Islamophobia is on the rise again

Jun 21, 2024 | Canadian News, News

Incidents of Islamaphobia in Canada have skyrocketed since Hamas broke through the Gaza barrier and launched an attack on Israel on Oct. 7, 2023.

The most visible incident was a truck that drove through Toronto flashing Islamophobic messages. One of the most recent deadly incidents includes an arson attack on a home in London, Ont.

Katherine Bullock, a University of Toronto political science lecturer, said there has been a significant increase in hate crimes in the country.

Bullock said there has been an increase in hate crimes and hate incidents since Oct. 7, when Hamas launched an attack against Israel, not just for Muslims, but for Jews as well.

Toronto Police reported that in 2023, there was a 47 per cent increase in the number of reported hate crimes to 365 from 248 in 2022, “with global events contributing to the increase.”

But incidents were already on the rise. StatCan reported hate crimes targeting a race or ethnicity rose by 12 per cent to 1,950 incidents In 2022, its most recent data showed.

“Some organizations are reporting a 1,000 per cent increase in calls reporting Islamophobia incidents since Oct. 7, some a 500 per cent increase in calls and some 300 per cent,” Bullock said.

She said Islamophobia is a form of tribalism, a form of exclusion that brings a divide between groups. It establishes a clear in-group and out-group, with the out-group deemed so different they cannot be integrated back in.

An arson attack on a Muslim family’s home in London, Ont., on June 8 is now believed to be hate-motivated according to the London police.

London police said a man arrived at a home in the area of Wateroak Drive at around 9:30 p.m. and left shortly after carrying a few items he took from the front yard. The suspect returned at around 10:30 p.m. when a fire was started on the front porch.

No injuries were reported. Fire crews brought the blaze under control but not before it caused $30,000 in damage to the home.

Bullock said it was important and commendable that the police were acknowledging that not all police services would label something like that as a hate crime from the get-go.

“The fact that they’ve done that already shows that there’s a certain perspective that they’re working through,” she said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau responded to the attack in a post on X (formerly Twitter) saying that Canadians have seen how dangerous and ugly Islamophobia is. We have to keep confronting it- wherever and whenever we see it.

There are reports of hate crimes to the police will be discouraged or dismissed or not taken seriously. “Hate crime units across the country don’t have the same definition of what even counts as a hate crime,” Bullock said.

Faisal Sheikh, a Kitchener resident, said he didn’t feel an increase in hate in his neighbourhood. But when visiting family in Toronto he said “we look like a Muslim family and in areas like King or Dundas I can feel a change in the environment.”

He particularly felt the stares when the pro-Palestinian marches were in full swing in November and December.

“We’d get those stares at restaurants and cafes. Like you’re guilty of something,” Sheikh said.

He said whether or not one participated in the protests, he felt people assumed that he and his family were a part of it.

Sheikh said he grew up here and that he feels Islamophobia in Ontario has been up and down.

“Have to say though, Canada is one of the good countries when it comes to tolerance and having representation and being given a platform to be heard,” he said.

Bullock said Islamophobia, depending on its manifestation, goes up and down.

“It has its peaks. The peaks are often connected to what’s going on overseas,” she said. “If you look at the hate crime statistics of Ontario over the years there is an up and down, but it’s never absent.”

Not every incident of hate is recorded and some of it doesn’t even meet the threshold of a hate crime.

Maria Khan, a Toronto resident, said while studying in Montreal, she didn’t feel safe enough to wear the headscarf or publicly declare that she was a Muslim.

“But after moving here, I think my fear reduced or I just got confident, I don’t know, and have started wearing the hijab again,” she said.

Khan said she has faced instances where racial slurs were yelled at her in the Dundas Street and Ossington Avenue area.

“It’s happened on the bus or right outside the subway stations,” she said.

She said when searching for work she felt she was discriminated against because of her attire. “Which is sad, be it any country, anywhere.”

Khan sees two sides of Ontario.

One is where peaceful demonstrations give her a sense of hope that the public is united and stands together. The other is when she hears of her friends’ struggles in school and the workplace.

“Real-life people facing discrimination is not some stranger on the news,” Khan. said. “It’s subtle, but it’s always there. And that’s real life, but it’s 10 times worse on social media.”

Bullock said opportunities for interfaith gatherings and multicultural events, participation in volunteer work, and food distribution are good ways to bridge gaps in the community.

“I don’t think we should underestimate those gestures of kindness,” she said.