grown out of that: the anti-government, anti-leftist elite opposition that evolved into the Yellow Vests and all these activist groups… that are based, when it comes to the racist right, in anti-Muslim hate.”

Critics also point to other flashpoints like the Stephen Harper-led Conservative government vowing to establish a “barbaric cultural practices hotline” during the 2015 election, which was criticized for feeding anti-Islamic sentiment.

The Canadian Anti-Hate Network also says “the prevailing narrative of all this sentiment was this vast conspiracy that Muslims were trying to infiltrate and take over the West and commit a white genocide, or at least change the culture… and some politicians fed into that.”

The mid-2010s also saw some of the worst attacks on Muslims and their places of worship in Canada’s history: the attack on Muslim students at Queen’s University in 2014; the Peterborough, Ontario mosque arson in 2015.

It all culminated in the 2017 shooting at the Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City, where six Muslims were killed and 19 more were injured.

Throughout this period, Muslim women, a visible target due to the wearing of Hijabs, were attacked in cities across the country, with many attackers tearing off or attempting to remove the victims’ headscarves.

The NCCM says the rise of social media has allowed hate groups to form, grow and plot attacks much more easily while radicalizing new recruits, helping to explain the more recent rise in hate crimes.

“That’s why we’ve called for action against online hate, particularly when we found that social media and online forums were key motivators for the Quebec City mosque shooting,” the group says “and we’ve seen some progress, but it’s even more critical now.”

A spree of attacks on Muslim women has been reported in cities like Edmonton, while mosques are still being threatened. Last week, a Langley mosque received a letter threatening a mass shooting similar to the one in Christchurch, New Zealand, which killed 51 Muslim worshippers in 2019.

The sustained level of anti-Muslim crimes was brought into stark relief this past June, when four family members, including a 15-year-old daughter, were hit by a truck in London, Ontario. Police later said the victims were targeted because of their Islamic faith.

The London attack sparked national outcry, leading the federal government to hold a national summit on Islamophobia with several Muslim organizations.

While the summit led to pledges by the Canadian government, including tackling online hate and more outreach and education, experts say much more work needs to be done.

Ms Thobani, a University of British Columbia professor argues “until we have an honest reckoning about why we went to war in Afghanistan, how our heightened border policies are aligned with anti-immigrant sentiment, we will still see these kinds of attacks and threats… It’s all tied back to the war on terror.”

Not long after what police called a targeted hate crime against a Muslim family in London, Ontario left four members dead and a nine-year-old boy orphaned, the cries of grief morphed into calls for action.

Community advocates called for steps to be taken to tackle rising Islamophobia. Because while there has been some progress, advocates say the government needs to do much more.

Experts also say there’s a lot of work work to be done within communities to address the roughly “two-thirds” of hate crimes that go unreported, according to Statistics Canada.

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