May 29, 2024
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Canada Takes a Stand Against Islamophobia with Historic Official Appointment

Canada’s Anti-Islamophobia Official: Fostering Muslim Support and Protection

Amira Elghawaby said her office and government were focused on tackling the ‘rise of Islamophobia and Islamophobic violent’

Amira Elghawaby is Canada’s first official against Islamophobia. She knows that as a “visible” Muslim, most people in her neighbourhood are supportive and respectful.

She is still haunted by the idea that a “tiny” minority harbors misconceptions about Muslims, and acts on these harmful views.

In a video, she said: “That worries people while they’re standing in their mosques or praying. It worries us when we are out on the streets or in public transport.”

Elghawaby, who is the first country-wide special representative for combating Islamophobia now looks to ensure that the security requirements of the community are met.

According to her office, Canada has experienced more attacks against Muslims in the last six years than any G-7 country.

In the period 2021-2022, hate crimes committed by Muslims were reported to police at a rate of 71% higher.

In partnership with other organizations, her office will launch a practical guide to anti-Muslim hatred later this month. This is in order to give the government and law enforcers the ability to provide the security that Muslims desire.

The guide, based on a model that was first introduced in Europe in 2020 includes steps for improving engagement between community and authorities.

She said, “This guide was actually created by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.”

It exists, but it will be launched here in Canada to allow our communities to engage law enforcement, government and law enforcement personnel to ensure that they do all they can to support our communities as well as other minority communities.

It would be important to recognize that anti-Muslim hatred is a reality in Canada, and to emphasize the importance of contingency plans in case of attacks against Muslims.

The plan also envisages a greater level of security in mosques, particularly for large gatherings like the Muslim Eid festival prayers.

A key objective is improving response times for hate crimes. This includes providing support to survivors and reporting incidents without delay.

Why was this role created?

Elghawaby was born in Cairo, Egypt. She moved to Canada as a child and grew in Ottawa’s East End.

She has a background in journalism and activism. Justin Trudeau, the Canadian Prime Minister, selected her for this position.

She said that this role was created in response to recommendations made at a summit against Islamophobia months after the murder of the Afzaal Family.

In 2021, three generations of a Pakistani-origin families were killed when a truck struck them while they walked on a road near London, a city located about 200 km (125 miles), southwest of Toronto.

Salman Afzaal was a 46-year old physiotherapist. His wife Madiha is 44 and working towards her PhD in engineering at London’s Western University. Their daughter Yumna is 15 years old. And Salman’s mother Talat (74), the matriarch of the family, also died.

The only survivor of the two was their 9-year old son.

Nathaniel Veltman is on trial before a Canadian court. He faces four counts of murder in the first degree, one count for attempted murder, and terrorism charges.

Elghawaby said, “This office has been created to give advice and guidance to federal government regarding how we can combat systemic Islamophobia as well as the hate and violence which have affected our communities in a significant way.”

She stressed that her role is a consultative one and is primarily focused on increasing awareness. She meets with local communities to learn about their concerns and what they want from the authorities. She then relays this information to the federal government.

Islamophobia in Canada

Elghawaby stated that Islamophobia is the main topic of discussion in the country, especially with the beginning of the trial for the man accused of murdering the Afzaal Family.

She said: “We must definitely address the increase in Islamophobia, and Islamophobic violent acts that we, sadly have seen in this country.”

In the last few years, several major hate crimes have occurred against Muslims. These include attacks on Muslim Black Women in Alberta, a 2017 shooting in Quebec City which killed six worshippers and the stabbing of a volunteer mosque caretaker in Toronto, in 2020.

Police have reported a general and steady rise in hate crimes, including an increase of online hatred.

Elghawaby said, “What we see in the numbers, not only over the last few years but going even further, is that there has been a steady and general increase of what police have reported as hate crimes. But this only tells a part of the story.”

It is important to note that Canada has obligations on the international level to address issues of human rights, and to protect their communities. It has obligations at the national level, and this is a focus area for this office.

She said that while her mandate was for domestic affairs, “her office will pay attention and look what’s going on elsewhere.”

Elghawaby said that Canada has specific laws that define what constitutes a hate crime.

There have been many debates about whether this is enough.

She said that “every time there is a crime committed, and there is a bias motive that targets a certain community or member based on identity, be it their gender, race, religion, etc., then this is taken into account in sentencing.”

Afzaal Family Case

She said that the Muslim community is “just heartbroken” over the murders of the Afzaals and that the current trial “is extremely heavy” for them.

She said that people are anxious, and the trial would bring back many painful memories as well as provide more information on the motives of the attacker.

Elghawaby said that Canadians were hopeful about the trial’s outcome.

There’s a great deal of trust in Canadians in the justice system in this case. She added that the commitment to combat Islamophobia was real and there is much hope.

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