One week later: A message to the Muslim children left fatherless

By Amira Elghawaby
The Globe and Mail | February 5, 2017

To the 17 boys and girls who have lost their fathers in a senseless act of hateful violence: I’m sorry Canadians failed you.

Despite our best efforts to alert decision-makers that we feared the rise of Islamophobia in Canada, including in Quebec, it wasn’t enough to save your fathers.

Despite all the information we have – the reports from Statistics Canada showing that hate crimes have doubled against Muslims in Canada and that Quebec has the most reported cases, we were not able to persuade enough people to do anything about it. Many of our police forces provide limited funding to their hate-crimes units, where they even have one.

And somehow we couldn’t do enough when police told community representatives that a pig’s head thrown at the same mosque wasn’t considered a hate crime – because the perpetrator was depressed. Or that the torching of another mosque wasn’t a hate crime because the perpetrator was drunk. There, and elsewhere in our country, an alleged hate crime, or hate incident – like depositing dog feces at someone’s door – rarely even registers for front-line officers who tell those who even bother to call that, ‘sorry, there’s not much we can do.’ Too many go unreported and therefore remain invisible.

Sure, there were dinners for dignitaries, meetings with mayors and premiers. Yet, when civil society made calls for a commission to review systemic racism in Quebec, there was no action. And yes, there were press conferences on Parliament Hill, calling on the federal government to do something about this form of racism that follows us onto public transit, into our workplaces, into our places of worship and even into our homes. Yet, none of that made a difference for your fathers.

Some people did care, though. We launched a campaign in the province of Ontario with various partners, hoping that public-service ads would make people pause and “break their behaviour” as the current campaign is called. One ad shows a young boy in a classroom, about to make a joke about Muslims flying planes. A classmate stops him from saying the punchline.

The other ad is the story of a family coming home to find the garage door of their home spray painted with the words, “Muslims go home.” This actually happened to a family in Kitscoty, Alta. last year.

We have evidence that tells us that Canadian Muslim children like you are sometimes suffering in schools. We know that students can feel the burden of their religious identity. We know that parents are so busy providing the basics of life that it is too often difficult to help their children deal with the impact of being the ‘other’; too much of an unfair burden to expect the parents to constantly advocate that teachers be sensitive when talking about terrorism, or refugees, or freedom of speech. These conversations hurt if the negative examples are often of Muslims.

We have the example of student lessons where “What is the Islamic State?” is the only reference to Islam that their classmates will likely ever be meaningfully exposed to. We have the responses from the publishers of such curricula telling us it’s not their responsibility to ensure that lessons referencing Islam and Muslims include something more accurate, let alone positive.

We’ve launched lawsuits and human-rights complaints; we’ve challenged public officials and media personalities, companies and corporations, universities and school boards. These cases are often won, but quietly. Settlements often mean few will ever know about the shattered life dreams or the devastating toll on individuals and their families who have to struggle for years fighting for their human dignity.

We challenged the media and governments to do better, to stop using the term Islamic State, for example, which hurts us every time we hear it. We asked that an Arabic acronym be used instead. Some people heard us, including the federal government. We made some difference there.

What’s heartbreaking is that none of this was enough to save your fathers. And maybe nothing could have saved them.

But please know this, my dear children: In memory of your beautiful papas, we will do better.

Canada will do better – because we owe this to you.

Amira Elghawaby is the communications director at the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM).