Head of N.L. Muslim association says hate crime legislation only way to end Islamophobia

The president of the Muslim Association of Newfoundland and Labrador says there should be concrete consequences for anti-Islam acts.

Saturday marks Day of Remembrance for the Quebec City Mosque Attack and Action Against Islamophobia

Syed Mansoor Pirzada, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Muslim Association, says specific hate crime legislation is needed to battle increasing instances of anti-Muslim hate. (Curtis Hicks/CBC)

The head of Newfoundland and Labrador's Muslim association says the federal government's decision to dedicate a day to the fight against Islamophobia doesn't go far enough.

"As far as I see it, these are just initial steps," said Syed Mansoor Pirzada, president of the Muslim Association of Newfoundland and Labrador. "More concrete steps have to be taken before we feel comfortable."

The federal government declared Jan. 29 the Day of Remembrance for the Quebec City Mosque Attack and Action Against Islamophobia in 2021. 

But Pirzada said the only way to eradicate Islamophobia — which he sees as an "existential threat" to the province's Muslim community — is on the federal level, in the form of specific hate crime legislation.

"Words only go so far," he said. "The damage is done. So why can't we prevent further damage?" 

Islamophobia on the rise

Pirzada said Islamophobic attacks in Canada have increased in the five years since the Quebec City mosque attack that killed six and left scores more injured. One incident in June 2020 in London, Ont., claimed the lives of four members of the Afzaal family.

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Statistics Canada's website shows the number of police-reported hate crimes in 2020 — the most recent year for which numbers are available — was more than 25 per cent higher than in 2017.

Pirzada said the island isn't insulated from anti-Muslim hate. He's been on the receiving end of insults and slurs himself, he said.

Pirzada says some Muslims chose to avoid going to the Masjid-an-Noor Mosque in St. John's because of fears for their safety. (Curtis Hicks/CBC)

The attacks in Quebec and Ontario also left the local Muslim community feeling uneasy, Pirzada said, with many opting to avoid attending mosque out of concern for their safety.

Having hate crime legislation enacted would mean concrete consequences for similar attacks, Pirzada said, in the absence of which, "anybody can stand up and take the car or take their truck or find a gun or whatever."

Pirzada said he has lobbied for hate crime legislation during senate hearing committees in Ottawa with other members of MANAL, to no avail.

What are they waiting for? Another Quebec massacre?- Syed Mansoor Pirzada

Gestures meaningful, but more action needed: Pirzada

In a statement released Friday, the provincial government said it is everybody's responsibility to counter Islamophobia in Newfoundland and Labrador.

"We must find where it is growing," says the release. "We must eradicate it, root and stem, and in its place plant the seeds of diversity and inclusion."

The statement said the provincial government would mark the occasion by illuminating the Confederation Building in St. John's in green — a colour long associated with the Islamic faith — for the weekend.

The City of St. John's tweeted Saturday that city hall will also be lit up in green this weekend.

Pirzada said while those gestures "mean a lot," Islamophobia won't end until changes are made at the legislative level.

"Without the law, without any concrete punishment, you cannot root it out."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador


Kyle Mooney is a journalist and musician living in St. John's.