‘Riya is an angel’ — Mississauga community gathers to mourn slain 11-year-old Riya Rajkumar


In the flickering light of white candles, mourners cast long shadows Saturday on the snow-covered playground of Meadowvale Village Public School.

They had gathered on this cold evening to pay respects to Riya Rajkumar, the 11-year-old Mississauga girl who was found dead Thursday at her father’s residence in Brampton. Police had issued a late-night Amber Alert when he failed to return Riya to her mother after the two celebrated the girl’s birthday earlier in the day.

Hundreds of mourners gathered Saturday evening at Meadowvale Village Public School, where Riya Rajkumar was a Grade 5 student.
Hundreds of mourners gathered Saturday evening at Meadowvale Village Public School, where Riya Rajkumar was a Grade 5 student.  (Steve Russell / Toronto Star)

“It’s so sad and tragic. She just turned 11. It was her birthday,” said Debra Oliver, who was among more than 300 people attending the candlelight vigil at Riya’s Mississauga school, where she was a Grade 5 student.

“She was so young. She had not even lived her life,” said Oliver, who, like many attendees on Saturday, had never met Riya.

The girl’s father, Roopesh Rajkumar, 41, has been charged with first-degree murder. Police said he was taken to hospital and later a trauma centre, suffering from an undisclosed medical issue. His case will be “looked at” by a judge on Tuesday, regardless of his condition.

Vigil organizer Amrita Naipaul said she was aware of a missing child from the Amber Alert Thursday evening, but didn’t realize until later that the victim was her former school friend’s daughter.

“I have my two nieces living with me and I can’t imagine having them taken away from my family,” said Naipaul, who went to cosmetology school with Riya’s mother and got her permission to organize the two-hour vigil that started at 6 p.m.

Read more:

Peel Police charge father of dead girl, 11, with first-degree murder

Late-night Amber Alert about missing girl, found dead, prompts complaints to 911: Peel police

“It is going to be a very long journey for Riya’s mother. We just want to give her all the support she needs so she knows she is not alone.”

Among the mourners who crowded the playground and laid flowers and candles were parents and children from Meadowvale Village P.S., near Mavis and Derry Rds., which has just over 500 pupils from kindergarten to Grade 5.

“We all got a newsletter from the school Friday morning about the incident. My daughter was shocked and didn’t want to eat,” said Angela Lee, a member of the school’s parents council. Like Riya, her daughter Kaitlyn is in Grade 5.

“There were police in the school. There were counsellors. The girls were crying. They all made cards and put them on a memorial table for her,” added Lee, waiting for her turn to lay a candle in front of a placard printed with the photo of a smiling Riya.

“The community is traumatized,” said parent Sushma Aradhya, who came to the vigil with husband Uday and their daughter Sanskriti, a classmate of Riya. “As parents, we don’t know how to explain it to our kids.”

Riya Rajkumar was found in her father's home in Brampton, hours after she vanished while in his care. Roopesh Rajkumar is charged with first-degree murder.
Riya Rajkumar was found in her father’s home in Brampton, hours after she vanished while in his care. Roopesh Rajkumar is charged with first-degree murder.  (Facebook)

Bianca Johnson, who teaches at a different school, said she was saddened by the little girl’s death and felt angry at those who complained to police about being disturbed by the Amber Alert notifications sent to mobile devices on Thursday night.

“That was driving me crazy,” she said. “I teach social justice and tell my students to care about other people, but some people are selfish and self-centred. It’s mind-boggling.”

Imam Ibrahim Hussain, who didn’t know Riya or her family, said the girl’s death had brought together a community from all faiths, ethnicities and cultures.

“Riya is an angel. She has brought out our humanity, love and compassion,” Hussain said.

Balloons and flowers sit outside the home in Mississauga where 11-year-old Riya Rajkumar was found on Thursday evening.
Balloons and flowers sit outside the home in Mississauga where 11-year-old Riya Rajkumar was found on Thursday evening.  (Steve Russell/Toronto Star)

Another vigil, organized by Brampton Councillor Rowena Santos, will be held in Brampton’s Garden Square on Tuesday evening from 5:45 p.m until 7 p.m.

A community program called Neighbourhood Watch Brampton has also started an online fundraiser to go toward Riya’s funeral costs. The original goal was $2,500, but by Saturday evening it had raised nearly $25,000.

Brampton court records show that Roopesh Rajkumar entered into a peace bond on Nov. 30, 2015 — the same day an assault charge against him was withdrawn.

According to the Department of Justice website, people can obtain peace bonds from court against defendants when someone appears likely to commit an offence “but there are no reasonable grounds to believe that an offence has actually been committed.”

A court may impose certain conditions designed to prevent the defendant from harming others, as part of a peace bond.

Another vigil for Riya is planned for Tuesday evening in Brampton's Garden Square from 5:45 p.m until 7 p.m.
Another vigil for Riya is planned for Tuesday evening in Brampton’s Garden Square from 5:45 p.m until 7 p.m.  (Steve Russell/Toronto Star)

In 2009, a mischief charge and an assault charge against Rajkumar were also dismissed.

With files from Emerald Bensadoun, May Warren, Alexandra Jones and the Brampton Guardian

Nicholas Keung is a Toronto-based reporter covering immigration. Follow him on Twitter: @nkeung


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Quebec’s Muslim community weighs in on the eve of Alexandre Bissonnette’s sentencing


The first emotions Ehab Lotayef felt after Quebec City’s mosque attack in 2017 were shock and disbelief. In the two years since, there’s another sentiment he still hasn’t been able to shake.

“The fear will not go away,” Lotayef said. “This can happen again.”

Lotayef was one of the co-founders of Muslim Awareness Week, a week-long series of events commemorating the second anniversary of the mosque attack that left six men dead.

READ MORE: Quebec City mosque shooter Alexandre Bissonnette could receive longest prison term ever in Canada

Superior Court Justice François Huot is set to hand down Friday a sentence for gunman Alexandre Bissonnette. The 29-year-old pleaded guilty in March 2018 to six counts of first-degree murder and six counts of attempted murder.

Bissonnette walked into the Quebec City Islamic Cultural Centre on Jan. 29, 2017, opening fire with a nine-millimetre pistol. In less than two minutes, he fired 48 shots, killing six men who were attending evening prayers.

The victims were brothers Ibrahima Barry, 39, and Mamadou Tanour Barry, 42, Khaled Belkacemi,60, Aboubake Thabti, 44, Abdelkrim Hassane, 41, and Azzedine Soufiane, 57.

