Alberta Islamophobia hotline surprised by volume of calls

Since launching in late March, an Islamophobia hotline has received 78 calls or emails from people who may have been targeted by slurs on the street or being harassed at work.

'We were kind of expecting perhaps one or two a week'

Racist and threatening words were spray painted on property and cars at Calgary's Tuscany LRT station in December 2015. (CBC)

Since launching in late March, an Islamophobia hotline is getting almost one call day.

"I didn't anticipate that we would have such a high volume of calls," said Mustafa Farooq, with the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council, who started the hotline.

" We were kind of expecting perhaps one or two a week."

The line has received 78 calls or emails from people who may have been targeted by slurs while walking on the street or harassed at work.

The callers, from across Alberta, are often unsure what to do, whether the incident warrants a police report or some other step, Farooq said during an interview on CBC Edmonton's Radio Active.

He recalls an incident when a person walking along Whyte Avenue in Edmonton was targeted by a construction worker yelling racist slurs.

"They didn't what to do. 'Am I supposed to be calling the cops?' You don't want to make a big deal about this on Whyte Avenue."

The feeling of shame and alienation is so strong that most people don't know how to respond, he said.

"If someone comes up to you and starts screaming at you to go back to your country and starts threatening you that they're going to hurt you, most people don't expect that here in Canada. As a result so many people just don't know how to react.

"I had a woman call and she kept weeping copiously, because someone had hurled some slurs at her."

The woman had lived in Canada for 40 years and never experienced anything like it, he said.

The worst thing about racism is the sense or feeling you just don't belong, he said.

"You're born or raised in Alberta … and then all of a sudden someone makes you feel like you're not welcome."

Farooq, who was born and raised in Edmonton, said in his experience "the vast majority of Albertans are so friendly and amazing."

But nonetheless he's seeing a spike in Islamophobia in Alberta that is following a national trend that began about two years ago.

The hotline, staffed by six people including four lawyers, a communication consultant and a social worker, tries to offer callers a preliminary solution or referral within 48 hours.

"It's not much," Farooq said. "It's a very humble effort, but it's a way people can get a little bit of justice."

The hotline number is 1-800-607-3312. Callers will be asked to leave a message and expect a response within 24 hours.