Savannah Awde, Editor
It was just before 8 p.m. on Jan. 29, 2017, when a lone gunman entered the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City and open fired, killing six people and injuring 19.
One year later, around the same time, a large group of Ottawa locals gathered at the Human Rights Memorial in front of city hall to remember the lives lost to Islamophobia. The vigil itself was organized by the National Council for Canadian Muslims (NCCM), and was part of several vigils taking place across Canada.
Photo: Savannah Awde.
Although the focus of the vigil was to remember, Leila Nasr, communications coordinator at the NCCM, also believes it’s important to note that “what happened on January 29th didn’t happen within a vacuum.”
“There was a documented increase in Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate crimes and hate incidents,” she said. “And we saw from 2012 to 2015, Statistics Canada reported that there was a 253 per cent increase in police-reported hate crimes. Which is huge.”
She emphasized that although we tend to think of Canada as a very inclusive and peaceful place, recognizing the crimes levelled at Muslim Canadians helps identify the scope of the problem, and therefore how Canada can begin to tackle it.
As people attending the vigil packed into Jean-Pigott Hall, where warm drinks awaited, I caught up with Imam Sikander Hashmi, who spoke with me about the responsibility we all have in intervening in these acts of hate against Muslims.
Photos: Savannah Awde.
“Whenever we come across any instance of hatred or bigotry, we do have a responsibility to do whatever is in our power to stand up and challenge it. It could be an incident in the public … But also in non-violent situations where, if you have a Facebook friend, or someone you follow on Twitter is posting messages which are bigoted,” he said.
Hashmi points out, in reference to calling out bigotry on social media, that it’s important to consider that people may not necessarily be malicious, simply ignorant to the harm they’re causing.
“I think we need to challenge it in a nice and positive way,” he suggested, “and explain to them that their approach, if it’s a hateful approach, is not going to lead to anything positive or anything good. Neither for them, nor for anyone else.”
For Nasr, the responsibility to intervene extends to reporting the crime observed, both to law enforcement and to the NCCM, which tracks incidents of hate crime across the country. The tracker includes reported physical, verbal, and online incidents.
“I think reporting those things is really important so that we can understand the full extent of the problem that we’re dealing with, because if we don’t know we can’t deal with it.”
Photos: Savannah Awde.
The NCCM has called for Jan. 29 to be marked as a National Day of Remembrance and Action on Islamophobia, and so far has received support from over 70 organizations, plus additional community partners.
Nasr also encourages anyone who can to donate to Aymen Derbali’s crowdfunding campaign, where all funds will be used to ensure he has a wheelchair accessible home. Derbali, in a remarkable showing of intervention, put his body in front of the gunman to try and shield others in the mosque. You can donate to the campaign here until February 9.