Survivor Aymen Derbali sets out to combat hate, 2 years after Quebec City mosque shooting

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Aymen Derbali swivels his wheelchair toward the large windows of his new living room, sparsely furnished with ornate rugs.

He bows his head and closes his eyes, taking a moment for his afternoon prayer, before talking about the turning point in his life — moving into a new home with his family last August, after being apart for nearly 18 months.

« I was able to go back to my home and have a normal life, like before the tragedy, » he said.

Derbali, a father of three, nearly avoided the attack that killed six people and seriously wounded him and four others at Quebec City’s Islamic Cultural Centre on Jan. 29, 2017.

He was debating whether to go his local mosque that evening, but eventually told his wife he was going, and would be home in time to put their eldest son to bed.

Derbali was in his usual corner at the back of the room, when he saw the gunman come in and raise his weapon toward him.

He was hit with seven bullets, including one that struck his spinal cord. In a second, the life he’d set out for himself and his family made an abrupt turn.

Derbali regularly attends the mosque where he was shot on Jan. 29, 2017. (Julia Page/CBC)

Derbali was in a coma for the next two months. His doctors feared he’d lost most of his cerebral capacities, after surviving four heart attacks.

When he woke up, he was told he’d never walk again.

But « being able to recognize my children and my wife, for the rest of my life, that was the main thing for me, » he said.

His coma was especially hard on his then-eight-year-old son, Ayoub, who was convinced his father was dead.

« He was very upset. So when he saw me back at my home he was very, very happy. »

The wide hallways of his new home allow Derbali to move around easily. (Julia Page/CBC)

Outpouring of support

The soft-spoken 42-year-old can now move freely around the house, purchased thanks to a $400,000 fundraising campaign.

People from around the world answered the call from Dawanet, a Muslim charity, to help his family move out of their Sainte-Foy apartment — which was too cramped and ill-equipped for Derbali’s needs.

The wide hallways and door frames in the new home allow him to move around during the day, from his small desk in his bedroom to the sitting room where he can watch television with his children.

He can also watch them play soccer in the backyard in the summer.

« This solidarity has encouraged me to be more positive, and this is the beautiful thing, » he said.

Grateful for the wave of support he’s received, Derbali refuses to dwell on the act of violence he fell victim to that night. « There is much more goodness than evil on this planet, » Derbali said.

Derbali smiles at his two youngest children, Maryem, 2, and Youssouf, 6. (Submitted by Aymen Derbali)

His home still needs a few more modifications to make it fully adapted to his needs, including an adapted shower and an elevated platform to allow him to go straight to the garage from the kitchen.

But he is able to help in planning all this, now that he can type on his keyboard with two fingers and answer calls on his cellphone, lessening the burden he felt he put on his family, just 12 months before.

« I can plan the work around the house, pay the bills and help my son with his homework. »

He is also there every afternoon to greet his children when they return from school, just a few blocks away.

Second life

Derbali has started sending out resumés  in hope of landing a part-time job, to supplement the income provided by the government’s compensation for victims of crimes.

But his daily routine still takes up a lot of his time. He requires three hours of home care every day, and the bullets that exploded inside his body cause him constant pain.

Nonetheless, he is committed to the humanitarian work he began long before the shooting.

Derbali, who worked as an IT specialist, is now able to type on his computer and hopes to go back to work part-time. (Julia Page/CBC)

He continues to be involved in an orphanage he helped set up in Bolivia and now wants to do more within Quebec City, to foster dialogue between groups that may have been on separate paths for too long.

« We woke up after this tragedy and said ‘We have to be more open to all the communities,' » he said.

He is encouraging Muslim youth to get involved and volunteer for homeless shelters, for example.

« In this way we can fight hate crimes and we can fight ignorance. This is the most important thing, to have concrete actions, » he said.

Derbali has also started giving conferences in high schools to show young men and women the mark hatred left in his life, convinced these face-to-face meetings will leave a much deeper impact than any government initiative.

Derbali sits in the dining room of the new home his family was able to purchase thanks to a fundraising campaign that netted more than $400,000. (Julia Page/CBC)

« You know if we have an open-minded teenager, we don’t have to be afraid for his future. »

The two-year anniversary will be an important milestone for Derbali. So will knowing the fate that awaits the young man he crossed paths with in his place of worship, two years ago.

Convicted gunman Alexandre Bissonette will be sentenced just days after the anniversary, on Feb. 8, at the Quebec City courthouse.

