Nfld. & Labrador

Islamophobia report urges gov't, grassroots action to fight racism

The report is the culmination of community consultations and workshops, and calls for change to what its authors say is an 'overwhelming' amount of anti-Muslim sentiment in the province.

Report the product of community consultations and workshops

Jennifer Selby, left, and Sobia Shaikh are the co-authors of the report, and professors at Memorial University. (Paula Gale/CBC)

A new report highlights two years of work to combat Islamophobia in the province, and urges the provincial government to create institutional change to combat such racism.

Addressing Islamophobia in Newfoundland and Labrador is the end result of a series of community consultations and workshops that centred on sharing people's experiences and pushing forward a dialogue on discrimination.

The effort was spearheaded by two Memorial University professors, Sobia Shaikh and Jennifer Selby, and in the hours after the report's online release Monday, its website crashed from the traffic.

"It's really not [Shaikh's and my] opinions in this report, it's really reflective of all of the consultations that we conducted, and so we've been really thrilled and encouraged by the response," said Selby, an associate professor of religious studies.

The two estimate they met with more than 300 people and dozens of community groups over the course of the project. In those talks, a theme emerged as the researchers heard of people's unsolicited accounts of Islamophobia in the province, stories that helped inform the report's series of calls for government action.

"We want the province to start with the idea that Islamophobia and racism exist, that it has an effect on real people, and we have to do something collectively and collaboratively to address it," said Shaikh, an associate professor of social work.

'Overwhelming' racism in schools

To that end, the report issues a series of recommendations to the government, as the researchers say their work showed fighting Islamophobia required leadership at an institutional level.

One such institution is the public education system, as Selby said their community consultations revealed an "overwhelming amount of racism and Islamophobia that their children are experiencing in our schools."

We need to do something now.- Sobia Shaikh

"It seems imperative to me that we do something," she said.

The report asks the province to promote messages of inclusiveness, give teachers anti-Islamophobia training and help fund support groups at schools and other community centres.

"Without explicit anti-racism [messaging] in our schools, in all of our social services and all of our institutions, it is really hard to grow up in a space where you feel not included," said Shaikh.

The report also asks the province to work with the health-care system, police workplaces and the media, among other things, to encourage anti-racist messaging and training.

'We need an action plan'

Selby and Shaikh want the province to implement their recommendations by 2025.

"We need to do something now," said Shaikh.

Their report comes on the heels of Perry Trimper's resignation from provincial cabinet after he left an unwitting message on an Innu Nation staffer's voicemail that the Indigenous group called "very racist." The fallout from the voicemail prompted the provincial government and Innu Nation to form a working group to combat institutional racism.

While Selby commended those efforts, she called the province's response "too limited."

"We need an action plan, not a working group," she said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from CBC Newfoundland Morning