Hate crimes stats a warning to those who pander to fear and loathing, the Toronto Star
In February of 2017, Iqra Khalid rose in the House of Commons to read a sampling of the death threats and hate mail she had received in previous weeks.
“We will burn down your mosques, draper head Muslim.” “Kill her and be done with it. I agree she is here to kill us. She is sick and she needs to be deported,” read a couple of the over 50,000 emails sent to the Ontario MP’s office.
What had rankled people so? Khalid’s presumingly audacious efforts to get the government to study Islamophobia and other forms of racism and religious discrimination with the tabling of the motion known as M-103.
No one would have anticipated the ugly wave of hatred and anger that would rise up against Muslims and other minority communities just as the nation sought to grapple with the aftermath of the horrific massacre of six worshippers at a Quebec City mosque.
But new statistics show that hate crimes in 2017 year rose by nearly 50 per cent since the previous year. Crimes targeting Muslims increased by a staggering 151 per cent; those targeting Jews, by 63 per cent, and those targeting Black people, by 50 per cent, among other increases.
It’s clearly time for some deep reflection — particularly amongst our elected officials. What should have been a straightforward effort to examine the ongoing harassment and discrimination against minority communities that year became a highly contentious wedge issue. The steep price of pandering to populist tendencies couldn’t be more clear.
Coming as it did during the Conservative leadership campaign, many of us recall how the entire debate on M-103 was hijacked by those who wanted to scapegoat Muslims as attempting to shut down free speech and all criticism of Islam.
When the right-wing Rebel Media further used the issue as a lightning rod to foment anti-Muslim sentiment, there seemed to be no turning back. Rallies erupted around the country with people waving signs against a so-called Muslim takeover. Conservative MPs rose in the House of Commons to cast all sorts of aspersions on the very term “Islamophobia.”
While the negative political rhetoric clearly spoke to a certain base, the facts themselves spoke volumes. Through a series of parliamentary hearings, experts and community advocates laid out the reasoning for significant concerns. They talked about the growing far-right movement, the emergence of toxic online communities of anti-immigrant, white supremacist groups, as well as the existing gaps in confronting these phenomena. The “Trump Effect” was a chilling backdrop to this national conversation.
Over a year later, all we have is a harmless report chock full of recommendations and a promise from the federal government to craft an anti-racism strategy. Consultations on that strategy have taken place online and behind closed doors. Makes sense; no one wants to go through 2017 all over again.
In England, an All Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims was coincidentally also launched in 2017 to examine how Islamophobia was impacting people there. The commission issued a report this past November that recommends a new definition of Islamophobia as “a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.” Why couldn’t our elected officials come together in a similar spirit here in Canada?
While many Canadians pride themselves for supporting multiculturalism, the very notion is under attack. There are far too many forces emerging online and in our halls of power that are seeking to undermine that cohesion. These forces often stoke populist fears through divisive debates about secularism or immigration.
Yet a recent American study during this fall’s U.S. midterm elections suggests that if we continue to call out racist politics, we may be able to convince enough people to reject it.
“People’s own biases are less likely to be activated when they are told that the message violates societal norms,” writes Maneesh Arora, a PhD candidate at the University of California at Irvine, in a recent article for the Washington Post. “This is particularly true when condemnation of the message comes from leaders of one’s own party.”
In these fraught times, we must remain unapologetically opposed to all forms of racism and hatred. And we must hold our elected officials to that same standard.