Canadian Muslims rally against hate crimes

(Source: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geoff Robins)

Canada is Experiencing a Rise in Anti-Muslim Attacks

Published on 08 Sep 2023

There are nearly 2 million Muslims across Canada- constituting nearly 5% of the country’s total population- who call the Great White North their homes today. At the same time, we are also witnessing a recent surge of anti-Muslim hate crimes and institutionalized Islamophobia which can undermine social cohesion and potentially have deadly outcomes if left unchecked.

Despite a rise in incidents of anti-Muslim hate crimes, a May 2023 public opinion poll  found that one-in-three non-Muslim Canadians (31%) said that they have “no interest” in being an ally to Muslims in the future. This same survey also revealed that less than half of non-Muslim Canadians (46%) considered themselves to be a current “ally” to the Muslim community in Canada. In response, the largest Halal food company in Canada created a powerful 2-minute video on Muslim allyship called “Let’s Stand Together,” which features non-Muslim allies voicing their support for Muslims and multiculturalism overall across Canada.

Another recent March 2023 public opinion poll from the Angus Reid Institute found that nearly 2-in-5 Canadians (39%) held “unfavorable” views about Islam and over half of the population of the province of Quebec (52%) held those same negative views. The poll from March 2023 also asked whether Canada has a problem with Islamophobia and only 50 percent of Canadians said there was a problem (with the other 50 percent saying that Islamophobia was not a problem in Canada). The researchers found that there was also some further correlation between age and education since older Canadians were more likely to be in the negative group towards Islam/Muslims, while younger Canadians were more likely to be in the positive group.

Alongside lukewarm public sentiment towards Muslims generally, there has also been a steady rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes, especially targeting Black Muslim women who are visibly Muslim in recent times. According to Statistics Canada, the number of police-reported hate crimes targeting Muslims in 2021 increased 71% from the previous year alone. For the five years before that, Canada witnessed the highest number of Muslims killed in targeted hate-motivated attacks of all the G7 countries, according to the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM). 

In July 2023, an 18-year-old Black Somali Muslim female teenager working at an Olive Garden restaurant in Winnipeg, Manitoba was brutally attacked by a patron in front of shocked onlookers. A 27-year-old white man was staring at the waitress’ headscarf for nearly 30 minutes before leaving the Olive Garden restaurant and then returning to repeatedly stab her viciously in the neck, body and arms. Strangely, the local police only charged him with aggravated assault, possession of a weapon and failing to comply with a probation order, but the Muslim community wanted the attempted murder to be further investigated as an actual hate crime. “He didn’t go on a random stabbing spree,” the victim later told police in her official statement. “He went straight for me [because I am a visibly Muslim Black woman]. I know I could have died.”

Muslims across Canada need to feel that “Islamophobia will be taken seriously as a phenomenon that can have deadly consequences, undermining social cohesion in a democracy that has enshrined freedoms of belief and equality in its constitution,” according to a June 2023 column from Amira Elghawaby, who was appointed as Canada’s Special Representative on Combating Islamophobia in January 2023 by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

A 2022 attack at an Ontario mosque during congregational prayers scared nearly 30 worshippers as a hatchet-wielding attacker sprayed bear spray while yelling “You are all terrorists!” and “I hate you!” before bystanders could safely bring him to the ground. “He expressed hatred for Muslims, and his disappointment that he failed to inflict any real harm to the victims,” read official documents. “When asked if [he] had hoped to inspire others to commit similar [mass casualty] attacks [against Muslims] he commented, ‘In a sense ya. You can always hope.'”

Most recently in August 2023, both Jewish and Muslim communities in the Manitoba provincial capital of Winnipeg said that they were “disturbed and saddened” after a series of hate-related graffiti including swastikas and hateful messages like “Hail Hitler” and “KKKanada” were spotted by journalists with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). “Although any display of hatred is concerning, it is especially alarming when such displays are overt and public,” said Aasiyah Khan from the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) in response to the Nazi graffiti found in downtown Winnipeg. Even multicultural Toronto had their own recent white supremacist moment when another example of Nazi hate graffiti was found a few weeks earlier in August 2023. A large black swastika was found spray-painted over a “Toronto For All” advertisement at a Scarborough, Ontario bus stop featuring a Black Muslim woman wearing a hijab promoting diversity.

Over the last few years in the western province of Alberta, both of its major cities (Calgary and Edmonton) have also witnessed a rash of hate crime attacks, primarily targeting visibly Black Muslim women. In a span of six months of 2021 alone, the Edmonton Journal reported that at least nine different attacks against Black Muslim women were reported to police, seven of which resulted in formal criminal charges. These targeted attacks against visibly Muslim women happened in public places including train stations, bus stops, parking lots, road rage, on the transit system and along sidewalks. After a particularly shocking assault in St. Albert, there were hundreds of people who peacefully rallied in Edmonton’s Churchill Square to condemn the violence and then newly-elected mayor Amarjeet Sohi said that the problem is his “top priority” as mayor of Edmonton.

Some of these other bias-motivated attacks included two Black Somali Muslim women wearing hijabs who were attacked outside a south Edmonton shopping center in what Canadian police called a “hate-motivated incident.” Less than a week later, another 23-year-old Black Muslim woman wearing a hijab was at an Edmonton transit station when she was approached by a woman she did not know who tried to hit her in the head with a shopping bag while yelling “racially-motivated obscenities at her.” Another unrelated incident involved a Muslim woman wearing a burqa who was approached by an unknown man on the sidewalk who yelled and swore at her before pushing her to the ground. Finally, a young teenage Muslim girl (wearing hijab yet again) was physically assaulted in the city of Calgary along a river pathway by a white woman who confronted them and began directing “racially motivated slurs” at them.

In response to this rise of bias-motivated attacks across Alberta, a group of Muslim women from the non-profit organization Sisters Dialogue launched an anti-Islamophobia awareness campaign at Edmonton City Hall to help raise awareness about this worrisome trend growing across Canada. “We still live under so much oppression, that gendered Islamophobia and misogyny is still costing us our lives and our safety,”  according to Timiro Mohamed, a member of Sisters Dialogue who hopes that campaigns created and directed by Muslim women have the ability to transform how people see themselves in public spaces.

Even though Canada is generally known around the world as a warm and friendly nation that promotes multiculturalism, we can now see that there has been a steady rise in Islamophobic sentiment and anti-Muslim hate crimes across all of Canada. From lukewarm Canadian public opinion polls on Muslim allyship to growing bias-motivated attacks against primarily Black Muslim women wearing religious attire in public places, we can now understand that the lives and wellbeing of 2+ million Muslims could potentially hang in the balance if Canada does not address growing Islamophobia across its borders.