Derbali says that will be another chance to turn the page and focus on the good he has seen emerge from that dark night.

« It’s my second life that is starting. »

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Hate crimes unit consulted for investigation after Edmonton mosque visited by men known to police

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Edmonton police said their hate crimes unit was called in to help investigate after a prominent and well-attended mosque in the northwest part of the city was visited by a group whose activities are known to police.

A police spokesperson told Global News they could not identify the group being monitored because “groups change names and alliances frequently, so there’s no consistent name they go by.”

The communications director of Al Rashid Mosque said people she works with were very concerned when the men visited.

“There were two suspicious men that came into the mosque [and] we were not sure what they were doing,” Noor Al-Henedy told Global News. “One of them was wearing a toque with the word ‘infidel’ on it in Arabic. We didn’t pay attention at first until our executive director went upstairs.

“They toured the mosque, came upstairs to the women’s section… they were just looking like they were scouting the place and then he (one of the men she called suspicious) went downstairs and went to the bathroom.”

Al-Henedy said the men left when approached by the mosque’s executive director. She said the men joined other members of their group outside and a confrontation unfolded with members of the community. She said one of the people who was part of the group she didn’t know and who was involved in the confrontation streamed the encounter live online.

“The security and safety of everyone that was coming to pray in the mosque was our priority,” she said. “So we called the cops right away to get them to come and evaluate the situation and eliminate any threats that may have happened because we were not really sure what was happening.

“We are entrusted by our community as an organization to make sure that we have the freedom to practise our religion and we wanted to make sure that everybody was in a safe place and nobody was getting harassed.”

Ty Hunt told Global News he was one of a group of five men that went to the mosque so that he could use the bathroom and they could ask questions about Islam. He said it’s hard for him to ask questions of Muslims because “there’s no Muslims at the Yellow Vest rallies” and “it’s hard to run into a Muslim on the street.”

Hunt is the bearded man seen entering the building to use the bathroom, and who was wearing the toque that says “infidel” in Arabic.

“I’ve got a tattoo on my neck that says ‘infidel’ as well… it just means non-believer… in anything,” Hunt said.

“The Christians don’t get offended by it…I’ve gotten more feedback by the Muslims than I have anybody else…. I put it on my neck because it’s time for them to get over it. You’re in Canada, now it’s [time to] integrate into Canada.”

In a phone interview, Hunt told Global News he is a former member of the Soldiers of Odin, a far-right group that has members that “adhere to extreme right-wing ideology and are not afraid to use violence,” according to a declassified Canada Border Services Agency intelligence report obtained by Global News

READ MORE: Edmonton protesters confront far-right group that CBSA report suggests is ‘not afraid to use violence’

Watch below: (From September 2018) A few blocks away from where thousands of people gathered for an annual Labour Day barbecue in Edmonton, a protest was held against a group known for its far-right views. Kim Smith reports.






Hunt said he left the group and joined another one known as The Clann. He said he is involved in a movement that is opposed to the United Nations because of a threat he said it poses to Canadian sovereignty. He said he supports the Yellow Vest movement and has “questions about Islam.”

READ MORE: UCP nomination candidate turfed in pub night controversy: ‘Polite racist is still racist’

Police said officers showed up at the mosque at around noon but there were no arrests.

Noor Al-Henedy said police also went to the Edmonton Islamic Academy to make sure everyone was safe there.

“We are working with them (police) to make sure such incidents do not happen again,” she said.

READ MORE: Fire at mosque in Edson Saturday night leaves community shaken: RCMP investigating

Premier Rachel Notley took to Twitter to denounce hate on Friday night without directly referencing the mosque incident.

“Hearing that a hate group is openly harassing and terrorizing people in #yeg with racist and homophobic attacks and posters is beyond upsetting,” her tweet read. “This is not who we are.

“There is no room for this kind of hate in the strong, open and optimistic Alberta that inspires me and is our home.”

READ MORE: Edmontonians gather to honour victims of Pittsburgh massacre, support Jewish community

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

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Videotaped apology hailed as victory in struggle against hate speech

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When Mohamad Fakih first received the video, he watched it alone; he wanted to make sure it was acceptable to show his kids. Then, the prominent Muslim-Canadian businessman gathered his wife and three boys and, together, the family watched the taped apology that took them more than a year of turmoil and thousands of dollars in legal fees to obtain.

