Crimes against Muslims ignite debate on impact of Islamophobia
More than a year after a gunman opened fire in a Quebec City mosque, killing six people and injuring 19 others, debate continues on how to confront hate crimes against religious and other groups.
standing in solidarity against islamophobia and all forms the discrimination w/ my colleagues and Ottawa community commemorating the terrible loss of life on the anniversary of the Quebec Mosque massacre #RememberJan29 pic.twitter.com/K49wp1B8cr
— Iqra Khalid (@iamIqraKhalid) January 29, 2018
Motion M-103, which passed in March 2017, condemns “Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.” It also called for a national day condemning the practice of Islamophobia, though this has not happened.
But such a national day isn’t necessary, according to National Post columnist Barbara Kay, who argues that Canada just isn’t a racist country.
“There are over a million Muslims in Canada,” she said. “And when you talk about the number of hate incidents being 60, 70, 80 – and most of them are extremely minor – name-calling or an angry exchange? These are wrong, but shouldn’t be of national concern.”
Overall, the number of police-reported hate crimes has been on the rise in Canada, increasing from 1,167 in 2013 to 1,409 in 2016. The hate crimes rate differ from city to city, with cities like Hamilton and Ottawa having the highest per capita rate of hate crimes.
Statistics Canada data shows that reported hate crimes against Muslims jumped by 60 per cent in 2015, the year after the parliamentary shooting on Oct. 22, 2014.
But according to Statistics Canada data, reported hate crimes are primarily directed towards racial/ethnic groups, with black people being the largest of this group.
Of the hate crimes directed at religious groups, Jewish people are most targeted, with Muslims the second-most targeted of the religious groups.
Hate crimes against Muslims have also gone down in each of the past two years since the major 2015 spike, according to Statistics Canada. With a slight decrease Muslim-targeted hate crimes, faith remains strong, and religious practices in places like Ottawa’s Islamic Care Centre, continue undisturbed.
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[Photos © Lia Pizarro]
“Following a notable increase in hate crimes against the Muslim population in 2015, police reported 20 fewer in 2016 for a total of 139,” a Statistics Canada report concluded. “The decrease in police-reported hate crimes against Muslims was the result of fewer reported incidents in Quebec (-16), Alberta (-8) and Ontario (-6).”
Kay is also concerned the term Islamophobia still remains largely undefined in Canadian legislation. M-103, which was sponsored by Liberal MP Iqra Khalid (Mississauga-Erin Mills), does not specifically give a definition of Islamophobia, and calls for the Liberals to go public with a definition have so far gone unanswered, according to the columnist.
Still, there are some who think hate crimes “manifest themselves in many different ways.” Amira Elghawaby, a Muslim human rights advocate that works for the Canadian Labour Congress, says they can be as brutal as a physical assault, or as trivial as someone being told to go back to their old country.
On the anniversary of the #QuebecMosqueShooting, an Ottawa mosque has been allegedly defaced with a WhitePower flyer and references to Hitler. #cdnpoli pic.twitter.com/VeGE06Ps2L
— Mersiha Gadzo (@MersihaGadzo) January 30, 2018
Statistics Canada data shows Muslim hate crime data as more unique than other minorities. With every widespread attack involving a Muslim perpetrator, anti-Muslim bigotry appears in higher rates than normal – something not seen when other minorities are found to be perpetrators.
“After 9/11, yes, anti-Muslim crimes did go up significantly,” Kay concedes. “But when I say significantly, even then I would say it did not rise to what one would call systemic racism.”
Kay says Canada does not have a systematically racist society like some other nations. Police take extra steps to ensure no profiling takes place, and politicians are sensitive to actions that could be perceived as racist.
In racist countries, you have complicity toward racism in social institutions.” She says Canada is nothing of the sort.
Elghawaby agrees that Canadian society is not inherently racist.
“A lot of racist attitudes are rooted in ignorance,” she explained. “I am of the belief that people adopt racist attitudes because they haven’t gotten to know different groups of people, different communities.”
Elghawaby thinks Canadians should be educated on the culture of refugees and immigrants in order to properly help them get rooted in society.
360 degree view of the Islamic Care Centre in Ottawa
Even then, do racism and Islamophobia turn out to be the same thing? No official definition provides an answer.
It seems simple, but it is still not clear in law.
“If we used the words anti-Muslim bigotry, and these were the words we used all the time, I would have no difficulty with that at all,” says Kay. But she thinks continuing down the same path with no definition does not help end abuse against Muslims.
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