Darren Shilbayeh can’t stop himself from looking over his shoulder when out in public.
A London, Ontario resident who wears a hijab says she’s worried she’ll be targeted because of her faith since a Muslim family was murdered in the city this summer.
Growing up in London and a student at the city’s Western University, “in every corner, even the mall, when it’s a public place, it’s like, I have to be careful.”
This sentiment is shared by many Muslim Canadians, when four members of the Afzal family, who were out for an evening walk, were rammed and killed by a vehicle in what police called a hate attack.
At a vigil held outside a London mosque two days after the June 6 tragedy, federal party leaders denounced Islamophobia and promised to fight it.
But some, including Shilbayeh, say there has been little action since then, and argue that the issue has not been discussed enough during the campaign.
“I don’t think they addressed it in any way,” Sheelbayeh said. “Act on what you say.”
Gihan Shaheen, who lives in London, feels the same way.
“They are not helping at all,” said Shaheen, who also wears a hijab. “I don’t feel safe.”
Saboor Khan, a friend of the Afzal family, said the issue of tackling Islamophobia has been put on the political priority list.
“There’s more attention to it than before, but I don’t think it’s enough,” he said.
The liberals said they would take measures to fight Islamophobia if re-elected, including introducing a National Action Plan to Combat Hate by 2022, a National Action Plan for Survivors of Hate Crimes. That includes investing $10 million for the fund and introducing legislation within 100 days. To deal with hateful online content.
“We believe there is much more to be done, and a re-elected Liberal government will continue to work closely with Muslim communities and all Canadians to address hatred in Canada,” said spokeswoman Adrienne Wupshas.
Meanwhile, the conservatives said they were committed to working with the Muslim community to “work hard to find concrete solutions to these problems”. They also said they plan to “fight online hate by explicitly criminalizing statements that encourage violence against other people or identifiable groups.”
“A conservative government in Canada will continue to fight against Islamophobia, intolerance, hatred and institutional racism,” said party spokesman Matthew Clancy.
The NDP said it would work with provinces, law enforcement and nonprofits to create a “National Action Plan to Eliminate Far-right Extremist Organizations”. The party said it would work closely with justice officials to decide how hate crimes are treated in courts.
“The London attack was a horrific byproduct of the systemic racism and Islamophobia that Canada is struggling with,” a spokesman said. “The new Democrats know we can’t turn our backs on this uncomfortable truth, but fight it hard to put an end to it.”
Ariz Anwar, an imam at the London Muslim Mosque, said the involvement of federal party leaders in the surveillance held in London following the attack in the city “makes a lot of sense”.
“A long time ago, even mentioning sympathy for Muslims would be considered out of balance for some politicians,” he said.
At the same time, Anwar said, “this is not progress enough, because nothing of matter has happened since then.”
Fatima Abdullah, a spokeswoman for the National Council of Canadian Muslims, agreed, saying that “there is certainly a lot more to be discussed” by politicians competing to form the next federal government.
“In the last few months, we have heard that every single political leader comes on stage and commits to change,” she said. “However, it is very sad that we are not seeing the same reflection in their platforms when it comes to real, concrete policy change and commitment against Islamophobia.”
Abdullah said the national organization is calling on the next federal government to create a national action plan against white supremacy and to challenge Quebec’s Bill 21 in court, among other measures. This piece of law prohibits certain public sector employees from wearing religious symbols, including the turban, kippa and hijab, in the workplace.
Anwar of London’s Mosque said he would like to see a non-partisan office to specifically address Islamophobia, as well as launch a dedicated service to tackle hate crimes.
He said he hoped people would recognize the issue of Islamophobia and other forms of discrimination as a “Canadian issue” worth fighting for.
“It’s not something that will just go away,” he said. “I hope Canadians don’t see this as something that can be overlooked and hopefully out of sight, out of mind. This is a problem that needs to be addressed directly.”