Montreal

Lévis police investigating after mosque receives 'troubling' letter

The head of a mosque in Lévis is calling on public officials to take action and to keep accurate records of racist and hateful incidents, after receiving a letter stating that Muslims should stay silent.

Imam calls on Canadians to report and denounce all hateful incidents

The imam at a mosque in Lévis, on Quebec City's south shore, found this anonymous letter in the mailbox last Thursday, addressed simply to 'Mohamed.' 'Stop talking. Stop criticizing,' it begins. (Submitted by Association des musulmanes et musulmans du Grand Lévis)

The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) is calling on people to speak out and help track Islamophobic incidents across Canada, in response to a "disturbing" letter sent last week to a mosque in Lévis, Que.

Addressed simply to "Mohamed," the letter contained a single piece of paper written in block letters clipped from newspapers.

"Stop talking. Stop criticizing. Keep praying until your death — and all will be well," read the message, in French.

A member of the mosque called Imam Karim Elabed to tell him about the letter after discovering it in the mailbox last Thursday.

"It's not just worrisome, but infuriating and revolting, as well," said Elabed.

There have been other incidents aimed at the Lévis mosque, Elabed said, but this is the first time the community has filed a complaint to police.

A spokesperson for the Lévis police service said the incident is under investigation, and officers have increased patrols around the mosque, particularly during prayer times.

Imam Karim Elabed has filed an official complaint to police in Lévis to look into the the letter mailed to the mosque this week, which he calls 'revolting.' (Radio-Canada)

'You're not welcome here'

The NCCM's executive director of NCCM, Ihsaan Gardee, said the letter meets the definition of a hate crime, because its underlying message is "you're not welcome here," and "you don't have a right to have a voice to advocate on behalf of your communities."

That notion goes against the idea of equality of citizenship "that we have enshrined in our constitution," Gardee said.

The NCCM began tracking anti-Muslim incidents in Canada in 2015, said Gardee, and it's found there is a significant gap between the number of incidents investigated by police and the number reported the council.

"Police services are not inclined to record data unless it breaches the Criminal Code," said Gardee. 

The latest data from Statistics Canada, released at the end of 2018, showed police across Canada reported 2,073 hate crimes in 2017, including 489 in Quebec alone. Of those, 117 of these targeted the Muslim population.

So far in 2019, there have been 16 incidents in British Colombia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec, the NCCM's tracking shows.

Not wanting mosques to become 'impenetrable fortresses'

In the wake of the 2017 Quebec City mosque shooting and these subsequent incidents, the NCCM is updating recommendations it distributes to its members in a community safety kit.

The new version will include sections on how to handle active shooter situations and bomb threats — "a reflection of the world we live in today," said Gardee.

"We have to make sure that our communities are all, on the one hand, doing their due diligence, and on the other hand, not becoming impenetrable fortresses where nobody can enter."

Ihsaan Gardee, the executive director of the Ottawa-based National Council of Canadian Muslims, said there are large gaps between the number of hate crimes compiled by Statistics Canada and the number of heinous acts being reported by the organization's members. (Ashley Burke/CBC)

The Lévis mosque's imam, Elabed, said he doesn't want to frighten members of the mosque and cause unnecessary panic, but he said it is his duty to speak out against all forms of intimidation.

"Seeing what is happening around the world, we can no longer remain silent," said Elabed, referring to the attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand on March 15 that left 50 people dead.

He is calling on citizens to speak out against any act of racism, and he wants the government to come up with a better action plan to address hate crimes.

"We have to work on the root causes of Islamophobia," he said.

Elabed said he is looking forward to the release of a report documenting and analyzing heinous and xenophobic acts in Quebec, commissioned by the province in 2016.

Quebec's youth and human rights commission is to publish that report  later this spring and said it will not comment on its findings until then.

With files from Catou Mackinnon and Radio-Canada

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