The London attack demands an all-of-Canada response

Published in Toronto Star on June 11, 2021

By Mustafa Farooq. NCCM CEO

It’s easy to see how non-Muslim Canadians watching the horrifying news coming out of London, Ont., this week might believe that this issue doesn’t concern them.

After all, the murdered family of four is Muslim and the police, along with practically everyone else, believe this was the reason they were targeted. This is a tragedy, but it’s a Muslim Canadian tragedy.

Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.

When someone directs violence at a person because of what they look like, where they come from or what they believe, they strike at the very heart of Canadian society. Canada was built on a foundation of religious freedom, one that is enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Every year, thousands of immigrants cherish and embrace this freedom as they arrive on our shores, and millions of Canadians across the country celebrate it with various traditions, holidays and observances in accordance with their faith.

Similarly, religious communities of all stripes in Canada suffer religious hate crimes. Indeed, Statistics Canada data on police-reported hate crimes shows that religiously motivated crime accounts for roughly a third of all hate crimes, second only to crimes motivated by race and ethnicity – a trend that has held steady for at least the past five years.

In recent years, this trend has sometimes felt like a torrent of sorrow and tragedy. There’s the 2017 Quebec City mosque massacre, where six worshippers were killed. There’s last year’s vicious killing of Mohamed-Aslim Zafis at a mosque in Toronto. There are dozens of violent attacks on Muslim women who wear a hijab in public spaces in Alberta and elsewhere.

And in addition to the threat of physical violence, there’s also legislative discrimination, like Quebec’s Bill 21, which essentially legalizes discrimination against Muslim women who wear a hijab and pursue careers as prosecutors, teachers, police officers and several other public sector jobs. The list goes on.

As a result of the latest attack in London. Ont., the National Council of Canadian Muslims has called on all levels of government across Canada to come together for a National Action Summit on Islamophobia and take immediate action on dismantling both violent forms of Islamophobia and systemic Islamophobia. Tens of thousands of Canadians have signed the petition, and we hope that this compels elected officials sit up and take notice.

This is long overdue. Canadians have long called for actions like online hate regulation, the dismantling of white supremacist groups, an anti-Islamophobia lens in education, the striking down of Bill 21, street harassment bylaws and many other urgent and critical actions to tackle Islamophobia in all its forms.

While some of these changes have been implemented over the years and deserve praise, the reality is that this hasn’t been enough to keep pace with the rate at which racism, white supremacy and Islamophobia are proliferating and intensifying in Canada. We need a whole-of-society approach with a coordinated effort among all levels of government.

This also isn’t just a domestic issue. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will have an excellent opportunity to draw international attention to this crisis at the G7 Summit in Cornwall, England. A number of the countries in attendance have their own challenges and truths to face when it comes to issues like Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and systemic racism.

The G7 will discuss issues of state and global importance, including trade, the digital economy, climate change and security. However, the London attack underscores that the current state of racism and hate, and the concrete action necessary to contain and dismantle this scourge, should also be on the agenda.

But regardless of whether this discourse takes place domestically or internationally, one thing is crystal clear: We cannot hope to build an equitable, just and inclusive society for future generations when we are willing to tolerate murderous, religiously motivated hatred on the streets of our cities.