WATCH BELOW: Quebec City mosque shooting widow to get compensation

Bissonnette could be looking at the longest sentence in Canadian history. In 2011, Ottawa changed the rules and gave judges the discretion to hand down consecutive sentences. Prior to the change, someone found guilty of first-degree murder faced a mandatory life term, but was eligible to apply for parole after 25 years.

Under the new rules, Bissonnette could be sentenced to a life term with no chance of parole for 150 years.

In court, Huot has made it clear he is leaning in that direction and that consecutive sentences are “probable.”

READ MORE: Quebec City mosque shooting: Remembering the victims

Bissonnette had a history of mental health issues and a fascination with mass murders. He told psychologists mass shooters such as Dylann Roof and the Columbine killers were his “idols.”

He also told investigators he was upset with the Canadian government’s plan to accept refugees and that his attack was meant to save his friends and family from Islamist terrorism.

Lotayef says he organized Muslim Awareness Week to help the wider population get beyond stereotypes and better understand Muslims living in Quebec.

“I have been here for 30 years,” Lotayef said. “I don’t feel like a stranger.”

“Most of the community doesn’t, but we’re still viewed as strangers — we’re still viewed as newcomers.”

In the days and weeks after the attack, there were numerous rallies and memorials to the victims. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in Quebec City the day after the attack for a vigil outside the mosque.

However, in the two years since the attack, some in the Muslim community say the outpouring of support has dried up.

Kenza Tarek, a Muslim student studying at Laval University, said there was a wave of compassion following the shooting.

“But then it disappeared rapidly afterwards,” Tarek said. “It didn’t get better.”

READ MORE: What we now know about Alexandre Bissonnette’s Quebec mosque shooting plot

For Megda Belkacemi, Friday is a day she has been awaiting eagerly. Her father Khaled was one of the victims.

“I am looking forward to see the sentence,” she said.

Once her father’s killer has been sent to prison, Belkacemi says she will finally be able to turn the page on this chapter and start looking to the future instead.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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Quebec’s proposed religious symbol ban prompts concerns from EMSB community – Montreal


Montreal parents and teachers are voicing a growing chorus of concerns as the Coalition Avenir Québec government prepares to move forward with its contentious proposal on religious neutrality.

READ MORE: Quebec’s Education Ministry says school surveys on religious symbols began months ago

The English Montreal School Board (EMSB) opened its doors to the public on Wednesday for an emergency meeting on the province’s plan to bar civil servants in positions of authority  —including teachers, police officers and judges — from wearing religious symbols in the workplace.

“Our teachers are wearing religious symbols — it has had no effect on students’ success,” said EMSB chairperson Angela Mancini, adding the school board wants to teach its students about diversity.

The proposed legislation was a key election promise made by Quebec Premier François Legault, who maintains it has widespread support from across the province. It has also sparked protests in Montreal and accusations from teachers that the CAQ is trying to create a problem where none exists.

READ MORE: Quebec’s proposed religious symbol ban for public workers fuelled by specific symbols: study

The meeting drew parents, retired educators, teacher’s associations and residents, who showed up to offer their opinions over the proposed ban. The EMSB, which has strongly opposed similar plans from other governments, will use the feedback to formulate its own decision and develop an eventual action plan.

For Saba Ansari, a mother of Muslim faith whose children used to attend an EMSB school, the province’s plan is disappointing.

“Why are we focusing on these kinds of issues?” she said. “This is personal freedom, actually, and it should be given to us.”

If the Legault government’s plan becomes law, Ansari said she fears her children will face hardships due to their religious beliefs.

“How will they feel? They will feel like second-class citizens.”

WATCH: Religious symbols debate turns another corner

The Montreal Teachers’ Association called the government’s decision “regrettable,” adding it would vigorously defend the rights of educators if they are barred from exercising religious freedom.

“Targeting individuals based on what they wear and their personal religious beliefs feeds intolerance,” said MTA president Peter Sutherland, “and is in complete opposition to the very values of tolerance and inclusion that teachers promote in their classrooms every day.”

Last week, the provincial government approached Quebec school boards to ask if they know how many teachers and staff wear religious symbols at work.

READ MORE: Quebec status of women minister calls Muslim head scarf a symbol of oppression

The education ministry then admitted Tuesday it began those surveys in 2018, when the Liberals were in office. Education Minister Jean-François Roberge then denounced the criticism the CAQ government faced from school boards and the opposition over the issue.

Legault, for his part, said earlier this week it doesn’t matter how few teachers in Quebec wear religious symbols at work. He said governments need to have a “vision” and recognize that the practice will become more prevalent.

“We know there will be more and more in our society, and in other societies, and we should have legislated on this issue years ago,” he said on Monday.

READ MORE: Quebec asking school boards how many employees wear religious symbols

The bill on religious neutrality is expected to be tabled sometime in the spring.

— With files from Global’s Brayden Jagger Haines and The Canadian Press

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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RCMP teams up with Indigenous group to bring ice rink to remote northern Alberta community


The Dene Tha’ First Nation is located in a remote part of northern Alberta but thanks to a partnership with the RCMP and others, Indigenous children from that community can now enjoy an ice rink, an amenity children in other parts of Canada enjoy throughout the cold winter months.

The RCMP said young people in the Chateh, Alta., area tied up their skates to use their brand new public rink on Monday, thanks to a partnership between the Mounties and the Dene Tha’ First Nation Recreation and Cultural Society.

“A first of its kind in the community, the rink will facilitate sports year round thanks to contributions from the Rink of Dreams Society, Sports Central, RCMP Foundation, Tolko Industries and funding from Jordan’s Principle,” police said in a news release.

Before this rink opened to the public, the RCMP said the nearest recreation centre that could be accessed by the 300 young people in the Chateh area was located in Rainbow Lake, about 45 minutes away.

READ MORE: ‘It’s the Canadian thing to do’: One-of-a-kind skating rink opens near Onanole

Watch below: Some videos from Global News’ coverage of rinks.

“Detachment Commander Sgt. Gord Hughes and Dene Tha’ Council members recognized a need for a space in their community where local youth could enjoy safe physical activity, relieve stress, engage with other members of the community and build an open and positive relationship with the RCMP,” police said.

Hughes and the Dene Tha’ First Nation Recreation and Cultural Society were provided with more than $150,000 in funding through Jordan’s Principle grants.

“Jordan’s Principle is a commitment to First Nations children to ensure they get the products, services and support they need, when they need them,” the RCMP said.

