Muslim communities worry that Islamophobic violence is being forgotten during the election campaign
As party leaders roll out campaign promises, the problem of racist violence seems to be flying under the radar.
Three months after all major party leaders gave emotional speeches at a vigil in London, Ontario for the four members of the Aafzal family who were killed in a drive-by attack, the threat of Islamophobic violence still hasn’t emerged as an issue in this federal election.
“There were huge promises of accountability now, this time, during this election. Our leaders are not taking this up,” said Mustafa Farooq, president of the National Council of Canadian Muslims.
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“I don’t understand. I don’t know what more needs to happen in order for us to do common sense things to address these challenges.”
This summer, Farooq’s organization issued 60 recommendations to Ottawa ahead of a national summit on Islamophobia.
They included calls for the federal government to name a special envoy on Islamophobia and to legally challenge Bill 21, Quebec’s controversial legislation that bans public sector workers from wearing religious symbols in the name of secularism.
“If my wife travels with me to Quebec, she can’t become a prosecutor, she can’t become a police officer,” Farooq said.
With eleven days left to go in the campaign, none of the major political parties seem to be talking much in public about Islamophobia or anti-Muslim violence — although they do all have platform planks on the issue.
The Liberal Party of Canada says it would create a national support fund “to help survivors” of hate crimes “with any uninsured costs that they have had to bear such as mental health care, physiotherapy, medical equipment, and paramedical services.”
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It also wants to update the federal Anti-Racism Strategy by sometime next year, and create new legislation to combat the spread of online hate.
The NDP and Conservatives also promise measures to confront online hate. The New Democrats say they “will take on white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups with a national action plan to dismantle far-right extremist organizations, including those that promote white supremacy.”
In a section of the platform on China, the Conservative Party of Canada mentions standing with that country’s persecuted Uyghur Muslims.
The Conservatives also say they want to double funding for the Security Infrastructure Program, which allows places of worship to access federal grant money for security measures. They say they would simplify the application process for the program by removing ” the need to demonstrate risk, which often means that an institution has to experience a hate-motivated crime before being eligible.”
Conservative leader asked about fighting racism
But the problem of anti-Muslim hatred has emerged in public only rarely during the campaign. It came up briefly when a CTV journalist asked Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole why the words “Islamophobia” and “racism” are missing from his party’s platform.
“I said I wanted more Canadians regardless of their sexual orientation, their colour their religion to join our mission,” O’Toole said, defending the omission. He said he wants to work with community leaders and the National Council of Canadian Muslims on implementing their recommendations.
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The Conservatives came under fire when news emerged that their candidate in the Nova Scotia riding of Central Nova, Steven Cotter, had shared Islamophobic social media posts filled with conspiracy theories about Muslims wanting to live under Sharia law and immigrants receiving more welfare funding than veterans.
“I recognize that what I posted was not simply hurtful — it was animated with Islamophobic and anti-immigrant tropes,” Cotter posted on Facebook on September 5. He apologized and said he would reach out to his local mosque to begin “reflection and learning.”
Anti-Muslim incidents have continued to emerge during the campaign. A Muslim family was accosted in a road rage incident near Moncton, New Brunswick earlier this month.
At the end of August, a mosque in British Columbia received an anonymous letter praising Adolf Hitler and the killer behind the New Zealand mosque shooting of 2019 and warning the Langley Islamic Centre it had two months to shut down.
“The reality is that our community has been living in this new normal for quite some time,” said Imam Fawad Kalsi of the Langley Islamic Centre. He said his community has done its best to come together and refuse to show fear in response to the incident, which the RCMP is investigating.
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“We all expect to be able to pray freely,” he said. “We expect to be able to put a sign board up outside of our Islamic centre so that we can tell everybody that we’re here.”
Asked to respond to this story, the NDP, Conservatives and Liberals all issued statements condemning hatred and pointing to their platform commitments.
None of them explained why they haven’t held campaign events to address racism and Islamophobia. The Liberals said they hope to hold such an event soon.