As Islamophobic incidents increase around the world, recent attacks on Muslims show how Islamophobia is taking root in Canada, where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has often commented that diversity is the country's strength but also where those willing to fan the violent flames of Islamophobia are on the rise.
The 9/11 attack on the United States ignited hate in Canada, culminating in the horrific 2017 Quebec mosque attack where a lone gunman killed six Muslims and wounded 19 during evening prayers.
While most Canadians and all levels of government condemned the killings at the mosque, another shocking attack took place when a man deliberately drove his truck into a Muslim family out for a stroll on June 6, 2021, in London, Ontario. Three generations of a family died – including a husband, wife, daughter and grandmother – leaving a 9-year-old boy orphaned.
Canada is the world's second-largest country, with a sparse population of about 38 million. But the seeds of racism are sown in all of its 10 provinces – particularly in the most heavily populated provinces of Ontario and Quebec – and Far North territories. Those seeds are growing.
"Throughout the years, Islamophobia in Canada has increased drastically," Fatema Abdalla, communications coordinator for the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), said in an email to Anadolu Agency (AA).
"Existing both in its systemic and violent forms. We've seen a number of attacks on the Muslim community, including the shooting at the Quebec City Mosque, the attack outside of the IMO (International Muslim Organization mosque) in Toronto, the killing of the Our London Family, as well as ongoing threats and attacks, to primarily black Muslim women in Alberta.
"Canada is the leading country, when it comes to the number of people who have been killed in the last five years because of Islamophobia, amongst all G-7 countries," she said.
The NCCM, Canada's largest Muslim organization, said it had had enough and lobbied Trudeau for a national summit on Islamophobia and made recommendations to combat surging hate.
The lobbying has worked – to a point. In the aftermath of the London atrocity, Trudeau initiated the summit that was attended by all three levels of government – federal, provincial and grassroots municipal – and Muslim organizations and individuals. The prime minister issued a clarion call for Canadians to eradicate hate.
"Because right now, we do have to fight for the kind of Canada we all want to see," he told those in attendance at the virtual summit. "A place where we celebrate diversity, where we stand together, where we look out for each other.
"Together, we can stand against Islamophobia and that’s exactly what we’ll keep doing," he said.
Trudeau referenced the Quebec City Mosque attack.
"As a country, we cannot forget why Jan. 29 is now the National Day of Remembrance of the Quebec City Mosque Attack and Action Against Islamophobia,” he said. "We must remember the tragedies that have happened and constantly recommit ourselves to giving no ground to hate."
There has been a spike in hate crimes. Statistics Canada reported that in 2019 hate crimes targeting race and ethnicity increased a staggering 80%. But while the perception is that Muslims, whose population was slightly more than 1 million in Canada as of 2017, were the primary target, that is not necessarily true.
Canada does lead the G-7 in hate-motivated killings of Muslims, but those instigated against them declined in 2020 after a 9% increase in 2019.
"Police-reported hate crimes targeting religion declined 16% from 613 incidents in 2019 to 515 incidents in 2020," according to a Statistics Canada compilation of police-reported hate crimes in 2020. However, in 2020, police reported 2,669 criminal incidents motivated by hate, the largest number ever recorded since data became available in 2009. The Statistics Canada report was released on March 17, 2022.
"This decrease was primarily due to fewer hate crimes targeting the Muslim population, which declined from 182 to 82 incidents in 2020 (down 55%). Hate crimes against the Jewish population rose slightly in 2020, from 306 to 321 incidents (up 5%)."
Some of it is no doubt attributable to the rise of the coronavirus and the shift of some hate incidents to the Asian community – the virus is perceived as coming from China. And it reflects only those crimes reported to the police. Experts believe many more incidents are not reported to authorities.
And there is no doubt that hate crimes against Muslims are the most violent, as reflected by the Quebec mosque shootings and the London incident and the most recent attack in Toronto. On April 16, six worshipers were injured in a drive-by shooting outside a Toronto mosque, as reported by AA. Authorities have increased security at mosques and community centers.
But there is hope. Leading members of minority Muslim, black and Asian Canadian communities were encouraged to see the recent Trudeau government's 2022 budget include CA$85 million ($69 million) over four years to fund a "national action plan" to address racism. Mustafa Farooq, the NCCM chief executive officer, said the budget allocation demonstrated that combating Islamophobia was no longer just words but finally resulted in action.