READ MORE: Alberta government signs Jordan’s Principle agreement with feds, First Nations group

While the rink’s construction was completed in November, a “hockey-tape cutting ceremony” took place on Monday morning, which was followed by a hockey game.

“Ensuring the wellbeing of a community and of its youth is fundamental to a healthy community,” Hughes said. “By building the Heek’iicho Mieh (Bison Pond), we want to facilitate wellness across the spectrum — physical, mental, emotional and social.

“We want this space to be a rink, an arena and a sanctuary for Chateh youth.”

READ MORE: Fred Sasakamoose and Ted Nolan concerned about future of aboriginal hockey

Chateh is located about 850 kilometres north of Edmonton.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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Regent Park community reflects and regroups as final chapter of rebuild begins


Sureya Ibrahim stands on an icy sidewalk in Regent Park and surveys a neighbourhood she fears is headed toward an uncertain future.

Beyond the new townhouses and the state-of-the-art aquatic centre, she points out a site under early construction, the future home of a condominium building that will also house space for a catering collective and sewing studio.

A change in plans for the redevelopment of Regent Park has residents like Sureya Ibrahim worried. “We are still going to be here. We are still going to be doing what we love to do and building the community, identifying who the leaders of the future are and passing on the torch.”
A change in plans for the redevelopment of Regent Park has residents like Sureya Ibrahim worried. “We are still going to be here. We are still going to be doing what we love to do and building the community, identifying who the leaders of the future are and passing on the torch.”  (Rene Johnston / Toronto Star)

That property will be built by The Daniels Corporation, in partnership with Toronto Community Housing — the third of five phases that make up a massive redevelopment project that began more than a decade ago and was designed to transform what was once one of Toronto’s poorest neighbourhoods.

“We went through so much and we built relationships,” said Ibrahim, the supervisor of community connections with the Centre of Learning and Development. “Now, we don’t know the future because there will be a change that is taking place that wasn’t revealed to us.”

The root of Ibrahim’s apprehension comes from what she describes as a surprise announcement last spring, that new developers could bid to build for the final two phases of what was originally meant to be a 12-year, $1-billion project.

A shortlist of bidders has not yet been made public and the people at the heart of what many already hail as a success story are worried about what an unexpected shift in course and lack of communication could mean for completion and hard-fought-for community benefits.

Older buildings, like the one seen above, are still part of Regent Park, though new buildings now outnumber them.
Older buildings, like the one seen above, are still part of Regent Park, though new buildings now outnumber them.  (Rene Johnston / Toronto Star)

“Are we a stakeholder or are we just going to be on the side?” asked Ibrahim. She believes having one company at the helm has allowed the community to form a relationship with the development team, and that communication is key if the actual needs of Regent Park residents are to be considered and met.

That uncertainly is fuelled by instability at the top of TCH — the country’s largest housing provider, responsible for some 110,000 people and $9 billion in public assets — with yet another scandal putting senior leadership of the corporation in question.

The Regent Park revitalization was designed to leverage the 28-hectare site by offering developers the opportunity to build more than 5,000 market-rate units. In return for the prime downtown land, they would rebuild all of the area’s roughly 2,000 rental housing units.

TCH awarded the first phase to Daniels in 2005. When the second phase was officially awarded to Daniels in 2009, TCH said the developer would handle the remaining stages of the project as well; TCH would provide the land in exchange for a large share of future profits on market-rent units, which would be built alongside public housing buildings.

But as phase three approached, TCH decided to go in a different direction — Daniels was sold a chunk of land instead of continuing the previous profit-sharing arrangement, and Daniels no longer had the automatic right to develop phases four and five. A tender process is now underway.

Phase four and five are made up of the final seven blocks to be redeveloped, and include the northern quadrant from just east of Parliament St. to River St. and north of Oak St. That area’s iconic lowrise brick buildings with their green awnings are some of the final remnants of the old Regent Park.

Vincent Tong, TCH’s chief development officer, said the public corporation has an obligation to undertake a “fair, open and transparent” process rather than awarding a sole-source contract to Daniels.

He also acknowledged the failure to properly communicate that process to residents. TCH learned from those concerns, Tong says, and redesigned the current tender process to require shortlisted bidders make community presentations. He said scores from residents based on those proposals will be factored into TCH’s ultimate decision.

But with that next stage yet to get underway, it’s not clear what weight the resident feedback might have in the overall selection of a development partner.

New townhomes are part of the changing landscape in the neighbourhood of Regent Park.
New townhomes are part of the changing landscape in the neighbourhood of Regent Park.  (Rene Johnston / Toronto Star)

Tong said TCH hopes to make that decision by the end of the year, with the final phases now expected to be completed in 10 to 15 years.

Daniels declined to answer the Star’s questions for this article. But in a statement provided to media in May, after the new bid process was announced, vice-president Martin Blake wrote that, despite the change in course following the 2010 election, “Daniels would very much like to continue the partnership with TCH and the residents of Regent Park through to completion of the revitalization.

“The work of this transformation, which is as much about building social infrastructure as bricks and mortar, is far from complete,” he said.

As the revitalization now moves toward its final chapters, the question that remains is, did it work?

Regent Park was a place, it was noted in the early 2000s, where it was difficult to even have pizza delivered to your front door through its winding maze of lowrise buildings and highrise towers, in an insular neighbourhood largely free of sidewalks and set back from main roads. There had never been a supermarket or a bank branch, and the overall design meant that parts of the cut-off properties were fertile ground for criminal activity.

But still, a community existed there. It was home for many new Canadians who were trying to raise their families amid the poor design, lack of services and a dearth of government support.

To understand what is at stake requires some reflection on the mistakes of the past. Regent Park was Canada’s first public housing project and one frequently described as a failed experiment. Planners tore down slum housing in what was South Cabbagetown and the first part of what would become Regent Park was ready for habitation in March 1949.

For Toronto’s low-income families, it was meant to be a safe and modern community in the heart of the city, one with green space for children and close to public services; thanks to poverty and poor design, it resulted in them being separated from their fellow citizens.

Today, the heart of the area that’s already been transformed is barely recognizable. A green central park is home to a gleaming aquatic centre and nearby there are colourful community spaces like Daniels Spectrum, which hosts both the arts and public meetings. There is a bistro that hires local residents. New TCH apartments are difficult for outsiders to differentiate from their condo counterparts, and both are now accessible from a simple city street grid. There is a Shoppers Drug Mart, a FreshCo and a Royal Bank branch. Residents flock to farmers’ markets in the summer months.

But in hindsight, says former interim CEO Greg Spearn, TCH should have planned the rebuild differently.

