Ottawa police investigate hate crime after Muslim school targeted with graffiti

Ottawa police have launched a hate crime investigation after someone spray-painted messages on the wall of a Muslim elementary school in Ottawa overnight.

'Appalled' neighbours offer support to Vanier elementary school

Graffiti is scrubbed from the back wall of the Ahlul-Bayt Islamic Education Centre in Vanier. Ottawa police have launched a hate crime investigation after neighbours first spotted the spray paint Monday morning. (CBC)

Ottawa police have launched a hate crime investigation after someone spray-painted messages on the wall of a Muslim elementary school in Ottawa overnight.

People who live near the Ahlul-Bayt Islamic Education Centre in Vanier said they contacted police and the school Monday morning after waking up to see the phrases "Die Bombers," "ISIS Go Home" and "F**k the New World" in orange and black paint on its back wall.

Staff at the private school for children in junior kindergarten to Grade 8 said it doesn't matter if it was done as a joke.

Nour Matar is a teaching assistant at Ahlul-Bayt Islamic Education Centre. (CBC)
  "It's very upsetting," said Nour Matar, a teaching assistant.

"It intimidates our students, it intimidates the staff here and it's really sad to see that even though we're Canadian citizens, people always try to scare us."

"We just need to make people aware, this is serious. They bring deadly messages," said teacher Fatime Haidoura.

"[It may be] some kids playing around so we just need to bring the message of peace out. We need all of us together to keep Canada safe and keep our community safe."

Haidoura said children were kept inside at recess while the messages were removed.

She said their building gets spray-painted with graffiti about once a year, but this is the first time vandals have left such hateful messages behind.

Neighbours reach out

Kelly-Anne Maddox can see the back wall of the school from the front window of her home.

"We were horrified, we were absolutely appalled that somebody would do that," she said.

She said she and her husband reached out to police and the school about the spray paint and offered to put a camera on their back fence if the school felt it would help.

"We're really fortunate to live in a really ethnically- and linguistically-diverse community, and this is the first time I've seen anything like this happen in five years," she said.

"This seems to be a deliberate [targeting] of children because it's facing the playground and this is what kids would have seen as soon as they showed up at school this morning."

Fatime Haidoura teaches at the school. (CBC)

Haidoura said the community response has helped them feel better about what happened.

"Out of all this negativity something really positive happened, the support of the neigbourhood," she said.

"We found messages on our answering machine, parents are talking to us, neighbours are saying they're against this … it was a really positive thing to find out after this happened, it [calmed] us down."

Investigation underway

Ottawa police said Monday afternoon they were investigating the incident as a hate crime.

"This is considered to be the most common form of hate crime that we have against all identifiable groups in Ottawa — that being hate graffiti," police said in an email.

Police said they didn't have up-to-date data available on hate crimes against Ottawa's Muslim community since their crime analyst was away Monday.

Coun. Mathieu Fleury said Monday that the graffiti message isn't reflective of the community's feelings overall.

"I believe that everyone's entitled to their opinion. At the same time, we have to be respectful and again, you can share your opinion in different ways; you don't have to do it through graffiti. And I think that we're a community that's very welcoming. Just look at the Syrians. Syrian refugees have been welcomed in our city in various ways," Fleury said.

"... That gesture is not reflective of how our community feels about different religious groups, different schools. ... Hopefully we don't see that again."