New Brunswick

Community calls for crackdown on anti-Muslim misinformation, Higgs says he's working on it

Members of the New Brunswick Muslim community say they’re not shocked nor surprised to hear of what happened to the Afzaal family, because they’ve been personally targeted and othered for their religion before. But the apprehension has escalated to fear after this week.

Muslim community afraid for their safety in light of London, Ont. attack, Premier vows 'we will protect you'

Abdal Khan, the president of the Moncton Muslim Association, says people are afraid for their safety. (Tori Weldon/CBC News)

During Ramadan last month, a man stood outside a mosque in Moncton and screamed racial slurs until worshippers called the police.

In Fredericton, a school child was mocked by classmates yelling "Allahu Akbar" and making explosion noises.

These are just a few examples of how New Brunswick's Muslim population has been treated in recent months, and many fear it could become worse.

This week, a 20-year-old man drove a vehicle into a family of four in London, Ont., an attack police are calling targeted anti-Muslim hate.

Salman Afzaal, 46; Madiha Salman, 44; Talat Afzaal, 74; and Yumna Afzaal, 15 were killed. Fayez Afzaal, 9, suffered serious injuries, but survived.

Their deaths mark the third time in the last four years that Muslims in Canada have been killed because of their religion.

Members of the New Brunswick Muslim community say they're neither shocked nor surprised to hear of what happened to the Afzaal family, because they've been personally targeted and othered for their religion before. 

But the apprehension has escalated to fear after the news of the car attack, said Abdal Khan, the president of the Moncton Muslim Association.

"The community is not feeling safe," Khan said. "A lot of people they're saying, 'OK, when we go out, should we be careful?'"

Community leaders and individuals are calling for action against anti-Muslim violence and Islamophobia, because they say it's not inconceivable that it can happen here.

"When the water is boiling, it's going to come out of the pan at some point," Khan said. "I think we need to do something about it."

An Islamophbia-specific summit

Racist incidents do happen in New Brunswick, Khan said, noting he has heard of people pulling women's scarves at the mall or in school.

At a national level, he said, there should be a summit against Islamophobia, to allow people to come up with a plan of action.

"We need to work on, really, the radicalizing the far right," he said. "We need to give them the information they need to to be deradicalized."

Khan said lot of people are influenced by misinformation and falsehoods spread online about Muslims.

Premier Blaine Higgs says there has to be a way to address online misinformation and extremism that gives rise to attacks on Muslim people. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

For example, he said, the man in front of the mosque was yelling falsehoods that Muslims don't pay taxes, and that they're using up Canada's resources.

"It's just that people are unaware, and people have been brainwashed and given wrong information and this creates hate among themselves and that hate keeps on growing and can only be bettered by giving them the right information," he said.

Higgs stands with Ottawa on online extremism

In an interview, Premier Blaine Higgs said he's heard of accounts of racism in New Brunswick, and left unchecked, these events "could lead to worse things."

"It's very much a concern," he said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said this week the attacks against Muslims are fuelled by "toxic rhetoric ... discrimination" and online "extremism."

Higgs said he's "pleased" to hear these comments from Trudeau.

"I do think there's a very significant alignment here that we could have nationally," he said. "There's always the cry of how do you have censorship? How do you have control? Do you limit free speech?

"But there has to be a way to recognize ... the issues that are online, the promotion of hatred, the training of radicalism, there has to be a way to start to catch that."

He said he will be bringing up this issue at the next meeting with the federal government.

Provincially, Higgs said New Brunswick is doing a review of systemic racism in the province, looking at how every minority group is impacted by racism. The commissioner of the review committee is still being sought, he said.

This one inquiry will look at issues for Black people, Indigenous people, Muslims and other groups. Higgs said he's not concerned about a general inquiry such as this one missing the nuanced discrimination these different groups can face.

"We've actually become very specific and we've missed groups that could be targeted," he said. "I think our Muslim population here is less than 3,000 and that could be missed easily in a province like New Brunswick."

He said the goal is to survey the population about New Brunswick's system, and create specific plans for specific groups to provide a foundation for future governments to build upon.

He said it's "difficult" to see the Muslim community living in fear, but said he'll support them because they're needed in New Brunswick.

"We need people to move here and be part of our society and help for our society," he said.

"I want ... the Muslim community to understand you're valued, you're needed and we will protect you."

Education should start at school, teens say

Fredericton teenagers Heba Alsamman, an immigrant from Jordan and a Grade 12 student at Leo Hayes High School, and Maryam Alhawari, a newcomer from Syria in Grade 10, said they would like to see more education aimed at teaching that it's OK to be different.

"I know a lot of people in here that are super nice," said Alhawari "But I just don't understand... where would they get that hate from, like what caused it?"

"We're all human," said Alsamman.

Abdal Khan is the president of the Moncton Muslim Association. The association will hold a solidarity memorial for the Muslim family from London on Thursday, June 10 at 7:30 pm. People are invited to gather in the mosque parking lot at 99 High St. in Moncton. 8:20

Alhawari said her brother was called a terrorist in school, and two boys made fake explosion noises, emulating a bomb attack. If these boys had been taught that it's OK for people to observe a different religion or to look different, they might not have done that.

"They should be educated," Alhawari said.

If you need help:

CHIMO hotline: 1-800-667-5005  / http://www.chimohelpline.ca

Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868

Canada Suicide Prevention Service: 1-833-456-4566.

With files from Nicola Seguin and Information Morning Moncton

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