Nfld. & Labrador

Despite years of anti-Muslim incidents, N.L. government slow to respond, says anti-racism group

After an attack on a Muslim family in London, Ont., on Sunday, the Anti-Racism Coalition of Newfoundland and Labrador says it's important to acknowledge that racism exists in the province and to begin addressing the problem.

Muslims in N.L. experiencing taunts and hatred, says ARC-NL co-chair

Sobia Shaikh, co-chair of the Anti-Racism Coalition of Newfoundland and Labrador, says racism exists in the province and wants to see the provincial government do more to address it. (CBC)

After an attack on a Muslim family in London, Ont., on Sunday, a group devoted to fighting hate in Newfoundland and Labrador says it's important to acknowledge that racism exists in the province and to begin addressing the problem. 

Sobia Shakih, co-chair of the Anti-Racism Coalition of Newfoundland and Labrador, says she was filled with grief after the attack and wants to prevent a similar acts from happening in the province.

"We don't want our Muslim community members to be walking down the street and [be] harassed. We don't want our institutions to single out and exclude racialized people. I think those are very important things that have to start from a big acknowledgement of the problem," she told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show. 

"I worry that we don't have the responses that perhaps bigger provinces have if something did happen here."

Shakih said based on ARC-NL's work and research in the community, she knows that Islamophobia and other types of racism are present in Newfoundland and Labrador. She said Muslims, including children, have shared experiences of bullying, taunts and hatred. 

"We've had young people enjoying themselves downtown being followed by a car and being yelled at inside the car, things being thrown out of the car at them," said Shakih.

"There's been several incidents in the last, I would say, one year for sure that we've heard about, but not just this year, but years previous as well."

A woman wearing a face mask reacts Monday to flowers laid at the fatal crime scene where a man driving a pickup truck jumped the curb and ran over a Muslim family in what police say was a deliberately targeted anti-Islamic hate crime, in London, Ont. (Carlos Osorio/Reuters)

Despite these stories of racially motivated acts, Shaikh said the province hasn't begun to address hate and racism.

"We're not there yet," she said.

Shakih said after ARC-NL approached the government with a report on addressing Islamophobia three years ago, there was "very little response."

"There was an acknowledgement that there was racism here, but it wasn't really as fulsome as this response that just came out from some of our political leaders," she said.

NDP MHA Jim Dinn called the London attack "an act of terrorism" in the House of Assembly on Tuesday, while Liberal MHA Gerry Byrne called it "an attack of cowardice and evil."

Shaikh said the police have also provided little support for those in the province experiencing racism.

"As far as law enforcement officers, I would say that there's been very little dialogue, and very little trust and very little awareness about what to do about racially motivated assaults," she said.

"When police have been called there's been inadequate response, and we know, statistics show, that even when police are called, nothing happens."
 

The leadership of the provincial government and the federal government is crucial here.- Sobia Shakih

That lack of support has left Newfoundland and Labrador's Muslim community to educate themselves about what hate looks like so they are prepared if and when it happens to them, Shaikh said.

She said the provincial government should help lead the way, by recording instances of anti-Muslim violence, building trust with the Muslim community and providing protection.

"It has to be done individually, but the leadership of the provincial government and the federal government is crucial here, but not in ways that take over the voices of those who have been doing the work, who've been experiencing these kinds of racism, it has to be collaborative," she said.

Shakih said there should be a focus on the education system to prevent young people from developing racist attitudes.

"I think that's one of the things that we can do, is really being vigilant at the level of schools, being very vigilant at the level of our Muslim and racialized communities," 

"It's really, really important to start with young people … and recognizing the harm that it does to people, especially young people, their mental health, sense of belonging, sense of commitment to this province."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The St. John's Morning Show

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