Islamophobia Summit: Trudeau Calls Out Federal Institutions - New Canadian Media
(top l to bottom r) Carole Saab (moderator), Chief Executive Officer at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, Mayor Naheed Nenshi , City of Calgary, Jeewan Chanicka, Incoming Director of Education for Waterloo Region District School Board, Bochra Manai, Commissaire - Lutte contre le racisme et les discriminations systemiques Ville de Montréal, Marzia Hassan, author and counsellor.

Islamophobia Summit: Trudeau Calls Out Federal Institutions

Thursday's summit on Islamophobia, strangely, was closed to the public. While the prime minister named several national institutions as part of the problem, groups on the ground worry about the safety of Muslim children as they head to school, reports Reedah Hayder.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has called out federal security and tax agencies for contributing to Islamophobia in this country. He was delivering opening remarks at the national Islamophobia summit Thursday. 

“From the (Canada Revenue Agency) to security agencies, institutions should support people, not target them,” he said.

The CRA has been accused by civil liberty organizations of targeting Muslim charities with audits based on flimsy reasoning.

He also called on all Canadians to fight against Islamophobia and all types of hate in order to build a Canada “where we celebrate diversity, where we stand together.”

“That’s the promise our country must work hard to live up to, because too many times and for too many people, that promise has been broken,” he said. 

On June 6, a terrorist attack took the lives of four Muslim family members in London. On July 12, in Hamilton, Ont., a hijabi mother and daughter were targets of death threats and racial slurs. 

The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) reports that in the past five years, more Muslims have been killed in targeted hate attacks in Canada than in any other G-7 country.

Mohammed Hashim, executive director of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, a charitable organization and Crown corporation, said these numbers are likely understated. 

“When I speak to community organizations or even local police, what I hear is that the numbers are far greater than what is even being reported,” he said.

Holding Institutions Accountable

In an interview with Global News, Trudeau said, “There are politicians who have been stoking hatred and division that we, as a government, have been pushing back against.”

Ahead of the summit, the NCCM released 61 policy recommendations for all levels of the government, which included:

  • a special envoy for Islamophobia
  • public awareness campaigns in cities
  • an investigation into national security agencies and how they deal with white supremacist groups
  • a National Support Fund for survivors of hate-motivated crimes
  • instituting a provincial Hate Crimes Accountability Unit in all provinces

The federal government announced on July 21 that it will spend more than $6 million on 150 projects to support communities at risk of hate-motivated crime.

Budget 2021 also put forward $2 million in 2021-22 to enhance the protection of communities at risk of hate-motivated crimes, by providing not-for-profit organizations such as places of worship, schools and community cultural centres with funding to enhance their security infrastructure.

Omar Alghabra, the Minister of Transportation, has said for years that Islamophobia has been reinforced “in subtle and not so subtle” ways by governments, institutions and media.

This year, January 29 was declared the national day of remembrance of the Quebec City mosque attack in action against islamophobia. 

Hashim looked to Bill 21, the provincial legislation in place in Quebec that bars the wearing of religious symbols by some public service workers, and said, “Let us not mince words — this is state-sanctioned discrimination.

Jeewan Chanicka, incoming director of education for Waterloo Region District School Board, said, “Ironically, the very province where (the Quebec City) terrorist attack happened … is a province now where young Muslim girls are growing up knowing that there’s no potential for them unless they relinquish their hijab.”

Violence Against Muslim Women

Statistics Canada reports that in 2019, violent attacks against the Muslim population were more likely than other types of hate crimes to target female victims. From 2010 to 2019, across Canada, almost half (47 per cent) of the victims of hate crimes targeting Muslims were female, compared with one-third (32 per cent) of all hate crime victims.

“Fearing Muslims has become normalized. No one paid a higher price for this than the most visible within our communities,” Hashim said, noting the intersecting hate faced by Muslim women and the Black Muslim community.

Intervention Through Education

NCCM’s policy recommendation # 43 included reviewing school curricula with an anti-Islamophobic lens and culturally responsive resources for Muslim students. 

“Unfortunately, for many Muslim children, schools are not safe for them,” Chanicka said.

Chanicka said he’s consistently received phone calls from across the country from Muslim families who “heartbreakingly” question if they should send their children to school because they do not feel safe. 

“Far too often, I’ve noticed that amongst our most vulnerable citizens, children are often ignored,” he said. “Although today, I’ve heard time and again, the importance of work in schools, there’s, unfortunately, no federal guidance or oversight around education.”

Summit Lacks Public Access 

Peter Flegel, executive director for Canadian Heritage, said, “We know that we can only be effective in our work if we work closely with (communities). That is why the summit series has been designed to convene diverse groups of community and political leaders.”

Yet, the summit, which was held virtually, was mostly closed to the public. The government said this was a measure to ensure the safety of those participating and sharing their experiences.

The opening remarks and a panel session were live-streamed on the Canadian Heritage Facebook page, but no accessibility captions or transcripts were provided.

“Today as we tackle islamophobia, let us remember that there are many whose graves are filled with light today,” Hashim said. “They’re our brothers, our sisters and, most recently, our parents, our grandparents.”

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