In the two-minute clip, Ranendra “Ron” Banerjee — a man the family has never met — apologized to Fakih for making “defamatory and disparaging” comments about him and his popular restaurant chain, Paramount Fine Foods. Banerjee admitted to saying Paramount only let in patrons who were “jihadist” and have raped their wives “at least a few times.” But, as he said in the video publicly released Monday, he now realizes it was wrong to attack Fakih simply because of his religion and that “such hate has no place in Canada.”

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When the video ended, Fakih turned to his oldest son and asked him what he thought. “It’s good,” the 14-year-old said slowly. “But it’s not right.”

Fakih agrees. This long-awaited apology — provided as part of a Dec. 7 settlement agreement in a defamation lawsuit Fakih filed against Banerjee last year — marks an important victory not only for him and his family, but also for the broader struggle against hate speech and rising Islamophobia in Canada.

But the ordeal has also taken a significant financial and emotional toll on Fakih and his family. While the settlement is important, it is just one small step, he said; mere days before Banerjee’s apology, Statistics Canada reported that 2017 saw a record number of hate crimes across the country, with the majority targeting Muslim, Black and Jewish communities.

“It’s one step forward, but it’s only the beginning,” Fakih said. “I realize that there could be another (incident) tomorrow, with somebody else, and it could be one of my staff or one of my friends.”

Fakih’s legal battle against Banerjee began on July 20, 2017, when the anti-Muslim agitator showed up outside a Mississauga location of Paramount Fine Foods with online provocateur Kevin Johnston, another fixture at anti-Muslim rallies in the GTA. They were filmed making remarks Fakih alleges to be defamatory and the videos were widely disseminated online, including on Johnston’s website, FreedomReport.ca.

Fakih sued them both in August 2017 and while his lawsuit against Johnston is still ongoing, Banerjee asked to settle after an interim ruling by the Superior Court of Justice that rejected his attempts to quash the lawsuit this spring.

Banerjee had previously argued he went to Paramount because Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was attending a fundraiser there and he wanted to protest the federal government’s $10.5 million payout to former Guantanamo Bay detainee Omar Khadr. Therefore, he said, his comments were relating to a matter of public interest.

But in June, Justice Shaun Nakatsuru ruled the lawsuit should proceed because Banerjee’s comments “involve hallmarks of hate” and do not relate to a matter of public interest — a decision legal experts described as precedential because it made clear legitimately hateful expression could not be protected simply by claiming it was made in the public interest.

Anti-Muslim agitator Ranendra (Ron) Banerjee, left, reads an “unqualified” apology to Paramount Fine Foods owner Mohamad Fakih in a screengrab from a video released Monday. Fakih is seen right in a May 16, 2018, file photo.
Anti-Muslim agitator Ranendra (Ron) Banerjee, left, reads an “unqualified” apology to Paramount Fine Foods owner Mohamad Fakih in a screengrab from a video released Monday. Fakih is seen right in a May 16, 2018, file photo.

In addition to his “unqualified apology” to Fakih, which Banerjee made both in writing and video, the settlement also included a confidential cash payment and “consent to judgment” of $100,000 — meaning Banerjee will be liable for that amount if he ever makes similar comments against Fakih, his family or Paramount again.

“I will not make public comments of this nature in the future,” Banerjee said in his videotaped apology, reading from a sheet of paper. “I hope everyone seeing or reading this apology learns from my mistake.”

In reaction to Banerjee’s settlement, the executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) said that building inclusive communities also means “challenging such hatemongers to ensure that everyone feels safe and secure.”

“At NCCM, we regularly receive reports from Canadian Muslims who are facing similar circumstances of hate directed at them,” Ihsaan Gardee said in an emailed statement. “We commend Mr. Fakih for taking a stand against such bigotry.”

On Monday, Fakih celebrated the settlement by making a $25,000 donation to the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, a non-profit organization that monitors and studies hate activity. Fakih said he wants to empower other Canadians who may not have access to the same financial resources for combating hate speech through lengthy and costly legal battles.

An immigrant from Lebanon, Fakih has built Paramount Fine Foods into a successful restaurant chain with 70 locations worldwide. He is also known for his philanthropic efforts, which include supporting Syrian refugees and offering to pay for the funerals of worshippers killed in last year’s Quebec City mosque attack.

Fakih said he has wanted nothing more than to be accepted in Canada, but Banerjee and Johnston’s comments made him feel for the first time he wasn’t welcome here. Many friends and family discouraged him from pursuing the lawsuit, he said, but the “comments were so vile, so evil, so hateful that I simply couldn’t not stand up against them and do the right thing.”