“There should have been a contractual arrangement that identified one developer for the entire revitalization, with a structure that protected both parties,” Spearn, who was pushed out of the organization in the spring of 2017, told the Star. Guaranteeing the whole project to a single developer would have allowed the public housing agency to leverage more assets for the community, he said, and avoided ongoing funding shortfalls and confusion over its future.

Since the beginning, the revitalization was never fully funded. City staff projected an early shortfall of just over $50 million — but where that funding was to come from was unclear. As the project continued, construction costs and changes to the redevelopment plan saw that figure climb to $108 million in 2017. City council, at the recommendation of housing officials, agreed to take on that debt to complete the project in a “timely manner,” leaving city taxpayers on the hook for up to $6 million every year for the next 30 years. The shortfall for phases four and five is expected to be as much as $182 million. It’s also unclear how that will be covered.

Spearn said how the final phases will be financed will be a key aspect of any proposal going forward.

Whether there will be a steady hand at the head of the housing corporation is also uncertain.

Since the Regent Park revitalization was approved by city council in 2003, TCH has been destabilized by corporate churn, with numerous senior managers embroiled in controversy and the departures of four chief executive officers. Its current CEO, Kathy Milsom, was put on paid leave in December after the board determined a “flawed” process” was used to award a $1.3-million consultancy contract.

Among the former CEOs is Derek Ballantyne, who advocated for Regent Park before leaving TCH in 2009.

The early vision for redevelopment, Ballantyne told the Star, was to avoid previous mistakes by designing an equitable and integrated environment that was guided by clear direction from the people who lived there.

“Without a doubt, this is a very different place and it’s a very different place to live in,” said Ballantyne, who is now chair of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. “This is not about being rich or poor. This is about simply having what anybody in other neighbourhoods in the city had.”

And while the goal was to create a healthier environment, Ballantyne said TCH never set out to design a perfect society.

“Was it going to get rid of violence? Was it going to end youth unemployment? It was never going to do all of that. I think what it did is it laid out the framework for how you might be able to better program into a neighbourhood and how you might be able to better address those issues.”

As of today, 800 of 1,360 households that had been relocated during the redevelopment are back and in new buildings. About 350 households have decided to stay where they are or have moved out of community housing. Another 200 are waiting to return as future phases are completed.

Construction by The Daniels Corporation, which is building a new condo building in partnership with Toronto Community Housing, is seen on Dundas Street East.
Construction by The Daniels Corporation, which is building a new condo building in partnership with Toronto Community Housing, is seen on Dundas Street East.  (Rene Johnston / Toronto Star)

Making sure that everybody in Regent Park gets a say in the neighbourhood’s future is why resident Walied Khogali Ali supports opening up the bid for the final phases. The neighbourhood has undergone dramatic change, not just architecturally but also in the composition of its residents — many who haven’t built relationships with Daniels and who would benefit from learning about past and future plans and get a new chance to engage in what must be a transparent process, he said.

“I think it is crucial for residents and the city to have confidence in a process where residents were not just consulted for the sake of consulting, but there was actual progress when it comes to specifically understanding the communities needs and building a relationship with the developer,” he said.

A New York Times article from 2016 declared Regent Park “a blueprint for successful economic and cultural integration.”

But one need look no further than its aquatic centre, where many local children have not been able to get into programs offered there, to see the challenges that remain for Regent Park’s residents.

A city policy that dictates children from any part of the city can access any community centre’s programs, the lack of overall spaces and a notoriously challenging sign-up system have created a competitive process, one usually dominated by families with multiple adults using high-speed Wi-Fi on several devices to sign up online.

That means children who live within a block of the aquatic centre can be squeezed out of programs by people from as far away as Etobicoke, Scarborough and North York.

“You actually have some children who have never ever taken swim lessons in Regent Park because they couldn’t get in — because when they got to the front of line or when they got on the phone, registration was already filled,” said Mary Ann Scott, a mother of three and founder of Access to Recreation.

Scott’s group wants a pilot project that prioritizes local access.

Her family lives near Church and Dundas Sts. On the night before registration starts, she heads to the Wellesley Community Centre for 8 p.m., and stands outside until sign-ups begin at 7 a.m.

If she’s one of the first four in line — and lucky — her children might get spaces in the gymnastics, swimming and cooking classes they’d picked out, she said.

Jason Kucherawy and his wife had no luck enrolling their two sons in the last round of local programing, despite using every electronic device in their home. They moved to Regent Park in 2012 after buying a two-bedroom condominium in the completed phase one.

“We wanted our kids to be global citizens and we wanted them to have friends and schoolmates from different backgrounds and different cultures and grow up in that environment,” said Kucherawy.

Given the past history of Regent Park, he said the idea that the final phases could go to the lowest bidder, rather than a company that has built trust and relationships in the community, is concerning.

“We are building a neighbourhood here and definitely want it to last a very long time,” Kucherawy said. “This is not supposed to be temporary housing.”

Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam asked city staff earlier this month to continue reviewing the access problems for parents who pushed for these recreation spaces and participated in earlier consultations.

Wong-Tam said she want to be ambitious in filling the gaps and listening to what the community has long been asking for.

That includes a multi-faith space, she says, and the promise of a new library that could replace the Parliament St. branch and facilitate more after-school programs.

“Once those lands are developed upon, they are done,” she said. “I know that we can build it because there’s no point in finishing Regent Park and not completing all the facility service gaps.”

It’s important as well, she said, to build capacity for the future, not simply for demand that exists right now.

“I certainly do not want to see the problems that have emerged from the inequitable access to the recreation centre as well as the aquatic facility be replicated in the final development phases.”

New residents agree there is still more to do to make Regent Park a success story.

Megann Willson, who is part of the leadership team of the Regent Park Residents Association, said she was interested in the “intentionality of trying to build a different way of living” when she moved to a condo there more than three years ago.

She said the association is paying close attention to the redevelopment and said the change around Daniels not being signed on for the final phase came as a surprise to residents who were not consulted.

As for what comes next, Willson said she is wary about certain proposals, calling ideas like a new library “a carrot that’s been dangled” by prospective developers.

What’s clear, she said, is the need for more community space, improved neighbourhood safety and economic opportunities for residents.

“We want far more than just building buildings,” she said. “We have to move beyond the ribbon cutting.”

Ibrahim is also looking towards the future, focused on building a community that will continue to thrive long after the developers are gone.

“We are still going to be here. We are still going to be doing what we love to do and building the community, identifying who the leaders of the future are and passing on the torch,” she said

“They could do amazing stuff.”

