Manitoba

Witness who stood up to neo-Nazi still angry after Muslim family insulted

An Edmonton woman who stood up to a self-proclaimed Nazi as he berated a Muslim family on vacation in Manitoba said confronting the man was the courteous thing to do.

'I couldn't believe that someone would speak to another human this way,' said Alysha Goertzen

Kaniz Fatima and her family were harassed by a self-proclaimed Nazi on July 3, 2017. Alysha Goertzen and her friend came to the family's defence. 0:56

An Edmonton woman who stood up to a self-proclaimed Nazi as he berated a Muslim family on vacation in Manitoba said confronting the man was the courteous thing to do.

Alysha Goertzen still gets angry when she thinks how the man spoke to Calgary teacher Kaniz Fatima and her family during the Canada Day long weekend in a parking lot near Whitemouth, Man.

"The man was screaming, 'I am a Nazi!' and 'You do not belong in this country,'" said Goertzen. "It appalled me."

A video recorded by Fatima's husband, Mohammad Alam, shows the man holding up his middle finger while hurling racist and sexist insults at Fatima.

She defends herself forcefully, telling him, "You are being racist. You shouldn't do that to me."

The man continues without missing a beat, calling himself a Nazi and spitting swear words back at her. 

Calgary teacher Kaniz Fatima and her family are still reeling after an encounter with a neo-Nazi in Manitoba in July. 2:35

Just after he tells Fatima to remove her "head towel" in reference to her hijab, Goertzen and her friend walk up to the parking lot near Seven Sisters dam and approach the group. Goertzen said she was shocked by what she heard and saw.

"I couldn't believe that someone would speak to another human this way regardless of their skin, their size, their race, their colour. It doesn't matter." she said.

"It's extremely disappointing especially because I was showing my friend this is my hometown, this is where I grew up."​

Goertzen speaks up and says to the man, "This is embarrassing. Don't do that."

Even though she spoke firmly to the man, Fatima told CBC News on Wednesday she was frightened by his Islamophobic behaviour. She thanked Goertzen and her friend for confronting him.

Kaniz Fatima said she felt a responsibility to speak out against Islamophobia when she was confronted by a self-proclaimed Nazi during the Canada Day long weekend. She said she was thankful two women, including Alysha Goertzen, stood up for her. (Kaniz Fatima/Facebook)

"This man doesn't represent Canada. The other two ladies who stood up for us, they truly represent Canada," she said.

Alam said the couple have filed a report with the Calgary Police Service, who told them the report will be referred to police in Manitoba.

Manitoba RCMP said they are aware of the video.

"We take these occurrences very seriously and ask that anyone who has encountered this behaviour to contact the police," RCMP Sgt. Paul Manaigre said Thursday.

When asked if she would speak up for the family again, Goertzen said she would because that is just "common courtesy."

Emboldened racists cause for concern

Barbara Perry, a professor who studies hate crimes in Canada at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, was disturbed by the video.

"The blatancy to say, 'I'm a Nazi,' really took my breath away," said Perry. 

Forces both in Canada and elsewhere are normalizing hate and bigotry, she said.

Perry highlighted the Conservative proposal to create a barbaric practices tipline in the last federal election and discussion of banning hijabs and other religious symbols in Quebec as examples of a rising tide of intolerance.

Shahina Siddiqui, president of the Islamic Social Services Association in Winnipeg, agreed and added recent events in the United States, including racist rallies and sympathetic statements made by U.S. President Donald Trump, only further emboldened the far right and neo-Nazis.

Edmonton's Alysha Goertzen (far left) confronted a self-proclaimed Nazi in Manitoba near Whitemouth, Man., earlier this summer as he verbally attacked a Muslim family. (Kaniz Fatima)

"This is acceptable now," she said. "We are right now living in a time when all the progress my generation over the 1960s did through the civil rights movement, through anti-racism work, seems to have been lost."

In Canada, anti-immigrant and anti-refugee views are becoming more common, Siddiqui noted.

"We know a majority of Canadians are not racists, are not Islamophobes, not anti-Semites. But if the majority remain silent, guess who's speaking for us?"

Statistics Canada found hate crimes against Muslims reported to police have risen in nearly every Canadian province, according to the latest data. Reports of hate crimes jumped 60 per cent, from 99 reports in 2014 to 159 in 2015.

More from CBC Manitoba:

With files from Danelle Cloutier, Karen Pauls and CBC Edmonton