Statistics Canada Show a 60 per cent Increase in Nationwide Hate Crimes Against Muslims

RCMP Hate Crimes Unit, president of Muslim Student Association talk about what to do if you’ve been the victim of Islamophobia
Ashley Hyshka

(Rosa Ojeda)

A 2015 report from Statistics Canada shows a 60 per cent increase in hate crimes targeting Muslims across the country since last year, though the number of reported hate crimes in B.C. has remained steady.

For Abdul Tauheed Faheem, president of KPU’s Muslim Student Association, this is unsettling news. While Faheem doesn’t believe that Islamophobia is a major a problem in the Lower Mainland, as it is in other cities, he does believe that it’s starting to become a threat.

Faheem himself has been a victim of Islamophobia, as have his loved ones. Once, while running errands dressed in traditional Islamic clothing, Faheem’s father—who is afraid of dogs—asked someone to put her dog on a leash. She shouted back, “Your kids will kill you before my dog does.”

Another time, some of Faheem’s neighbors were outside dressed in a niqab when two men on the street started throwing rocks at them. After the incident, they stopped wearing the niqab altogether.

Detective Gareth Blount and Corporal Anthony Statham of the RCMP’s Hate Crimes Unit in B.C. say that this is exactly what law enforcement is trying to prevent.

“Within Canadian society…when [people are] victimized because of who they are, because of their race, religion, sexual orientation … there’s a couple of things that happen,” says Blount. “The person will either change who they are in order to try and assimilate and fit in with everyone else, or they’re going to withdraw and stay within their own community because that’s who they feel safe with.”

He adds, “Nobody should have to change who they are.”

Vancouver Police Department Media Relations Officer Constable Jason Doucette says that the VPD has not “seen an increase in violence targeting the Muslim community in Vancouver.”

Though the VPD was unable to be reached for an in-depth interview, Doucette wrote in an email on June 20 that “[The Vancouver Police Department] have a very positive relationship and are in constant communication with the Muslim community. Public safety remains the VPD’s priority and will continue to work with our citizens to make Vancouver a safe place to live, work, and visit.”

The data on this issue can only be partially trusted, as a high percentage of hate crimes are not reported to police. Blount says that possible reasons for this could be a fear or distrust of the authorities, victims having a desire to move on from past traumas, or believing that nothing will come from reporting what happened to them. For some Muslim immigrants, there is a big difference between Canadian police forces and those that they’re familiar with from other countries. Therefore, victims may feel hesitant to call the police here in B.C.

“There’s a good chance that their [statistics] are not accurate. They’re not going to report, and they don’t want to have that relationship with the cops, because they’ve had such bad, traumatizing experiences back home,” says Blount. He and Statham emphasize the importance of reporting any hate crimes to authorities, because if they’re not reported, there’s nothing that the police can do to help.

Faheem agrees, but also explains the value of speaking with family and friends if you experience a hate crime.

“Let your community know, so we can build that support. We can build that foundation that if you need help, you need to talk to someone, someone is there for you,” he says.

Those at the Hate Crimes Unit want to make themselves familiar to the community, so that victims will know who to report to if they are targeted, although the Unit won’t necessarily oversee the entire investigation alone. Often it offers support for other provincial authorities. Together, the Hate Crimes Unit and provincial RCMP are starting a dialogue with local Muslim communities to combat Islamophobia.

“We will take those reports, we will listen, and we will do what we can to investigate,” says Blount.

He wants Canadians to know that the national precedent for freedom of expression regarding hate crimes was set by the R.V. Keegstra case in the Supreme Court of Canada, which convicted Alberta Teacher James Keegstra with expressing anti-Semitic views and promoting hatred to his students. As a result of that case, while a person does possess the right to freedom of expression, they are not immune from their words and might suffer consequences attached to hate speech in the country.

At KPU, Faheem is also determined to educate the student populace. Because Islamophobia is on the rise, one of the main goals for the MSA is to start an educational and awareness campaign for both Muslims and non-Muslims to create “a safe space so people can ask questions.”

Faheem plans to organize a campaign this summer or fall called “Meet a Muslim” where students can speak to a Muslim student and break down any social, religious, or cultural barriers that may exist between them.

“Just come and talk to us,” he says.

Another goal of the MSA is to collaborate with Muslim student organizations at other universities like UBC and SFU to organize more events and awareness campaigns.

Last year the MSA organized a food drive where they placed clothing, food, and first aid kits in bags that were distributed to the homeless. Each bag had a message in it reminding people that, if they just keep persevering, good days will come to them, regardless of what they’re going through. The MSA is hoping to host a similar event in the fall.

Statham believes that most people know that Muslims have been unfairly represented as being involved with terrorism, further perpetuating Islamophobia. Faheem agrees and encourages everyone to avoid judging others based on their race or religion. He also advises people to exercise caution and common sense when it comes to being aware of how Muslims are treated by the media, and to make decisions for themselves.

“We’re not crazy,” says Faheem, on what he wants people to understand the most about Islam. He suggests that anyone who is Islamophobic try going to a mosque or talking to a Muslim to discover the religion and culture for themselves.

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