Edmonton Muslim community leaders push policy changes to combat Islamophobia

The National Council of Canadian Muslims released policy recommendations aimed at combating Islamophobia Monday with news conferences held in several cities across Canada, including Edmonton.

Recommendations from national Muslim organization aimed at 3 levels of government

Members of Edmonton's Muslim community spoke in support of the recommendations, including Al Rashid Mosque's director of communications Noor Al-Henedy. (John Shyptika/CBC)

The National Council of Canadian Muslims released policy recommendations aimed at combating Islamophobia Monday with news conferences held in several cities across Canada.

Various leaders in Edmonton's Muslim community spoke to reporters in front of the Sahaba Mosque in the Boyle Street neighbourhood about the urgent need for action. The city has become a focal point for Islamophobic incidents in Canada, with multiple attacks on Muslim women wearing hijabs in recent months.

"The time for thoughts and prayers have passed," NCCM spokesperson Adil Hasan said. "We need to see concrete action and we need to see it now."

The recommendations are aimed at all three levels of government and include Criminal Code amendments for hate crimes, anti-Islamophobia strategies in provincial education, and municipal anti-racism campaigns. 

They come in advance of a national summit on Islamophobia on Thursday, which was called for by MPs in June following the attack on the Afzaal family in London, Ont.

One municipal-level recommendation is to invest in celebrating the local history of the Muslim community.

Women played a crucial role in establishing Al Rashid, Canada's first mosque, in the 1930s — and then saving it from demolition in the 1990s, said Noor Al-Henedy, the mosque's director of communications.

"And today we stand here and we're being attacked for simply having the audacity of wearing our hijab," she said. 

"What happened to our city?"

Al-Henedy said action needs to be taken today to combat Islamophobia and change the narrative.

"Because 20 years from now I don't want my daughter to look back and talk about Muslim women and this being our story. This cannot possibly be our story."

Habiba Mohamud said recent attacks have been the source of vicarious trauma for members of the Muslim community. (John Shyptika/CBC)

Hibaba Mohamud, the federal Liberal candidate for Edmonton-Griesbach, said the recent spate of hate-motivated attacks on Black and Muslim women affects the entire community.

She said victims had become housebound, unable to go about their daily lives out of fear. Mohamud spoke of the need for a national fund for victims of Islamophobia, one of the NCCM's federal recommendations.

She said Islamophobia is endemic in Canada.

"It's a systemic problem and it needs a systemic solution to counter it."

The NCCM crafted the recommendations after receiving input from mosques and community organizations across the country, including the Edmonton Council of Muslim Communities.

Its chair, Masood Peracha, said more co-ordination between the three levels of government — including when it pertains to law — would be beneficial.

"So that anything that is promoted at, let's say, federal levels can also flow through to the provinces and also to civic governments to the extent that it is appropriate."

Public places bylaw review

Another municipal recommendation aimed against violent Islamophobia is to pass street harassment bylaws with ticketing authority. The NCCM cited a recent step by Edmonton city council as an example of the approach.

A motion passed unanimously in April calls for administration to work with the city's anti-racism advisory committee to review and recommend changes to the anti-bullying provisions of the public places bylaw. It will look at including in its offences section any harassment based on race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity.

The results of the review are expected to be on the agenda for the Aug. 11 meeting of council's community and public services committee.