In addition to his statements from July 2017, Banerjee has also been previously filmed describing Islam as evil and stating that Muslims should be banned from civilized countries, Nakatsuru wrote in his ruling from June. He also wrote that Banerjee administers several Twitter accounts that have made anti-Muslim statements, including that a dead Muslim is a net gain for humanity and Muslims are rotten from the time they are born. (Banerjee previously testified he “may or may not have written those tweets.”)

Johnston, who recently finished second in the mayoral race in Mississauga, is currently facing a hate crime charge relating to multiple alleged incidents involving online commentary targeting Muslims, according to Peel Regional Police. In his statement of defence to Fakih’s defamation lawsuit, Johnston denied the allegations and said any assertion he has “ever promoted hate is a fabrication.”

Fakih said he’s watched Banerjee’s video several times and while the apology is gratifying, it still makes him angry.

So much damage has already been done, he said. His 4-year-old son was traumatized by an encounter at a shopping mall, where Johnston followed Fakih and his children while videotaping and badgering him about supposed ties to terrorism. “For three nights, he was waking up and saying ‘Who’s that man who wants to hurt my dad?’” Fakih said.

His oldest son also came home from school one day with a picture his friend found online. The photo was photoshopped to make it appear Fakih’s hands and face were covered in blood.

“There is an anger inside of me and I’m sure my son will never forget this story,” Fakih said. “It makes them understand that they need to stand up for the things that we believe in as Canadians.”

Jennifer Yang is a Toronto-based reporter covering identity and inequality. Follow her on Twitter: @jyangstar

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In Canada, Jews face more hate crimes, while Muslims face more violent ones: StatCan – National

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For years, police-reported hate crimes in Canada were inching up slowly.

They went up by three per cent in 2016 and by five per cent the year before. They even fell in 2013, dropping by 17 per cent from the year before.

That all changed last year —  police-reported hate crime rose by nearly 50 per cent, much of it driven by incidents that targeted Canada’s Jewish, Muslim and black populations, according to Statistics Canada data released on Thursday.

And the differences are even more stark when you split the incidents between violent and non-violent crime.

Coverage of hate crimes on Globalnews.ca:


Among religious groups, Jews were the biggest targets for hate crimes — they were victims in 360 incidents last year.

Muslims came a close second, with 349 incidents.

READ MORE: Hate crimes against Muslims in Canada increase 253% over four years

Hate crimes grew for both populations.

Jews were targeted in 139 more incidents last year than in 2016, for an increase of 63 per cent.

Muslims, meanwhile, were targeted in an additional 210 incidents, for an increase of 151 per cent.

There had been considerably more incidents targeting Jews than Muslims in previous years. That gap narrowed dramatically in this year’s data.

Most of these incidents involved non-violent offences. But Muslims were a more prominent target when it came to violent hate crime.

“Uttering threats” was the most prominent violent offence that Muslims faced last year, with 61 incidents, while Jews faced 22.

They were also more prominent targets for assault (30 incidents versus 13), including both common assault (20 incidents versus nine) and assault with a weapon, assault causing bodily harm or aggravated assault (10 versus four).

READ MORE: Hate crime reports in the U.S. spiked 17% last year — FBI

Many hate crimes happened in Quebec, where they tripled from 41 in 2016 to 117 in 2017.

Hate crime reports for incidents involving Muslims jumped there in February 2017, the month after six people were killed at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec.

Incidents reported in that month accounted for over a quarter of all incidents targeting Muslims in the province last year.

There were 184 reported hate crimes targeting Muslims in Ontario — but there were more incidents targeting Jews in that province (209).

People gather to observe a candlelight vigil in Toronto, on Monday, January 30, 2017, for victims of the shooting at a Quebec City mosque.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

All of this happened as hate crimes targeting religion grew by 83 per cent.

Such incidents accounted for 41 per cent of all hate crimes in 2017, up from 33 per cent the previous year.

Hate crimes targeting Catholics also went up, from 27 incidents in 2016 to 39 incidents in 2017.

WATCH: Man allegedly attacks 11-year-old girl, cuts hijab with scissors






In a statement, the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) said it was “deeply concerned” by the statistics.

“The data, while very unsettling for our communities, unfortunately does not surprise us,” NCCM executive member Ihsaan Gardee said in the statement.

“2017 was an immensely difficult year for the Canadian Muslim community, beginning on Jan. 29 with the single largest Islamophobic attack in Canada’s history, in which six men were brutally murdered and many others injured while worshipping in their Quebec City mosque.

