Ottawa police are asking Muslims to report "all forms of abuse" after three Muslim women reported being verbally harassed by strangers while wearing a head scarf, including one incident at a polling station.

Staff Sgt. David M. Zackrias, head of the diversity and race relations section, told CBC News that leaders in the Muslim community passed along concerns to police.

He sent an email to Muslim groups to encourage those who are "being victimized" to reach out to police.

"We're ensuring that these types of incidents are reported so we have a clear picture of what's happening and if there is a crime committed we need to investigate those incidents," Zackrias said. "If people are feeling intimidated and threatened, they should be reporting those incidents to police.

staff sgt david zackrias

Staff Sgt. David Zackrias with the diversity and race relations section says leaders in the city's Muslim community passed along the concerns to police. (Andrew Foote/CBC Ottawa)

In one case, a woman was told to go back to her own country while she was voting, in another a woman was called a terrorist by a passerby downtown, said Amira Elghawaby, from the National Council of Canadian Muslims, an Ottawa-based group that tracks anti-Muslim assaults.

"The women are visibly Muslim, they wear the head scarf, and so certainly there's a lot of concern in the communities right now about a sense of safety," she said. "It's very important to track what's going on."

National spike in anti-Muslim incidents

Elghawaby encouraged victims not to be afraid to report harassment or anti-Muslim messages, which defaced federal election signs in Montreal in September.

She said that her organization has seen a spike across the country in anti-Muslim messaging recently as face coverings, such as the niqab, became a debate during the federal election campaign.

Zunera Ishaq, who won a court battle to wear a niqab while taking the citizenship oath, took part in the ceremony on Oct. 2.

"Some people feel that [the increase in anti-Muslim incidents] may be linked to the anti-Muslim rhetoric that has been very present in the current election and so we're really encouraging people to report any kind of hate incident, hate crime so that we can respond as communities to that," she said.

The Ottawa police diversity and race relations section can be reached on the phone at 613-236-1222 ext. 5010 or via email at