Cambridge, Ont., mosque vandalized in 'act of hate'

Baitul Kareem Mosque in Cambridge, Ont., is facing extensive damages worth tens of thousands of dollars, including stolen property, as a result of vandalism, according to a statement by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at Canada.

Security heightened at mosque, prayer centres across Canada

The Baitul Kareem Mosque in Cambridge, Ont., is facing extensive damages worth tens of thousands of dollars, including stolen property, as a result of vandalism, according to a statement by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at Canada. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

A mosque in Cambridge, Ont., has been vandalized in what officials are calling an act of hate.

Baitul Kareem Mosque had extensive damages and stolen property, according to a statement by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama'at Canada on Thursday.

The statement calls it an "act of hate, with damages exceeding tens of thousands of dollars."

"We are deeply troubled to learn of this attack on the Baitul Kareem Mosque," said Lal Khan Malik, national president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama'at Canada said in a release.

"Our mosques have always served as symbols of peace in the community, and it is hurtful for us to see our mosque attacked and vandalized in this fashion."

Asif Khan, national public relations director for Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama'at Canada, said in an interview that it's believed the damage was done between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday, "in the middle of the day, which is alarming."

Khan said police were called when the imam went to the mosque at 4 p.m. and heard a commotion inside. Officers arrived at the scene and spoke with people outside the mosque, he said.

"There's quite a bit of damage," Khan said, noting the door had been smashed in, the kitchen area was ripped apart, with the stove and other appliances being damaged. As well, electronics were taken and the surveillance system was damaged.

Islamic literature was "tossed all over the room," he added.

Maqbool Sheikh is with Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama'at Canada. He went inside the Baitul Kareem Mosque in Cambridge on Thursday to survey the damage. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

Standing in the mosque and surveying the damage, Maqbool Sheikh, also of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama'at Canada, said people were feeling " little bit distraught."

"We don't know 100 per cent for sure what the motivation was behind the people who did this, but needless to say, as you can see from around us here, there was an element of hate for sure," he said.

Mosques are not just a place to worship, Sheikh said, but also a place for members to connect with the community.

"We've had some great outreach by all of our neighbours and Canadians, people just dropping by today saying we heard about it, we support you and we agree with what they're telling us, which is that this is just an act of a minority but something we need to address."

Police investigation underway

In a release sent out Thursday, Waterloo Regional Police Service (WRPS) said they received a report of a break-in and property damage at the mosque around 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday. 

Police said they believe the entry was forced and a suspect or suspects caused "significant damage to the mosque and stole property."

"We are deeply disturbed by this senseless criminal act and the significant destruction," WRPS Chief Bryan Larkin said in the release.

"Places of worship are sacred, and this criminal act cannot and will not be tolerated in Waterloo Region. Rest assured, we are actively investigating and committing appropriate resources to this investigation. My thoughts are with our Muslim community as they cope with this destructive and hateful crime."

The Baitul Kareem Mosque is located in the Galt area of Cambridge. The sign on the outside the building reads, 'Love for all, hatred for none.' (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

Members of the WRPS forensic team processed the scene. 

Const. Andre Johnson told a media briefing Thursday afternoon that he had no information on any suspects that he could provide. Members of the service's hate crimes unit are investigating.

He said there's been outreach by the service's equity, diversity and inclusion unit to the mosque and other members of the region's Muslim community, "to offer our support and remorse over the incident as well as to provide safety information."

"As part of the investigation, we will have regular patrols in that area, and again, we are still appealing to anyone with any information — we're urging them to reach out to police or to leave an anonymous tip with Crime Stoppers."

Security heightened

The statement said the national Canadian Muslim community is "shocked" to learn about the incident.

It said police are investigating and "have collected evidence at the scene."

We hope that we can change hearts. We're not out to get anybody. Whoever did this damage, if you're willing to come to the table, we're willing to forgive.- Asif Khan, Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama'at Canada

Meanwhile, the organization said it has heightened security measure at its mosques and prayer centres across Canada.

The National Council of Canadian Muslims said on Facebook it was "greatly disturbed to hear about the ransacking and vandalism."

The council called on police "to conduct a thorough investigation, and to investigate as potentially hate motivated."

Cambridge Mayor Kathryn McGarry visited the mosque on Thursday and said she was "shocked and I was horrified" by the vandalism.

She wanted to meet with members of the mosque to express her deepest sympathy to them.

"Any act of vandalism, especially in a place of worship, is a hateful act," she said. "It's spiteful, it's mean, it's hateful and I think the important thing is members of our community feel safe."

She said the acts "unsettle the community," and in particular members of the mosque, and said she wanted to offer support to help them rebuild. She said people in Cambridge don't want to see racist acts in the community.

"We're above that," she said. "We want to ensure that everyone can live here peacefully and not have to face some of these hateful acts."

Cambridge Mayor Kathryn McGarry visited the Baitul Kareem Mosque on Thursday morning after reports parts of the building had been vandalized. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

During a media briefing Thursday afternoon, Premier Doug Ford said "there's no room for any hate here" in Ontario.

He called for the justice system to be tougher on perpetrators of hate crimes.

"We have to make sure when we catch these people, they get charged, and then, this is a shout-out to the judges — we can't slap them on the wrist and let them walk out the door the next day. We have to have some tough sentences."

Ford said that when that happens, it's frustrating for the community and police.

He also noted the Criminal Code is a federal matter.

"So, Prime Minister [Justin] Trudeau, let's get tough on crime, let's get tough on criminals and let's make our streets safe," the premier said.

Rise in anti-Muslim hate

The damage to the Cambridge mosque comes as there has been a rise in anti-Muslim hate across Canada in recent weeks.

Members of a mosque in Hamilton have said they are "gravely concerned" for the family of Imam Kamal Gurgi, as police investigate what they're calling a hate crime against a Muslim woman and her adult daughter Monday evening.

A 40-year-old man from Cambridge faces a number of charges, including assault with a weapon, dangerous operation of a motor vehicle and uttering death threats.

Inside the Baitul Kareem Mosque, items were strewn about the kitchen space after a person or persons entered the building, causing significant damage and stealing electronic equipment, officials said. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

It also comes just over a month after four members of a Muslim family were killed in London, Ont., after police say a 20-year-old driver motivated by hate ran them over. Salman Afzaal, 46, his wife Madiha Salman, 44, their daughter Yumna Afzaal, 15, and Salman's mother, Talat Afzaal, 74, were killed after a pickup truck jumped a curb and ran into them. 

The couple's son, nine-year-old Fayez, was injured but is recovering.

Last month, an Edmonton mosque was vandalized with a swastika, and police at the time said it may have been related to two other instances of hate vandalism in the area. 

The federal government has previously announced an emergency national summit on Islamophobia would occur July 22.

'We're willing to forgive'

Khan said members of the mosque are preparing for Eid Al-Adha next Tuesday. The mosque opened in 2006 and they've done a number of outreach events in the community.

"Our local community is obviously distraught," Khan said. "It does have the members confused and I guess a little bit alarmed."

He said young members of the mosque will help clean up the vandalism and they're prepared to complete whatever repairs are needed. He said it may also be a chance to educate the person or persons behind the act.

"If these people who may have done this act, if there's an opportunity to reach out to them and to create some understanding that we're not unfriendly. We're here as a part of the community," Khan said.

"We hope that we can change hearts. We're not out to get anybody. Whoever did this damage, if you're willing to come to the table, we're willing to forgive."

With files from Kate Bueckert, Ieva Lucs