“This new data reveals anti-Muslim hate crimes peaked in February 2017, signalling that the shooting very much set the tone for the increase in hate crimes against Muslims for the remainder of the year.”

In a separate release, the Urban Alliance on Race Relations (UARR) noted that, in the wake of the Quebec City shooting, there were a series of anti-Muslim rallies that gathered in response to a federal motion known as M-103, which called on federal politicians to condemn Islamophobia.

“Sadly, it is no surprise that hate crimes against Muslims rose so dramatically last year,” Mohammed Hashim, board member with the UARR, said in a statement.

People hold up a signs during a demonstration to oppose motion M103 in Montreal, Saturday, March 4, 2017.

THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Graham Hughes

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs noted the increase in hate crimes targeting Jewish people, but also against black, Arab or West Asian and LGBTQ+ populations.

CEO Shimon Koffler Fogel called on the federal government to undertake three steps: to expand the Security Infrastructure Program, to come up with a national strategy to fight hate on the internet and to “strengthen the capacity of law enforcement to combat hate crime.”

“This should include enhancing legal tools to deal with hate speech and supporting the creation of local hate crime units where they are lacking,” Fogel said in a statement.

Religion wasn’t the only ground upon which people were targeted for hate crimes.

Incidents targeting black people went up 50 per cent to 321, while incidents targeting Arab or West Asian people jumped by 27 per cent, to hit 142.

Hate crime incidents targeting people for their sexual orientation also increased by 16 per cent in 2017, hitting 204.

Police stations provide crime data to Statistics Canada, which helps them generate reports like this one.

  • With files from The Canadian Press

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Canadians reported record high of more than 2,000 hate crimes in 2017

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More than 2,000 hate crimes were reported to Canadian police last year, marking a record high since comparable data first became available in 2009, according to a new Statistics Canada report.

In 2017, Canadians reported 2,073 hate crimes to police services, a sharp rise of 47 per cent compared to the previous year. This growth was primarily fuelled by Ontario, which saw the biggest spike in hate crimes with 1,023 incidents — a 67 per cent increase from 2016, with the majority of cases targeting Muslim, Black and Jewish communities.

A playground slide was vandalized with anti-Semitic and anti-Black graffiti in a Markham schoolyard in 2017. A Statistics Canada report released Thursday shows hate crimes are on the rise in Canada.
A playground slide was vandalized with anti-Semitic and anti-Black graffiti in a Markham schoolyard in 2017. A Statistics Canada report released Thursday shows hate crimes are on the rise in Canada.  (Submitted photo)

This was followed by Quebec, where hate crimes grew by 50 per cent and largely victimized the Muslim community — especially in the month after the Quebec City mosque shooting, which accounted for 26 per cent of anti-Muslim incidents reported in the province last year.

For anti-racism and advocacy groups, the report is just the latest testament to an alarming rise in hatred — and the time for effective action and leadership is long overdue.

“These attitudes remain prevalent in our society and this is unacceptable,” Brittany Andrew-Amofah, a board member with the Urban Alliance on Race Relations, said in a statement. “It’s time for political leaders to unequivocally speak out against hate and intolerance and in support of a multicultural society where everyone feels safe to participate and contribute.”

This new data comes with caveats. It’s unclear whether last year’s spike is due to a rise in incidents or improved reporting and hate crimes still represent a small proportion of overall crimes, accounting for just 0.1 per cent of the 1.9 million non-traffic crimes reported by police last year.

But police data also depends on a service’s ability — and resources — to effectively investigate hate crimes, which are vastly under-reported. In 2014, another Statistics Canada survey found that Canadians self-reported more than 330,000 criminal incidents motivated by hate, but only a third filed police reports. Groups like the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) and the Canadian Anti-Hate Network also criticize the current classification systems for being overly broad — making it difficult, for example, to discern whether a Muslim Arab man might have been targeted for his race, religion or both.

There is no specific offence under the Criminal Code called “hate crime,” but any crime can qualify as such — and, accordingly, increase a person’s jail sentence — if hatred is proven to be a motivating factor. Three sections under the Criminal Code also deal with hate propaganda, but the bar for laying charges is particularly high.

Last year, the majority of reported hate crimes were non-violent and involved incidents of mischief, like graffiti or vandalism. But violent incidents accounted for 53 per cent of hate crimes targeting people for their sexual orientation; by comparison, 24 per cent of hate crimes targeting religion and 47 per cent of incidents based on ethnicity were categorized as violent.

