Words Alone Will Not End Islamophobia in Canada
Canadian man Nathaniel Veltman has been charged with murder in the case of the Azfaal family in London, Ontario. Veltman deliberately rammed his truck into them when they were out for a stroll in early June in what police called a premeditated attack. Four people were killed and a nine-year-old boy was injured.
While Canadians may be shocked and blindsided by this mass murder, the ingredients for this tragedy have long been in the making. The warning signs of white nationalist violence have been glaring. Hate crimes against Muslims in Canada grew 253 per cent between 2012 and 2015. The 2017 terror attack in a mosque in Québec left six men dead after offering their evening prayers. Last year, a caretaker in a Toronto mosque was stabbed and killed and the person charged with his murder is alleged to have been influenced by neo-Nazi social media posts.
It seems that the killing of a Muslim family presented another opportunity for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to brand himself as a voice of reason and communal harmony. However, Trudeau's amiable and reassuring language was designed to veil a sinister reality which has, for many years, hidden the true face of Canadian politics.
"This was a terrorist attack, motivated by hatred, in the heart of one of our communities," Trudeau told parliament, two days after the incident. Trudeau, whose friendly and progressive liberal facade is often juxtaposed with the rise of conservative, populist politics in much of the Western hemisphere, went on speaking as if he is an activist advocating human rights and equality for all. "If anyone thinks racism and hatred don't exist in this country, I want to say this: How do we explain such violence to a child in a hospital? How can we look families in the eye and say 'Islamophobia isn't real'?"
Ironically, it took years of pressure and concerted lobbying from many civil society organisations, progressives and Muslim groups to finally convince Trudeau to designate 29 January every year as the "National Day of Remembrance and Action on Islamophobia". This specific date was chosen to commemorate the terrorist attack by a Canadian citizen on a Quebec City mosque in 2017. Six Canadian Muslims were killed and 19 others were injured in that particular hate crime.
That was also an opportunity for Trudeau to rail against terrorism and hate. Ultimately, it was all empty rhetoric, as the Canadian government has done little to curb the dangerous phenomenon. This lack of meaningful action makes the government complicit in rising Islamophobia and hate crimes in Canada.
Trudeau told Radio Canada that, while it is "important to underline intolerance directed at people of faith," he wished to "avoid that type of backlash that we've seen when we take these kinds of actions," since the perpetrators of hate crimes are "still a small intolerant minority". Jingoism aside, Trudeau was essentially arguing that recognition and action against Islamophobia were unnecessary as they may give too much attention to a "small" and hateful "minority". But he is utterly wrong. A submission to the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief on November 30, 2020 said that 52 percent of Canadians feel that Muslims can only be trusted "a little" or "not at all," while 42 percent of Canadians think discrimination against Muslims is "mainly their fault." The UN findings are part of a long trajectory of violence and racism targeting Canadian Muslims.
For the first time in Canada, prosecutors say they plan to charge a person with terrorism in a case that involves an alleged Islamophobic act and Canadian Muslims welcomed the news, however, sadly, anti-Muslim terrorism in Canada is likely to increase in the future, not only because hate crime statistics show an upward trajectory, but also because anti-Muslim sentiments often take centre stage in government and the media.
If he is indeed genuine in his desire to root out anti-Muslim terrorism from Canada, the prime minister should start by cleansing his own party of hate speech, end all attempts at criminalising Islam and Muslims and ban hate speech against Muslims in the media.
Terrorism will not end as a result of pompous pronouncements, but through real action. Justin Trudeau seems to be responsible for a lot of the former and none of the latter.