Hate mail sent to Edmonton mosque touches off provincial political battle

A piece of hate mail sent to an Edmonton mosque prompted immediate condemnations by politicians and sparked debate about how provincial leaders are denouncing such acts in the lead up to an election.

Letter was sent to Markaz-Ul-Islam in southeast Edmonton

Markaz-Ul-Islam in southeast Edmonton received a piece of hate mail this week. (Facebook/Markaz-Ul-Islam)

A piece of hate mail sent to an Edmonton mosque prompted immediate condemnations by politicians and sparked debate about how provincial leaders are denouncing such acts in the lead up to an election.

The letter, which was left at Markaz-Ul-Islam on 36th Avenue and 79th Street, was posted online Wednesday by the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council.

The bottom of the letter displays the logos for the United Conservative Party and a group called "The Clann."

Faisal Suri, president of AMPAC, said he doesn't think the UCP had anything to do with the letter. But he said the party needs to firmly denounce Islamophobia.

"I want to make a request, an ask, that the United Conservative Party needs to stand up and condemn Islamophobia," he said in an interview with CBC.

"We don't want to hear the words anti-Muslim bigotry. This is real; anti-Semitism is real, Islamophobia is real. We want them to take the words and condemn it. We have a lot of respect for them, but I think it's high time they come out and say, 'We condemn Islamophobia.' Period."

In a statement on Facebook, UCP Leader Jason Kenney wrote that "hatred and bigotry has no place in our Alberta."

The letter left at the mosque was not connected to the UCP in any way, he wrote.

"In fact, I wouldn't be completely surprised if the UCP logo was deliberately used in this letter in order to smear our big tent, tolerant party."

Premier Rachel Notley first took to Twitter on Wednesday morning to condemn the letter in a three-sentence statement. She then posted a longer statement to her personal Facebook page, in which she called out Kenney for "dog whistle" politics.

"This is a leadership moment for Mr. Kenney and a test of his character," she wrote. "I'm joining AMPAC and Albertans to say no more mixed signals, no more dog whistles, no more defending racist candidates and policies."

"It's time to clearly condemn Islamophobia and stand with us to fight back against this spreading racism and intolerance."

Several people running for UCP nominations have been condemned for hateful statements, including Cindy Ross, a candidate for the nomination in Calgary-Fish Creek, who once compared Muslims in Fort McMurray to bank robbers. She later lost the nomination contest to Richard Gotfried.

Irfan Chaudhry, who heads the office of human rights, diversity and equity at MacEwan University, said there is "power" in language that specifically condemns hateful acts.

"When you see something that's racist, say it's racist," he said. "When you see something that's sexist, you say it's sexist. If you see something that's homophobic, you say it's homophobic.

"That's where the power in language does reaffirm a sincerity in the condemnation, versus just saying all types of discrimination should be detested. That's very broad."

He also noted that Notley's statement on Facebook started off as a purely condemning an Islamophobic act, but the second part of her statement sounded more like "active campaigning."

"When it gets political is within the context of a looming provincial election, and so any opportunity to try to distance yourself from your opponent will be taken."

The letter to Markaz-Ul-Islam arrived less than two weeks after a pair of "suspicious men" walked into a different Edmonton mosque, one wearing a toque with the word "infidel" written on it in Arabic. That incident was reported to police.

Edmonton police have also confirmed the hate crimes and violent extremism unit is investigating the letter sent to Markaz-Ul-Islam.

On Wednesday evening AMPAC posted a note from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condeming the letter.