With files from Toronto Star staff, Toronto Star library

Jennifer Pagliaro is a Toronto-based reporter covering city politics. Follow her on Twitter: @jpags

Emily Mathieu is a Toronto-based reporter covering affordable and precarious housing. Follow her on Twitter: @emathieustar


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Community leaders work to head off anti-Muslim backlash after Kingston terror arrests


Islamic community groups, mental health workers and police officers met today to calm fears and discuss ways to prevent an anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant backlash in the wake of two arrests related to an alleged terrorist plot in Kingston, Ont.

Community leaders say they’re worried about the broader community implications after the RCMP’s national security team charged one youth with two terrorism-related offences and arrested an adult male named Hussam Eddin Alzahabi in connection with an alleged plan to detonate explosives at an undisclosed location.

Alzahabi’s family, originally from Syria, came to Canada in 2017 through a private refugee sponsorship program after living in Kuwait for 10 years.

Bronek Korczynski, who led the family’s sponsorship through Our Lady of Lourdes church, said the community groups that met today will attempt to head off rumours and spread the message that the alleged offences have nothing to do with Islam.

« This is not about casting aspersions on any faith community, on any identifiable ethnic or racial group. This is about an individual or individuals who have been involved in something that was brought to the attention of police, » he told CBC News.

Noting the arrests come near the anniversary of a deadly 2017 mass shooting at a Quebec mosque, Korczynski said police promised they would exercise increased vigilance against a potential backlash. Six Muslim men were shot to death by a lone gunman who walked into a Quebec City mosque on Jan. 29, 2017.

Addressing immigration concerns

Korczynski said he also fears the arrests and publicity surrounding the alleged terrorism case could spark unnecessary concerns about immigration.

« This certainly doesn’t suggest in any way, shape or form that Canadians shouldn’t remain open to support newcomers, whether they’re immigrants or refugees, » he said.

The backlash fears come as the political debate over immigration heats up again.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, who has accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of maintaining lax control over the border and immigration system, attempted to assign some blame for the developments to the Liberal government. 

Scheer points finger at Trudeau

« It is also clear that Canada’s refugee screening process needs to be seriously examined, » he said in a statement. « We’ve recently learned of several examples of dangerous individuals entering the country due in part to lax screening procedures. »

Scheer pointed to a 2017 audit of the Canada Border Services Agency which found that potential security threats may not have been identified due to lax screening.

« This is completely unacceptable and must be immediately remedied, » he said. « Conservatives will continue fighting against Justin Trudeau’s attempts to weaken Canada’s national security laws and implement real policies to ensure that Canada’s streets and communities are safe. »

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale dismisses Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s comments on refugee screening in wake of arrests, says police should be left alone to conduct investigation free of speculation 0:43

Last night’s arrests came just hours after Trudeau warned Canadians to expect « fearmongering » over immigration in the run-up to the fall election.

At a town hall meeting in northern New Brunswick, a young Syrian refugee thanked Trudeau for allowing her family to come to Canada, drawing applause from the crowd.

Trudeau said in an era of rising intolerance and misinformation about migrants, Canadians have a responsibility to engage in « a positive and a thoughtful way. »

According to a bulletin posted to the website of a Kingston-area Catholic church detailing the journey of the Alzahabi family, the family’s sponsorship application was approved in the spring of 2016, but the family was still awaiting its final security and health checks that fall due to the « overwhelming number of applicants. »

At the time, the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was working to bring more than 50,000 Syrian refugees to Canada through government and private sponsorships.

Community supports for family

According to the bulletin, five committees were working diligently to prepare to welcome the family and had raised more than $30,000 to assist their resettlement.

A storage room was rented to hold donated furniture and supplies, and an extensive support binder in Arabic and English was assembled to ensure a smooth transition.

The Anglican Diocese of Ontario and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Kingston, which support refugee sponsorship and resettlement programs, issued a statement after learning through the media that one of the individuals arrested was a member of a sponsored family.

« As the investigation evolves, we support the work of law enforcement. Our concerns, thoughts and prayers are for the Kingston and surrounding area, the faith communities involved, the family and all those affected by this unfortunate situation, » the statement says.


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Edmonton Pride Festival theme for 2019 gives nod to historic revolutionary event for LGBTQ community – Edmonton


The Edmonton Pride Festival has announced the theme for its 2019 events, and “Building Bridges from Stonewalls” pays homage to the Stonewall riots in New York City to mark the 50th anniversary of the demonstrations.

The 1969 protests followed a police raid of the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Lower Manhattan.

“The theme came about with the idea of the Stonewall riots being the widely-regarded beginning of the modern gay rights movement for our community,” said Clayton Hitchcock, co-chair of the board of directors for the Edmonton Pride Festival Society (EPFS).

“It was somewhat of a play on words with the name of the Stonewall Inn and taking the walls of those who stand against the community, and using those very same stones to build the bridges we have today and the ones we still have to build,” he said.

Watch below: (From July 2016) The Stonewall riots in 1969 were a turning point in the gay rights movement in the United States. Martin Boyce is a Stonewall veteran and shares the impact of the protest on the Pride movement.

Noting duality in the theme’s name with regard to prominent words in our society, Hitchcock added that “walls and bridges are a hot topic in today’s world.”

The EPFS announced the theme (“Building Bridges from Stonewalls”) last week on social media. The organization draws similarities between the Stonewall riots to an event that occurred in Edmonton.

The EPFS’ tweet, including this year’s festival theme announcement, noted that “as the Pride movement took shape in our own city, the Pisces Bathhouse Raid in 1981 became Edmonton’s own Stonewall, causing Edmontonians to take a stand against the mistreatment of our community.”



The theme was chosen through an online public vote and there were three options. The other two suggested themes were “Be You To Full” and “Make Change Mâmawikamâtotân Avec Fierté.”

Hitchcock said he thinks “Building Bridges from Stonewalls” was chosen due to the anniversary of the movement coupled with its importance to the community.

“Stonewall is something that is very known in our community, so I think it being the 50th anniversary made a lot of people pay attention to it,” he said.

“It resonated with a lot of people in our community with where we’re at right now — taking a moment to recognize the works of the past, the present and where we want to go in the future.”

The theme will be open for interpretation during the festival’s 10-day takeover of Strathcona Park at the edge of Steel Park, and it’s up to organizers of each event to showcase the theme how they’d like.

“We’re hoping to see some ingenious ideas around that,” Hitchcock said.

Despite the Pride Festival being six months out, planning is well underway and it has been for a while.

