Rise in hate crimes calls for a unified response

By: Ihsaan Gardee, Executive Director, National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM)
Montreal Gazette | December 4, 2018

Since the deadly Quebec City mosque attack on Jan. 29, 2017, Canadians have come to recognize that our country is not immune to the growth in hatred and racism spreading across many liberal democracies.

The latest figures from Statistics Canada on police-reported hate crimes only confirm the worst fears of community advocates. Islamophobia is a reality Canadians Muslims face. In 2017, hate crimes against Muslims rose sharply, up 151 per cent from the previous year, with 349 documented cases — that’s nearly one every day. Anti-Muslim hate crimes accounted for 17 per cent of all such crimes in Canada.

Reported hate crimes aimed at Jews rose 63 per cent; they remain the most frequently targeted community, accounting for 18 per cent of such crimes. Hate crimes targeting black people increased by 50 per cent, accounting for 16 per cent of reported incidents.

We’ve seen disturbing reports about anti-Muslim extremists organizing online.

What’s driving this pattern of hate? We need not look further than the nativist rhetoric emerging from the current U.S. presidency, the resurgence of neo-Nazi and far-right extremists at home and abroad, and politicians preying on people’s fears when they’re worried about their pocketbooks. This is no coincidence.

For Muslims, the rise in hate has become all too familiar. After battling through the cultivation of Islamophobic politics under Stephen Harper, Muslim communities were confronted by the murderous attack that cold January night.

Today, however, there is a sense of resilience driven both by faith and love of community — a refusal to let fear overcome all the good that we can accomplish together as Canadians. But goodwill is not enough. Communities and people from all backgrounds, along with our elected leaders, need to stand united against Islamophobia and all forms of hate if we are to succeed in drowning out the voices of division.

A unified campaign against hate could not be more pressing.

Recently, our organization, the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), with the support of over 100 faith-based groups, civil society organizations and Muslim institutions, issued an open letter urging the federal government to designate Jan. 29 as a National Day of Action against Hate and Intolerance. Every day, more groups are signing on to this important call.

This designation would help to fight hate by providing an annual focal point for stakeholders — including civil society, educators, law enforcement and advocates — to collectively prioritize policy steps to combat Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, xenophobia and all forms of hate, as well as measure the progress being made.

Second, it would empower diverse groups to jointly develop strategies on educating Canadians on how to recognize and challenge the peddling of hate online and in our communities.

The NCCM, along with other groups, previously called for Jan. 29 to be designated as a day against Islamophobia. But we’ve witnessed other minority communities being targeted by hate similar to that faced daily by many in the Muslim community. Sharing their pain along the way, we have come to understand that Islamophobic hate does not occur in a vacuum.

By expanding our call, we are recognizing that Islamophobia is connected to the larger edifice of hate that impacts too many — the Statistics Canada report bears that out. If we want to effectively confront the growth in Islamophobia, then we should understand that this challenge is not reserved only for the Muslim community and neither is the solution.

In the last few decades, Canada’s greatest successes in challenging social ills have come about through made-in-Canada solutions that brought different people together because members of a given community knew they couldn’t overcome them alone. Combating hate is no different. Marking Jan. 29 as a National Day of Action against Hate and Intolerance would be another key step in the enduring story of Canadian resilience.