The leading motivation for a reported hate crime was race or ethnicity, with 878 incidents last year — an uptick of 32 per cent from 2016. The Black community was the most frequently targeted, with anti-Black incidents up by more than 50 per cent and accounting for 16 per cent of all hate crimes across Canada.

Hate crimes based on religion also grew by more than 80 per cent, with the biggest rise in incidents targeting Muslims. While anti-Muslim hate crimes dropped in 2016, the number of reported incidents more than doubled last year to make a total of 349.

“The numbers are quite astonishing,” said NCCM spokesperson, Leila Nasr. “At the same time, I have to say it’s not surprising to us. 2017 was a massive year for the Muslim community, starting with the massacre of six Muslim men while out praying in (a Quebec City) mosque. So I really think that set the tone for the rest of the year.”

Proportionally speaking, Jewish people were targeted the most, with anti-Semitic hate crimes accounting for 18 per cent of all reported incidents in 2017. Recent years have seen a growth in anti-Semitic incidents worldwide, but anxieties within North American Jewish communities have become particularly acute since 2017 — especially in the wake of the violent rallies in Charlottesville, Va., which were characterized by blatant anti-Semitism, and last month’s synagogue attack in Pittsburgh that killed 11 people, making it the deadliest anti-Semitic attack on North American soil.

“Whenever you have polarization, distrust of mainstream authorities and a dynamic of political demonization, this is where anti-Semitism can find an environment in which to grow,” said Steve McDonald, director of policy with the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. “Often you’ll see that when people are angry about a current political situation, if they’re anti-Semitic, they’ll link it back to Jews and point to Jews as a source of evil in the world.”

A mourner reacts during a funeral ceremony in Montreal for three victims of a deadly shooting at the Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City. The Jan. 29, 2017 shooting left six Muslim worshippers dead. A Statistics Canada report released Thursday shows hate crimes are on the rise in Canada.
A mourner reacts during a funeral ceremony in Montreal for three victims of a deadly shooting at the Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City. The Jan. 29, 2017 shooting left six Muslim worshippers dead. A Statistics Canada report released Thursday shows hate crimes are on the rise in Canada.  (CHRIS WATTIE / AFP/Getty Images File Photo)

Canada is now at a “critical moment” and politicians — especially those who are increasingly resorting to dog-whistle politics and xenophobic rhetoric — need to examine their own role in fuelling this growing tide of hatred, said Mohammed Hashim, a board member with the Urban Alliance for Race Relations.

“Economic anxiety is creating a level of discord amongst people and politicians are using minorities as scapegoats for it,” he said. “This is the result of continued and increasingly amplified scapegoating done by politicians who are preying upon people’s anxieties.”

Both CIJA and the NCCM are calling for more intervention from the Canadian government, including a national strategy on combating online hate and strengthening anti-racism efforts at the federal level. Local police services also need to be better trained on hate crimes, Nasr said; many Muslim-Canadians who report incidents to the NCCM say they were not believed by local law enforcement.

This latest report by Statistics Canada speaks to the urgent need for more funding and resources dedicated towards hate crime policing, said Bernie Farber, chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network. As a category of crime, “hatred” is particularly difficult to investigate and prosecute and recent years have seen an atrophying of hate crime units within police services, he said.

“There is no question that hate crime has the potential to lead to violence and even death, and we ignore that to our peril,” Farber said. “It is time for hate crime units to be restored and given proper funding and to get it back on track.”

Jennifer Yang is a Toronto-based reporter covering identity and inequality. Follow her on Twitter: @jyangstar


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Hate crimes reached all-time high in 2017, Statistics Canada says

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The number of police-reported hate crimes reached an all-time high in 2017, largely driven by incidents targeting Muslim, Jewish and black people, according to Statistics Canada data released Thursday.

The federal agency said hate crimes have been steadily climbing since 2014, but shot up by some 47 per cent 2017, the last year for which data was collected. In total, Canadian police forces reported 2,073 hate crimes – the most since 2009, when data became available.

The increases were largely driven by incidents in Ontario and Quebec, Statistics Canada says.

In the worst incident in the country, six Muslim men were shot to death and others were seriously injured during an attack on a Quebec City mosque in January 2017. This spring, 28-year-old Alexandre Bissonnette pleaded guilty, but said he was not Islamophobic and instead « carried away by fear and a horrible form of despair. »

But police are also dealing with an increase in smaller incidents.

Toronto police’s hate crime unit said it investigated 186 incidents — largely vandalism and graffiti — in 2017. In nearby Hamilton, police reported an 18 per cent increase in the number of what the force calls hate and bias incidents.