“We never really stop,” Hitchcock said. “As soon as one is finished, we start on the next one.”

READ MORE: Edmonton Pride Parade continues after being stopped by demonstrators

Watch below: (From June 2018) Old Strathcona was packed Saturday as the 2018 Edmonton Pride Parade wound its way colourful crowds. Albert Delitala was there.

With the announcement of this year’s theme, the EPFS uses January as a stepping-off point to begin engaging the public. Application forms for volunteers, parade entries, sponsors and vendors are also released at the start of the new year.

“There’s a million-and-one pieces to put together for the festival, so we want to start getting people focused on it around this time [of year],” Hitchcock said.

Last year, the organization announced the festival’s main events were moving closer to the ATB Financial Arts Barns, where the Edmonton International Fringe Festival takes place, however, the festival will be staying where it usually is afterall.

“That’s been pushed back a year due to some construction and other logistics with the city,” Hitchcock said.

This year, Pride in the Park  — which usually occurs after the Pride Parade — will be spread out over Friday, Saturday and Sunday, instead of just the Saturday the parade falls on.

The 2019 edition of Pride will also focus on Indigenous Pride, as the space for that will be bigger. The event will also feature an alcohol-free space.

“Particularly, it will be a sober space for people who perhaps are averted by the party aspect of pride,” Hitchcock said.

Hitchock said many Edmontonians show up for and enjoy the Pride Parade, and noted that “in a lot of people’s mind[s], the parade is the festival.”

“The festival is more than the parade,” he said.

“Over the 10 days, there’s a multitude of events that go on, and a lot of really great organizations that put on these events.

“Every year we strive to create more awareness around that.”

Each year, the Edmonton Pride Festival continues to gain more attendees and participants.

“Last year, we were really lucky,” Hitchock said. “We had the ability to increase our parade. We used to have around 100 entries, and last year we went up to 120 — it should be around the same this year.

“Our hope is that it will always grow.”

This year’s Edmonton Pride Festival runs from June 7 to June 19.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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Montreal Irish community meets to discuss future plans for Black Rock site – Montreal


More than 100 members of Montreal’s Irish community met at St. Gabriel’s Parish Thursday, learning about future plans for the Black Rock site.

“We are at the very beginning of planning, but it is exciting that we have reached this point,” said Fergus Keyes, co-director of the Montreal Irish Monument Park Foundation.

The Irish community has been asking for a memorial park for more than 100 years. There is already a small site in the median of the road on Bridge Street.

Irish history commemorated in 153rd Walk to the Black Rock

In 1847, more than 6,000 Irish died from a typhus epidemic. A mass grave was found a couple of decades later at the site, which sits at the base of the Victoria Bridge.

Hydro-Quebec has given 1.5 hectares of land they purchased for a post to be used to create a memorial park at the site.

City of Montreal planners have been working with Hydro, those behind the REM light rail project and the Irish community to find ways of re-configuring Bridge Street to accommodate the park.

WATCH: Walk to the Rock commemorates Montreal’s Irish community (May, 2018)

On Thursday, those who attended the meeting at St. Gabriel’s heard different versions of the plans to change Bridge Street, which will be publicly announced at a later date when a recommendation is made to the city.

In the meantime, members of the Montreal Irish Monument Park Foundation say the story of Black Rock is a truly Canadian one.

Montreal rallied around the sick and dying in what the foundation calls a “major humanitarian effort.”

“In some cases, they sacrificed their own lives, and just because they knew it was the right thing to do,” said Victor Boyle, representing the Montreal Irish Monument Park Foundation.

Quebec parties promise to remove election signs set up on Black Rock mass grave site

Those from the order of the Grey Nuns also played a key role, Keyes said.  He explained how they were released from their vow of obedience and were told they didn’t have to go to the site and offer care. Still, 24 of the able-bodied nuns went, where they all contracted the disease.

Of those 24, seven died, and those who recovered went back to help.

There was also the local Indigenous population, who helped by bringing much-needed food to the city.

And famously, the mayor of Montreal at the time, American-born John Easton Mills, who went to the fever tents at the site to offer medical care, also died from the disease.

“He is known as the martyr mayor of Montreal,” said Keyes. “So many people from all backgrounds are a part of this story.”

Once the city of Montreal approves the move, then plans can start to be made for the park itself.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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Edson’s hockey community bands together to support Mounties’ son killed in crash – Edmonton


A deadly crash in central Alberta last week that killed the six-year-old son of two RCMP officers has the hockey community in Edson pulling together support for the parents.

Cooper Dwight Pennoyer died on Friday afternoon after police said a truck he was travelling in hit the back of a snowplow that was stopped on the side of Highway 16, about 30 kilometres east of Edson. The person driving the truck was taken to hospital with minor injuries. The driver of the snowplow was not hurt.

READ MORE: 6-year-old boy dies in collision west of Edmonton, RCMP investigating

The Edson Aeros Junior A Hockey Club is now planning a pre-game tribute for Cooper ahead of their hockey game against the Cold Lake Wings this Friday night.

“We are planning a tribute to Cooper as he was a huge Aeros fan and also a player in the Edson minor hockey system,” the team’s president, Axel Axmann, said in an email to Global News. “We understand that Cooper’s mom, who is also an RCMP member, will be in attendance.”

“She was very supportive of it,” Axmann said of Sarah Pennoyer’s response to the tribute plans.

Axmann said the pre-game ceremony will include a moment of silence. Edson minor hockey players are encouraged to attend the game free of charge if they wear their Edson minor hockey team jerseys.

“As we learned from the tragedy in Humboldt, the hockey family is a small family and it’s a very tight-knit group,” Axmann said. “Cooper was a member of the Edson Minor Hockey Association here… We thought one of the best ways to honour him was to have a game in his memory… and show support to his family.

“Lots of tears, lots of grieving will happen and it’s OK, because it’s something that we need to do in order to deal with the process.”

Cooper’s obituary highlights his love for school, especially gym class, and “having new ‘harder’ things to learn.” It also says he played hockey with the Edson Sabres and was also a passionate fan of the sport, cheering for the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks. Axmann said the Aeros’ assistant coach told him Cooper also enjoyed cheering on their team at games.

“Although young in years and old in soul, Cooper’s zest for life shone everyday through his infectious smile and big brown eyes that lit up when he talked about everything he loved,” his obituary reads. “When Cooper smiled it was with his whole face and you couldn’t help but smile with him.

“He shared his passion of hockey, Lego and everything outdoors with his dad, spending countless hours talking, constructing, discussing cows and quadding.”

