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We Will Not Forget #January29


Six years ago, a lone gunman, Alexandre Bissonnette, entered a mosque in Quebec City, killed six innocent worshippers during evening prayers and injured countless others. It’s ranked amongst the worst terrorist attacks on Canadians, and the second worst attack on Muslims in a western country after New Zealand, where a lone gunman killed 49 worshippers during Friday prayers. 

Immediately after the attack, six years ago, there was an outrage amongst Canadians, uproar in the media, and calls to address the rising Islamophobia and attacks on Muslim Canadians by the politicians. 

Six years later, not much has changed. Whether its Bill 21 in Quebec, institutional Islamophobia such as anti-Muslim policies in the corporate sector, such as financial institutions, or government agencies such as CRA scrutinizing Canadian Muslim charities. Above all, rise in anti-Muslim hate crime. In 2021, the NCCM reported that in the past five years, “more Muslims have been killed in targeted hate attacks in Canada than any other G-7 country – because of Islamophobia.” In 2022, attacks against Muslims, especially Black Muslim women, remained a threat.

A report published by Georgetown University in December 2022 cited, “The debate over Bill 21 (Act Respecting the Laicity of the State) continued in the province of Quebec. Last year the country’s top court upheld most of the bill, which “bars civil servants in positions of ‘authority’ from wearing religious symbols at work.” Under the policy, judges, police officers, teachers and public servants are banned from “wearing symbols such as the kippah, turban, or hijab while at work.” When drafting the bill, Quebec’s government tactically “pre-emptively invoked the constitutional notwithstanding clause when drafting the legislation.” This meant that it would be significantly more difficult to bring challenges against the policy in court.”

“Bill 21 has had significant impacts primarily on the lives of Muslim women in Quebec. In August, the Association for Canadian Studies released a survey of Quebecers, which found that “although all three religious minority groups surveyed said they’ve experienced negative impacts due to Bill 21, the effects are being most acutely felt by Muslims and, in particular, Muslim women.” 78 percent of Muslim women surveyed said “their feeling of being accepted as a full-fledged member of Quebec society had worsened over the last three years.” Additionally, 53 percent said they’d heard “prejudicial remarks about Muslims from family, friends or colleagues.” The survey also found that 57 percent of Muslim women said they’d been treated unfairly by a person in a position of authority. Some of the women talked about incidences of intimidation and harassment they encountered in public, including disparaging comments. Perhaps one of the most disturbing revelations was that two-thirds of the women surveyed “said they’d been a victim of and/or a witness to a hate crime,” with 73 percent saying their feeling of being safe in public had worsened.”

Last year, “the Muslim Association of Canada (MAC), Canada’s largest grassroots Muslim organization, launched a legal challenge against the Canada Revenue Agency. The government agency responsible for tax collection and oversight began an audit of the charity back in 2015. As the audit continues, MAC claims that the investigation is tainted with Islamophobia, and that a possible revocation of the organization’s charitable status would have severe impacts on the community, as the organization provides services to more than “150,000 Canadians who attend schools, mosques and community centers in its network.” The lawyer representing MAC stated that the CRA has “leveled unsubstantiated allegations against the charity which include ‘innuendo’ about improper foreign ties and questions about the charitable benefits of its youth programs.” The organization believes that anti-Muslim bias is to blame for the CRA’s allegations against it.”

“In a 2021 report, University of Toronto’s Institute of Islamic Studies found that there is basis to MAC’s concern. In their study, researchers concluded that when the government’s “anti-terrorism financing and anti-radicalization policies are…operationalized by the CRA’s Charities Directorate and the Review and Analysis Division (RAD), they create the conditions for potential structural bias against Muslim-led charities.” 

“An August piece by journalist Steven Zhou investigated how financial guidelines followed by banks regarding risk assessments were disproportionately impacting Muslim organizations and their ability to carry out their missions. He called it a “systemic problem.” Zhou found that “Mosques, schools, community centers, food banks, and humanitarian groups operating as charities that issue tax receipts are being embargoed by major banks and online financial services.”

“Quebec wasn’t the only province to make the news this year. In Alberta, the region’s chief of the Human Rights Commission made headlines after previous Islamophobia comments resurfaced, with many calling for him to resign as they questioned his ability to carry out his mandate. In September it was revealed the Justice Minister Tyler Shandro as well as the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) and 27 other community associations called on lawyer Collin May to resign from his position. They all pointed to May’s previous statements found in his 2009 journal review of a book, in which he said that Islam was “not a peaceful religion misused by radicals” and instead was “one of the most militaristic religions known to man”. 

“In January, Islamic Relief Canada released a report on the impact of these hate crimes on the community. Researchers spoke with Muslims about their experiences and concluded that consequences of anti-Muslim racism include “emotional and mental trauma, stress in personal and professional relationships, and even long-term physical injury.” Negative experiences led to some individuals making massive changes in their lives such as switching schools, and in one case resulted in serious conversations about leaving Canada. The study revealed how Islamophobia is normalized in society as individuals do not feel safe nor welcomed simply because of their beliefs. In April, the government agency, Statistics Canada found that “hate crimes against Muslim communities across Canada increased by 71 percent in 2021.” Many also noted that even with this drastic rise, it didn’t capture the full extent of Islamophobia in the country, as many  hate crimes go unreported.”