As It Happens

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi worries about hate-filled backlash after Paris attacks

Mayor Nenshi says most Canadians he has encountered are magnanimous and eager to help Syrian refugees. Some have raised concerns, but they've made valid points. It's the tiny minority who are spouting hateful vitriol who worry him.
Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi. (@nenshi/Twitter)

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi doesn't want to worry about racist backlash, but a part of him can't help it. 

He watched in horror as the terrible attacks in Paris unfolded last Friday. He didn't want to worry about a backlash against his Muslim faith in a multicultural city like Calgary, or a multicultural country like Canada. 

And it seems that most people have showed solidarity with such fears and acted respectfully towards his faith. 

"It's very clear to me that 80 per cent of the people I talk to have one simple question: how can I help?" he says. 

Most of the other people he speaks with may have reservations about refugees, but they're grounded in reasonable concerns about security screening or the selection process.

"And the rest - maybe point two per cent - are saying hurtful, hateful things."

[Most]  people I talk to have one simple question: how can I help?- Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi

Despite the tiny numbers, he says their message and their tactics are troubling. 

A mosque in Calgary was broken into. Another mosque in Peterborough, Ont. was torched. A Muslim woman in Toronto was assaulted while picking up her child at school. An Ottawa immigrant was sent a note telling her to "Go back home. Canada is no place for immigrants and terrorists." 

He says he has personally received hateful messages as well. 

He points to the "rhetoric of divisiveness" he heard from politicians in the recent federal election​ as a possible culprit, arguing that racists may have taken that rhetoric as tacit approval to voice hateful speech publicly. 

Nenshi adds that conflating refugees fleeing Islamist militants with the militants themselves is baseless, and turning away properly screened refugees will not make Canadians - or anyone else - any safer. 

"Every one of the assailants in the recent horrific events in Paris had a French or Belgian passport," Nenshi says. "Anyone who has a French or Belgian passport can be in Toronto without any screening of any kind."


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