Cooper’s obituary also mentions he had expressed a desire to follow in the footsteps of his parents, Sarah and Jason Pennoyer, and to eventually pursue a career in law enforcement.

“He was so proud when he put on his mom’s RCMP hat or his dad’s RCMP Stetson and got to play with their vests,” the obituary reads. “The detachment ladies had their ‘coop’ entertainment almost every morning and afternoon while he was waiting to go to school or home, target practice with elastics — taping them to their chairs and drawing them pictures on whatever scrap paper they had on their desks.”

In lieu of flowers, Cooper’s family has set up a trust fund for his sister Taylor to which people can donate. Axmann said he hopes people attending Friday’s game will donate to the trust fund.

“A portion of the funds will be donated in his name to Ecole Westhaven School and the Edson Minor Hockey Association.”

There will also be a celebration of Cooper’s life in Edson on Thursday.

“The RCMP members are a big part of our community and they’re very much involved with us and they do great things for us,” Axmann said. “To have this happen is tragic and it’s sad and we all feel for them and the family.

“It’s a small community and they’re such a big part of it.”

The RCMP said the cause of Friday’s crash remains under investigation.

Edson is located about 200 kilometres west of Edmonton.

–With files from Global News’ Albert Delitala

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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A man ‘cannot do that to a woman’: Why polygamy in Canadian Muslim community could be another #MeToo moment


Zaib’s life began to unravel with an unexpected phone call from her husband in early 2018.

He told her he had married a second wife, an announcement that took the Toronto woman by surprise.   

« I went into shock mode. I was in a state of denial, saying no, no, this can’t be happening. I started getting the symptoms of anxiety, depression and crying spells, » Zaib told CBC’s The Fifth Estate.

Zaib, whose last name CBC has agreed to withhold, said she got so sick her doctor recommended an extended leave of absence from work.

Zaib and other Canadian Muslim women in a similar predicament believe this could be their own #MeToo moment, an opportunity to speak out and demand an end to the practice of polygamy in Canada’s Muslim community.  

« All the other women are quiet, not saying anything. Maybe if I say a thing or two, that will bring attention to this issue because this is the law and men are breaking it right, left and centre and nobody’s saying anything to them, » said Zaib.

She feels there should be accountability on the part of men.

« A man should know he cannot do that to a woman — you use her and then decide you’re going to have another fresh woman and you just leave her on the side like that. »

Determination to move on

Zaib’s husband tried to reassure her that he had no intention of abandoning her or their three adult children. Zaib said he told her: « I am going to still provide for you, take care of you and the kids. You can continue living the way you’re living and it’s just going to be one extended family. »  

As the weeks went by, Zaib said she became increasingly convinced that her 26-year marriage was over. She was 19 when her parents arranged her marriage to her husband, who is 20 years her senior.

Looking back at her marriage, Zaib said she was happy. « Whatever was my destiny I got it. »

Zaib and her husband were married in Saudi Arabia. (Submitted by Zaib (last name withheld))

Zaib was born in Pakistan and her husband was born in India, but after their marriage in Saudi Arabia, they moved to Canada in the mid-1990s.

Zaib, who speaks multiple languages, found work as a translator in Toronto. But as employment opportunities for her husband dried up in Canada, he went to the United States in search of work and was away from the family for weeks at a time.

After she spent two months trying to figure out what to do with her life, Zaib’s husband returned to Toronto for a scheduled visit.

Realizing that Zaib was unwilling to accept his decision, he suggested they seek the counsel of their local imam. Zaib said the imam listened to both of them, but then told her husband that although Islamic law allowed polygamy, plural marriages are banned in Canada.  

CBC reached out to Zaib’s husband, who is not being named to protect his wife’s identity, but did not receive a response.

In 2011, the B.C. Supreme Court upheld the section of the Criminal Code that prohibits polygamy as constitutional and ruled that the harm against women and children from polygamy far outweighs concerns over protecting religious freedom.

‘Unfair to women’

The Canadian Council of Imams, which represents the majority of imams in Canada, has declared that polygamous marriages, permitted according to the Qur’an, are nevertheless not valid because they are a violation of Canadian law.

The majority of Muslim jurists say a Muslim man is permitted to take up to four wives, but only if he can treat them all fairly and with justice.

In some Middle Eastern countries, polygamy is regulated and the second, third or fourth wife, has legal rights. But that’s not the case in Canada, says Imam Hamid Slimi of the Sayeda Khadija Centre in Mississauga, Ont.

« The way polygamy is practised today is unfair to women, » Slimi said.

Imam Hamid Slimi of the Sayeda Khadija Centre in Mississauga, Ont., has preached openly against the practice of polygamy in Canada. (CBC)

In a recent sermon at his centre, Slimi told his congregation that polygamy « was permitted for a certain time and within a certain context in the past, hundreds of years ago, but here in Canada, it’s not allowed and 95 or 99 per cent of women don’t agree with this and I am talking about Muslim women. »

Although Slimi was head of the Canadian Council of Imams for more than a decade and has preached openly against the practice of polygamy in Canada, he admits that it continues.

It continues in part because an imam is not required to solemnize a marriage in the Islamic faith. Anyone with a basic requisite knowledge of the Qur’an and the prophetic traditions can officiate a nikah — or marriage — ceremony.  

But Slimi insists that all nikahs or marriages, whether conducted by an imam or not, should be registered with the authorities to ensure that they comply with the law.  

Zaib’s not alone

Over the last several months, a team at the The Fifth Estate talked to nearly a dozen women from the Greater Toronto Area, which has an extremely diverse population of more than half a million Muslims.

According to Statistics Canada, there are more than one million Muslims in Canada, but when it comes to polygamous marriages in the community, it is impossible to quantify because these marriages are most likely never registered.  

The women The Fifth Estate spoke with are or were wives of Sunni imams and prominent community leaders and all share a common story to that of Zaib.

« I thought this doesn’t happen in Canada. It’s illegal and maybe there are some consequences, but to my surprise, when I went into the situation, I have a friend, I spoke with her and found out she’s getting a divorce because her husband [has] a second wife, » said Zaib.

The first wives who shared their story with CBC did so on condition that their identities not be revealed to protect themselves and their children from a potential backlash within the Muslim community.

When we were married, my husband told me his religious teacher said it was permissible for a man to lie to his wife about taking a second wife if the intention is to keep her happy and to keep the peace. – Alima

After 18 years of marriage and three children, Alima, not her real name, demanded her husband grant her a divorce after he confessed last summer that he had done a nikah to another woman. At the time, Alima found out the second wife was pregnant with her husband’s child.  