Alberta and British Columbia also reported increases in the number of incidents.

Statistics Canada’s report says the increase may be partially driven by more people reporting hateful incidents, but it also cautions a large number are not reported.

Hate crimes account for 0.1 per cent of the more than 1.9 million non-traffic crimes reported by Canadian police services in 2017.

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Toronto judge considering case of man accused of advocating genocide, promoting hate online

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A Toronto judge has reserved his decision in the case of a former paralegal accused of advocating genocide and promoting hatred in email and on the internet, including an open Twitter account.

Rupen Balaram-Sivaram has pleaded not guilty to 10 charges, including the rare charge of advocating genocide. The charges stem in part from a series of hateful social media posts and emails he allegedly sent to public figures and media organizations that call for death to Jews, homosexuals, Westerners and Christians.

Rupen Balaram-Sivaram has pleaded not guilty to 10 charges, including the rare charge of advocating genocide.
Rupen Balaram-Sivaram has pleaded not guilty to 10 charges, including the rare charge of advocating genocide.  (SUPPLIED PHOTO)

He testified this past summer he did not create the social media accounts, including some under his own name, and denies putting out any information to the public to incite hatred.

Last week in court, defence lawyer Jason Rabinovitch reiterated his client’s position that he did not commit any of the alleged offences. Alternatively, Rabinovitch told Superior Court Justice Michael Brown if he rejects Balaram-Sivaram’s testimony and finds he is behind the emails and social media postings, he should consider them “personal opinions” that are a reaction to news events.

The postings in evidence are simply people having discussions in an open forum, as distasteful and disturbing as that may be, he said in court. In Canada, people are allowed to express contrary opinions, Rabinovitch said during final arguments.

“He can hate the Jewish people,” Crown attorney Kim Motyl said in reply. But his comments take a “great leap” from engaging in political discourse to actively encouraging others to carry out violent acts.

In her written submissions, Motyl wrote that Balaram-Sivaram’s “entire social media footprint is riddled with evidence of his belief that those of Jewish descent and homosexuals should be exterminated. Further, his hard devices — his computer, two USB drives and his cellphone are likewise full of such sentiment.”

The prosecution cited several examples of how Balaram-Sivaram allegedly committed the offence of advocating or promoting genocide in emails sent to public officials and media outlets.

One 2014 email attributed to Balaram-Sivaram contained the suggestion that “bombs, viruses and cyber warfare” are the “best punishment” to be delivered across America, Britain and Canada.

Balaram-Sivaram sent the email to “a number of individuals in power nationally and internationally who would have the practical ability to execute a campaign of genocide,” the prosecutor wrote.

On Twitter in January 2015, a user named Rupen Balaramsivaram — without the hyphen — tweeted: “The more Jews/Zionists & their Western allies are hurt, killed, the better. Death to Americans, British, Canadians and Jews.” Another tweet said: “Many more Jews to Be Exterminated Along with Useless Christians.”

Motyl called such examples “clear, concise calls to action.”

The Twitter account in his name had a handful of followers. But as the Supreme Court has noted, “when one posts to the internet, one loses the ability to control where the information goes,” she wrote. “There are millions of users who could access that information. Further … the statements were made, not in the context of a private communication but rather, in the context of an open Twitter account, accessible (to) nearly a billion users.”

The use of the internet to spew vitriol and fearmonger by men charged with violent crimes has been the subject of much attention recently. The Pittsburgh man accused of shooting 11 Jews to death in a synagogue and the Floridian who attempted to bomb critics of U.S. President Donald Trump both reportedly vented online before allegedly committing their crimes.

There’s no evidence Balaram-Sivaram carried out any violent acts beyond promoting what the prosecution called “his hateful views to the world.”

Balaram-Sivaram — who had his paralegal licence revoked in 2011 — is also charged with criminal harassment, uttering threats and impersonation relating to his ex-wife and her current partner.

The Crown alleges that over nine years Balaram-Sivaram, angered by his estranged wife’s new relationship, made harassing phone calls and threats to her and her new boyfriend, in addition to sending hateful emails under his name.

“Mr. Balaram-Sivaram used these emails to send diatribes of his own, long-held hateful beliefs to members of identifiable groups, member of government, media outlets and others knowing that their transmission was illegal and would cause discord” for his ex-wife’s new partner, the prosecution wrote in a factum filed with the court. “Thus, he could disseminate his own views, and blame a rival for their dissemination.”

