Education and awareness needed to combat rise in hate groups, report finds

A report from the Organization for the Prevention of Violence found that inter-faith and inter-cultural initiatives may be the most successful way to combat a rise of hate groups in Edmonton and around the world.

'It’s not good enough to just not be racist, you have to be anti-racist'

The Al Rashid Mosque in north Edmonton. (CBC/Dave Bajer)

A new report from the Organization for the Prevention of Violence (OPV) is calling for better education and increased community awareness to combat an escalation in the activity of so-called "patriot" groups. 

The report was in response to the rise of far-right nationalist groups internationally according to John McCoy, the executive director for the OPV,  a non-government organization that works to "prevent radicalization and challenge extremist world views" through public awareness and research.

It was also prompted by a visit by members of the group known as The Clann to the Al Rashid Mosque, which McCoy said showed an escalation in behaviour.

He said the goal of his research was to hear from the community in the wake of the incident.

"They identified many of the same ideas that we would put forward in terms of recommendations," he said. "Such as the need to have a bit of a PR campaign around this ... To tell a story that can start to address some of the stereotypes and misconceptions that fuel the kind of activity that we're seeing among hate groups."

In January, Edmonton police were called to the mosque located at 132nd Avenue and 113th Street after two men entered the building. When mosque staff asked what they were doing they left and rejoined two other men outside.

A social media post from the mosque after the event said the men were also involved in a confrontation with members of the community that was live streamed on Facebook.

The report describes The Clann as a splinter patriot group that was formed by some of the former members of the Edmonton branch of the Soldiers of Odin (SOO). The SOO roots can be traced back to Finland and, according to the report, their leadership has ties to white supremacists and neo-nazis.  

At the time of the incident, Edmonton police said the hate crimes unit was aware of the group involved and was monitoring their activity. No charges have been laid.

The report highlights the fact that while these actions may fall below the threshold of a hate crime they have lasting, negative impacts on the community.

McCoy said government and law enforcement need to examine hate crimes legislation.

"When we have serious incidents like this. When we have an act of intimidation, people actually showing up and physically intimidating worshippers … We don't currently have the necessary tools to lay charges in those kinds of cases," McCoy said.

The report surveyed 70 members of the Al Rashid Mosque about their feelings after the January incident. 

One third of respondents said they felt surprised or shocked by the incident, which McCoy said is seen as a positive response.

"It suggested that many individuals, especially newcomers, they come to Canada and they think of us as this multicultural, welcoming society that's maybe not as impacted by some of the populism and racist political discourse that we see in other parts of the western world."

We don't want to put our head in the sand and pretend this is not happening.- Noor Al-Henedy, Al Rashid Mosque. 

Along with education, the report also suggested increased vigilance and security as a measure to combat hate. Noor Al-Henedy, spokesperson for the Al Rashid Mosque, said there is an increased sense of awareness among community members.

"We don't want to put our head in the sand and pretend this is not happening," Al-Henedy said. "It did happen. And other incidents did happen where people were hurt. So, we don't want to just pretend that everything is fine but at the same time we will not let fear control us."

Al-Henedy said the mosque has continued to maintain its open-door policy even after the incident with members of the Clann. 

She also believes education and understanding can go a long way to help. 

"From what we've seen the good really outweighs the bad," Al-Henedy said. "It's just it's going to take a little bit of effort from all of us on the good side to educate, to move people. We are at a point where it's not good enough to just not be racist, you have to be anti-racist. You have to fight it."