« When we were married, » Alima said, « my husband told me his religious teacher said it was permissible for a man to lie to his wife about taking a second wife if the intention is to keep her happy and to keep the peace. »

After their divorce, Alima said, « I had to work on keeping my faith, otherwise, I may have lost it completely. »  

Another woman, Kareema, a friend of Alima, is also struggling to keep her faith having experienced a similar ordeal. Kareema, not her real name, converted to Islam and got married to her husband in Toronto in 2000. After giving birth to the youngest of three children in 2016, Kareema said, her husband began having an affair.

« A prominent imam in Toronto advised him to marry (nikah) the woman to avoid commiting the sin of adultery, » said Kareema. « Instead of correcting the wrong that my husband was doing, the imam compounded it with another wrong. »  

Kareema said she confronted the second wife and when her husband found out, he assaulted her. « It took two years for me to leave him. » 

Kareema said the #MeToo movement has awakened her and Alima and although they wish to speak up, they remain afraid for their safety and the security of their children.  

According to court records obtained by the The Fifth Estate, another prominent Toronto imam attacked his wife and sent her to hospital after she confronted him on his « secret nikah » to another woman. After years of marriage and two children, her marriage to him recently ended in a divorce.

‘I see nothing wrong with it’

Issa is a convert to Islam and a chef in Toronto who says he is open to the idea of taking a second wife, although he is well aware it is an offence punishable in Canada with up to a maximum of five years in prison.

« I see nothing wrong with it. It’s part of our religion. That’s why I am open to it and I accept it. »

Issa, who asked to be identified by his Muslim name, said when he married his wife in an Islamic ceremony, they agreed not to register their marriage, a legal requirement in Canada.

Issa, whose last name CBC has agreed to withhold, says he is open to the idea of taking a second wife. (CBC)

Issa mistakenly believes that when he eventually takes a second wife he cannot be accused of breaking the law since none of his marriages would be registered with the authorities.

When asked what his wife thinks of his decision, he said, « My wife’s a woman, so you know, most of the times women don’t like it, but she accepts it. She understands that this is our religion. This is what Allah has allowed for us, so she definitely accepts it. »

Finding second wives

It is not that difficult for men like Issa to find second wives. Several Muslim matrimonial websites have sprung up worldwide catering to men seeking polygamous relationships and to women who are open to such arrangements.

A producer with The Fifth Estate registered himself on two websites and was soon communicating with women who were interested in being a second wife.

One of the women who expressed an interest in a polygamous marriage was Haleemah, a Toronto-area resident and a convert to Islam.

Haleemah, whose last name CBC has agreed to withhold, says she would accept being in a polygamous marriage with conditions. (CBC)

Haleemah is single and divorced with two adult children. She said she would accept a polygamous marriage but with conditions.

« I have had Muslims ask me in the past, ‘Would you like to be a second wife?’ and I would say if I was in a polygamist marriage and the first wife was accepting of this, I would welcome her and help her in any way I can because I’ve been through raising a family, » she said.

Asked whether the illegality of polygamy was a concern for her, she said while she was aware it was illegal, « in some situations, I think some imams are willing to help. »

Some imans known to help men find second wives

Many of the women who told The Fifth Estate their husbands had taken second wives pointed out a number of imams in Ontario who are known to assist Muslim women like Haleemah in finding husbands who are already married, and who help match men like Issa to aspiring second wives.

The Fifth Estate wanted to put the rumours that were circulating in Toronto about some imams to the test and sent a married Muslim man undercover.

Of the six imams who were approached, two declined to perform a nikah ceremony for a married man. Two congratulated the undercover for his decision to take a second wife and recommended other Ontario imams whom they said would perform the nikah.

The Fifth Estate’s hidden camera recorded Imam Aly Hindy offering an already married Muslim man a copy of the certificate he would receive for a second marriage. (CBC)

Two imams agreed to perform the nikah ceremony for the married undercover. One said it would cost $450 and suggested three locations in Toronto where the ceremony could take place.

The second imam, Aly Hindy, serves as the imam at the Salaheddin mosque in the east end of Toronto. He charges a standard fee of $200 for a nikah ceremony, regardless of whether it is a first, second or third marriage. He offered to supply the two male witnesses required by Islamic law.   

After showing the undercover a copy of the marriage certificate he would receive, Hindy provided his own interpretation of Canadian law.

« We have no problem with the government because we are not going to register. If you register, then it is illegal, because you are already married. »

‘Let them sue me’

In an interview with The Fifth Estate, CBC’s Habiba Nosheen showed Hindy the undercover video of him agreeing to conduct a second marriage for a man who was already married and asked him for his reaction.

« So? Sue me. Let them sue me. We follow the law because we’re not registering a second marriage, » he said.

When asked to explain why he endorses the practice of polygamy in violation of Canadian law, he insisted the law should be changed.

When pressed for an explanation, Hindy described it as a « garbage law, » and said « eventually we’re going to recognize that there’s not enough men for each woman. »

« Many women will not be able to get married because there are not enough men because men die in wars, children die early and there are more boys than girls. Plus you also lose some number of men to homosexual marriages. »

Nosheen suggested the law will not change because people chose not to respect it, to which Hindy said, « OK, the law cannot be enforced. »

Enforcing the law

Toronto lawyer Sabha Hazai, who sits on the board of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women,  is spearheading a project aimed at educating Muslim women on their legal rights when getting married. She said the current law lacks teeth.

« It’s up to the lawmakers and it’s up to the courts now. How do they want to address polygamy? Are they going to start looking at enforcing the law? Are there going to be criminal prosecutions?

« Are there going to be convictions? Can you call the police and say: ‘My husband’s in a second marriage, please charge him for it?’ »

Toronto lawyer Sabha Hazai says Canada’s current law on polygamy lacks teeth. (CBC)

The law has never been tested in respect to the practice of polygamy among Canadian Muslims.

When asked for his reaction to imams who perform polygamous marriages, Slimi was unequivocal.

« What upsets me is if we want to be part of Canada and call ourselves Canadian Muslims, we have to be part of this society. »

Polygamy, he said, « was permissible and it’s permissible in other countries, but it’s illegal here. The issue is not because I have a choice, I don’t have a choice. »

For women like Zaib, there is no compromise on the issue of polygamy in Canada.

« I’m going to be living the rest of my life with a burden and I know myself, I thought the best way, just let him go live his life and I’ll figure out my own life. »

With files from Habiba Nosheen and Tamar Weinstein


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