Muslim women call for increased protection following latest Alberta attack

Muslim women in the Edmonton area say a daytime attack on two sisters wearing hijabs has left them fearful for their safety.

'I am truly scared and I always have to look over my shoulder'

Friends Houda Alkasm (left) and Nesrine Merhi-Tarrabain (right) say an attack this week on two sisters wearing hijabs has left them shaken. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

Nesrine Merhi-Tarrabain no longer feels safe in St. Albert, Alta., the city she has called home for more than a decade.

As she crosses the edge of Alderwood Park she feels a new sense of dread. Even side by side, Merhi-Tarrabain and her friend Houda Alkasm feel unsafe.

Earlier this week on the same path, two young Muslim women in hijabs — sisters in their 20s — were violently attacked.

"It easily could have been me, or my sister or my friend," Merhi-Tarrabain said Friday. "Lately, I am truly scared and I always have to look over my shoulder."

Merhi-Tarrabain said she has been increasingly scared by recent attacks on Muslims. She no longer walks alone. She is now afraid of going to the grocery store without a male escort. 

"I don't think this should happen to any Canadian, where we are scared to go out because we don't know if we are going to be attacked for our religion, our colour, for what we wear," she said.

"The [St. Albert] attack happened in broad daylight and it happened really close to home." 

Hate, fear and anger: Muslim women on Edmonton attacks

1 year ago
Duration 1:55
Muslim women in Edmonton stepped up Friday to decry the hatred fuelling attacks on women wearing a hijab — and the fear and anger they are wrestling with.

RCMP are investigating the assault as a hate-motivated crime. Alkasm said it is a reminder that wearing a hijab can make her a target for hatred. 

"It's very scary," said Alkasm, who lives in Edmonton. "To not be able to enjoy something as simple as walking through a park, it is scary. We have to think twice." 

The St. Albert attack happened around 12:30 p.m. Wednesday. One woman was pushed to the ground and knocked unconscious by a man yelling racial slurs.He then pulled out a knife and held the other woman to the ground with the blade against her throat.

One of the women was taken to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. The second woman had minor injuries. 

As of Friday afternoon, RCMP were continuing to search for the suspect, described as a white man in his 50s. 

    Wednesday's assault came weeks after a Muslim family was run down and killed in London, Ont.

    Houda Alkasm (left) and Nesrine Merhi-Tarrabain (right) walk through the park where two sisters in hijabs were assaulted on Wednesday. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

    A number of recent attacks targeting Muslim women have been reported in Edmonton, including earlier this month when a Somali Canadian woman wearing a hijab was reportedly grabbed by the neck and pushed to the sidewalk.

    Wednesday's assault has renewed calls for decisive government action to address anti-Muslim hate. It has been condemned by politicians, including the mayor of St. Albert and Alberta's justice minister.

    Premier Jason Kenney described the incident Friday as "deeply disturbing" and said the crime is part of a growing "pattern of violence" against Muslim Albertans.

    Kenney said the province is focused on targeted enforcement, with initiatives like the new integrated enforcement hate crimes unit announced earlier this month.

    "This is not who we are as Albertans," he said. "Alberta is a welcoming society and it must be a place of safety for everyone." 

    'We need action' 

    Politicians' words mean little to Nida Farooqui, who grew up in Edmonton. She wears a hijab and fears she may become a target.

    "These words of condolences and passive statements … when I'm out alone, those statements are not doing anything for me," she said. Farooqui is calling for harsher punishments for hate crimes.

    "If you're waiting for someone to be killed, that's already happened. So why are there no actual concrete legal measures and emergency action?

    "Enough with these words. We need action." 

    Trent Daley, a Muslim community activist in Edmonton and the Alberta director for Canadians United Against Hate, said the province has been too complacent about the recent attacks. 

    He said the government should set up a nonpartisan committee to fight anti-Muslim hate, and dedicate more funding to community organizations that combat hatred.

    Daley plans to attend an anti-hate rally being planned for Friday night in Edmonton's Churchill Square to show his solidarity with the sisters who were targeted. 

    "It's like this kind of a numb feeling now," Daley said. "People in the Muslim community are just expecting it at this point. It's not a surprise, it's just anxiousness about where it's going to hit next, who it's going to hit next."


    Wallis Snowdon is a journalist with CBC Edmonton focused on bringing stories to the website and the airwaves. She loves helping people tell their stories on issues ranging from health care to the courts. Originally from New Brunswick, Wallis has reported in communities across Canada, from Halifax to Fort McMurray. She previously worked as a digital and current affairs producer with CBC Radio in Edmonton. Wallis has a bachelor of journalism (honours) from the University of King's College in Halifax, N.S. Share your stories with Wallis at wallis.snowdon@cbc.ca.

    With files from Elise Von Scheel