Ottawa

OC Transpo driver who confronted Islamophobia succumbs to cancer

An OC Transpo driver who made headlines across the country when he stood up to an Islamophobic attack on a city bus has died.

Alain Charette intervened when passenger hurled insults at woman wearing niqab

OC Transpo bus driver Alain Charette, hailed as a hero for intervening in a racially-motivated attack aboard his bus in 2016, has died. He was 61. (CBC)

An OC Transpo driver who made headlines across the country when he stood up to an Islamophobic attack on a city bus has died.

Alain Charette died Aug. 14, after a battle with cancer, according to an obituary posted online. He was 61.

In May 2016, a passenger on a No. 118 OC Transpo bus yelled Islamophobic taunts at an Ottawa woman named Hailey DeJong, who was wearing a niqab.

Charette, along with several passengers, intervened, telling the man to stop. 

Charette then pulled the bus over and told the man the authorities had been called.

The man left the bus and DeJong thanked Charette for stepping in.

'Very humane person'

Chloé Charette said when her father's act became news across the country, no one in the family was surprised he had stepped in.

"Dad was always a very humane person, through his job, through everything he did in life he always tried to take care of people," she said.

"He was a strong believer in equality for everyone."

Charette said her father was a bus driver for 38 years and often let homeless people or those who need to get out of the cold onboard, regardless of whether they could pay the fare.

"He always said that it was his duty as a human being to let them on the bus to get them out of the cold for however long they needed."

She said her father was nearing retirement when he received his diagnosis and she wishes he had more time.  

"He had so little time to do all of the good he tried to do and probably would have liked to keep on doing it.

Meant a lot to Muslim community

Ihsaan Gardee, executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, said Charette's actions meant a lot to Muslims across the country.

He was very humble and did not want to be called a hero, although that is what he was to many in the Muslim community.- Ihsaan Gardee, National Council of Canadian Muslims

"When the news broke about Alain Charette's actions, his really heroic actions, it was something that was well received by the Muslim community," Gardee said.

"It was extremely heartening to see a fellow Canadian stand up for the religious rights of one of their fellow citizens."

Gardee said Charette never accepted praise for his actions on the bus, but became an important symbol of tolerance nonetheless.

"He was very humble and did not want to be called a hero, although that is what he was to many in the Muslim community," Gardee said.  

As Charette's cancer increasingly limited his mobility, an online fundraiser featured on Muslim Link, a local online publication, raised the money to buy him a lift chair in just three days.

Gardee said Charette will always be remembered fondly within the Muslim community.

"This is just one moment in Alain's life, which I am sure was rich and varied. And while he may not be with us anymore, the memory of his courage and his humility and his compassion will be something that lingers in our heart and minds."

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