Muslims in Toronto say a string of potential hate crimes that have struck southern Ontario in the days following the horrific Paris attacks are unacceptable in Canada.
On Monday, Toronto police said a Muslim woman reported she was attacked from behind while picking up her children from school and beaten by two white men who called her a "terrorist."
The attack comes after a mosque in Peterborough was badly damaged by a fire that appears to have been deliberately set. And in Kitchener, a Hindu temple's windows were broken by rock-throwing vandals — in that case, police haven't ruled out the possibility that the attack was a misguided retaliation for what happened in Paris.
'It's very frightening because think about that woman … I don't know how often she'll go out now and what she'll feel.' - Alia Hogben, executive director of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women
All of the incidents are "unacceptable, of course," said Inass el-Hassen, who was dropping off her children at Grenoble public school, where Monday's assault took place.
In a multicultural country like Canada, el-Hassen said, people must "accept everyone as one."
El-Hassen was also quick to point out that like many Canadians she was angry about the attacks in France, which killed at least 129 people and left more than 350 injured. Islam, she said, is a "religion of peace," and what ISIS did violates that.
The violence in Canada, meanwhile, appears to be the work of a few malicious individuals, but that hasn't eased the concern in the Muslim community.
Muslim women easy targets, group says
Alia Hogben, executive director of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, said she's hoping the recent attacks are isolated incidents, but sadly she doesn't think that's the case. Muslim women, she added, may be most at risk because it's easy to identify their religion.
"I think they're being targeted, definitely, because as soon as you see a woman with a hijab on, with a head covering on, you know she's probably a Muslim and therefore fair target for your discrimination and your hatred and intolerance," she said.
Hogben said she's been comforted by the public outrage sparked by the assault, though she remains nervous about what might happen in the future.
"It's very frightening because think about that woman … I don't know how often she'll go out now and what she'll feel," she said.
Monday's attack took place in Flemingdon Park, an area featuring a largely multicultural neighbourhood that's also next to Thorncliffe Park, which has one of the largest Muslim populations in the city. Residents of the area — both Muslim and not — were shaken up by the incident.
"Honestly I don't even know what to think … this is Canada," said Saana Mohamed.
"It is a hate crime."
Joanna Whitney, who also lives near the school, said there was "no need" for the attack.
"It makes me want to cry, honestly," she said.
National organizations decry attack
An online map tracking hate crimes, maintained by the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), shows there have been several other hate-driven incidents in the area, including threatening graffiti and vandalism.
"Such hateful and cowardly acts are abhorrent to all Canadians who stand united in condemning xenophobia and hatred," NCCM Executive Director Ihsaan Gardee said in a news release.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama`at, also denounced the crime.
"These hateful incidents in Peterborough and Toronto proved to be completely contradictory to Canadian values," the group said in a news release.
The organization urged its members to "respond to all hate crimes with prayers, and only prayers."
"We need to be vigilant in our communities, whether it's in Flemingdon in my own riding, or in Peterborough, or anywhere in the province and the country, not to let these horrible events trigger hatred," she said.
"I think that this is actually a time we need to reach out to our Muslim neighbours and friends and recognize the acts that took place in Paris were acts of terrorism and not borne of religion."