Edmonton

New Alberta program will help women fight anti-Black, Islamophobic hate crimes in court

A new court support program for women of African descent has been launched to combat anti-Black and Islamophobic hate crimes in Alberta.

‘People don't have to suffer alone and they don't have to be silent,’ advocate says

Dunia Nur, president of the African-Canadian Civic Engagement Council, and members of the Africa Centre meet with Alberta cabinet ministers and MLAs on Nov. 24. (Rob Williams/Government of Alberta)

A new court support program for women of African descent has been launched to combat anti-Black and Islamophobic hate crimes in Alberta.

The program will help Black women experiencing hate-motivated violence, systemic racism, discrimination, or who are fleeing domestic violence in Alberta, navigate the legal system. 

Dunia Nur, president of the African-Canadian Civic Engagement Council, said the program will help marginalized women know they're not alone.

"Issues of gender-based violence, anti-Black racism and Islamophobia are historical, and the sad reality is ... it will continue to harm our community," Nur said.

"Programs like this show that people don't have to suffer alone and they don't have to be silent."

Edmonton has seen a spate of attacks against Black women wearing head coverings in the past year.

Advocates say those attacks are underreported, and sometimes, victims who come forward are discouraged from pursuing charges against perpetrators.

Nur said the court support program will make it easier for women to report hate-motivated incidents. 

"When an attack happens, for example, filling out the papers can be very tedious and being in court by yourself — whether it's domestic violence, hate-based violence — it could be very difficult for them," she said.

"So what we do is we support them in those areas."

The court support program will share $250,000 in provincial funding with two other programs designed to support women of colour.

Alberta cabinet minister Rajan Sawhney, MLA for Calgary-North East, earmarked the funding for the program just weeks before her daughter was allegedly grabbed, pushed, sworn at and chased down a downtown Calgary sidewalk in June.

Sawhney has held the transportation portfolio since July, but at the time she was minister of community and social services. The incident wasn't her family's first encounter with hate-fuelled violence, she said.

"I've experienced various forms of discrimination as well over the years. But when it came to my daughter, I was quite honestly, I was livid because I thought that times had changed and I thought that society was better," Sawhney said. 

"We felt the impacts of it for quite some time afterwards. So imagine if you don't have access to support, how much worse it could be."

Sawhney said the court support program is about freedom. 

"It's important that we also communicate to some of those communities that feel vulnerable and feel somewhat marginalized that this is their home, that they belong here, that they have a right to enjoy every aspect of life just like everybody else does," Sawhney said. 

"They should be able to take public transportation, they should be able to go to the movies, they should be able to walk on Whyte Avenue and enjoy the same kind of liberty and freedom that everybody else enjoys."

Nur also hopes the program will put more pressure on public officials to protect the public.  

"There is literally a pandemic, a violent pandemic against the most vulnerable sector in your community, which is women and young girls who are racialized and are a religious minority," Nur said. "And everyone stayed silent."

In addition to access to lawyers and housing if needed, the program includes mental health clinics for Black women.


For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here

(CBC)

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