The Crown cited several examples: In July 2014, the Green Party of Canada reported receiving threatening emails containing hateful messages and imagery signed by his estranged wife’s partner’s name, with a spelling error. The prosecution alleges Balaram-Sivaram wrote and sent the messages, which he denies.

Brown said he would deliver his verdict in January.

Betsy Powell is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and courts. Follow her on Twitter: @powellbetsy

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‘A lot of hate and bigotry around’: Church terminates sign contract over refusal to post gay-positive message

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A Scarborough church has terminated its more than three-year-old contract with a Toronto sign company over the sign company’s refusal to post « gay-positive » and other messages on the church’s behalf.

St. Paul’s United Church is the latest to be embroiled in a dispute with Archer Mobile Signs Limited.

Windermere United Church in west-end Toronto has launched a human rights complaint against the company over its refusal to post messages, which Archer Mobile Signs owner Steven Thompson said are contrary to his religious beliefs.

Rev. Daniel Benson, the pastor of St. Paul’s United Church, said its contract with Archer Mobile Signs had commenced prior to his arrival at the church more than three years ago.

He said the problems started on June 17, when he sent an e-mail to Thompson requesting some updates to the sign.

« The front of the sign was to say ‘Happy Pride: The rainbow is God’s promise of unconditional love for everyone,' » Benson told CBC Toronto.

« The rear should say ‘Aboriginal Week of Prayer: AkweNia’Tetewáneren. All my relations.' »

But Benson received an email back from Thompson saying they needed to talk, and that he’d like to stay clear.

There’s a lot of hate and bigotry around and I think [we need] to stand up to it.– Rev. Daniel Benson, pastor of St. Paul’s United Church

Benson said Thompson refused to communicate further via e-mail or on the phone and when they eventually met, Thompson would not allow him to record their conversation.

« He basically told me his story about his faith journey and that given where he believed he was and his relationship with God he could not put this content up, » Benson said.

« The rationale seems to be that if we put up something that was gay-positive on the sign it might be vandalized. »

Contract terminated

Benson said even though he stressed that the church is the client and the importance of the message for its ministry in staking its claim of who they are in the community, Thompson would not budge.

He said he eventually took the matter to his board, which was very supportive of the content and authorized him to immediately terminate the contract with Archer Mobile Signs Limited.

Benson said he plans to reach out to Windermere United Church pastor, Rev. Alexa Gilmour, about joining her human rights complaint.

Gilmour said she was forced to take action after Archer Mobile Signs Limited refused to post a message that encouraged people to wish their Muslim neighbours a Ramadan Mubarak [Happy Ramadan] and another that encouraged people to celebrate diversity during Pride Week.

Windermere United Church pastor, Rev. Alexa Gilmour, said she was forced to take action after Archer Mobile Signs refused to post a message, which encouraged people to wish their Muslim neighbours a Ramadan Mubarak [Happy Ramadan] and another that encouraged people to celebrate diversity during Pride Week. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

In the complaint, Gilmour said interfaith dialogue and action is a central part of her faith and ministry, and if Windermere United cannot post the messages they choose then they cannot do the ministry they feel called by God to do.

« I understand that he is allowed to have his own faith even if I disagree with his beliefs. I’m not asking him to change his and embrace mine. I’m asking him not to censor mine, » Gilmour told CBC Toronto.

« We have a right to put a message of faith and put our faith into practice by using that sign and that’s what we’ve been doing for years now and that’s what I was asking to be done going forward. »

Gilmour said the sign was one of the ways Windermere United Church shows its inclusion and welcome of the community, and when that ability was taken away by Archer Mobile Signs she feared that the church’s Muslim neighbours would wonder why they were not included.

« I don’t know how I could post words of inclusion and love one week and then not stand against exclusion and hatred the next, » she said.

Prejudice lurks, fight for justice is real

For Benson, the entire episode shows that it can be quite easy to underestimate where prejudice lurks.

« We make assumptions, particularly in a place like Toronto, that it’s gay-positive, it’s racially positive. It’s easy to make those assumptions and I think we are constantly in a place of having those assumptions tested and challenged on many, many fronts, » he said.

« We tend to think of Toronto as being cosmopolitan, and yet as we know there’s a lot of hate and bigotry around and I think one of the things is to stand up to it. »

He said the fight for justice is still a real one on all sorts of fronts, whether it’s women’s rights, the #MeToo movement, black lives matter, aboriginal rights and reconciliation or LGBT issues.

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