Canada – Dunia Nur was out to buy paint when it happened. Community organizers in Edmonton, Alberta, were speaking Somali to their aunt by phone when a shopkeeper told her aggressively to “speak English.” When he tried to get out of the situation, he blocked his way.
“I was offended by the fact that he spoke my language,” he told Al Jazeera Nur, a Somali Canadian and chairman and co-founder of the Canadian Civil Engagement Council. “I tried to move and then he blocked me.”
While the recent incident didn’t add up anymore, Nur said it left her feeling in danger, mostly because it happened shortly after a Muslim family was shot dead by a driver in London, Ontario in a deadly attack that police said era spurred on by anti-Muslim hatred.
He has also come amid a series of verbal and physical attacks against black Muslim women in and around Edmonton since the end of last year – a reality Nur said he left to several members of the communities afraid to leave their homes.
In late June, two sisters, Muslim women wearing hijabs, were attacked by a man with a knife which hurled racial insults at him on a road just outside the city. In other cases, Muslim women have remained flashed to the ground while out on a walk or threatened waiting for public transportation.
City says Edmonton police have received reports of five incidents involving black women wearing hijabs since Dec. 8, 2020, and the police force’s hate crime unit arrested and charged against a suspected in any case.
But defenders of the Muslim community say the incidents are often reported. “We had a meeting in the common room where a lot of women came out and actually said they had been previously attacked with knives, were told to return to their homes, had experienced a lot of gender-based violence and crimes motivated by the hate. – has not been stated, “Nur said.
“Black Muslim women are being attacked and attacked because of anti-black racism and because of Islamophobia.[c] the rhetoric and they’re attacked because they’re women … It seems to me now that we’re at a point where we’re not sure what will happen to us when we go out. ”
Measures of the city
The capital of the western Canadian province of Alberta, Edmonton, was home to just over 972,000 residents in 2019, according to a municipal family investigation.
In an email to Al Jazeera, Mayor Don Iveson’s office said some Edmontonians “have not received the message that racist and fanatical behavior is not well received in our city.”
“There are systemic and long-term factors that contribute to this, there are also specific injury problems in the heart and mind of [Edmontonians] who should know better – and there are too many of those people who have been given a license, in a variety of different ways, to express their hatred in this community. And I, like most Edmontonians, want to stop it. Now, ”the statement said.
Iveson said Edmonton City Council supports calls to strengthen hate laws in Canada and has provided financial assistance to strengthen initiatives to address hatred and violence, including a task force to provide advice on how to make the community feel safe.
“The City, the Edmonton Police Service and the Edmonton Police Commission have responded with a work plan outlining 70 different actions that address the identified problems. A more comprehensive strategy will be advanced by early 2022,” he said. said the statement.
The city council also passed a motion earlier this month directing Edmonton to engage further with black, Indigenous and other communities of color to address persecution and violence.
The motion also orders the mayor to write to the federal government “requesting a review and potentially updating the current definition of hate crime” for any racial, gender or cultural gaps or prejudices, the city said.
And women “in fear”
But despite these measures, activist Wati Rahmat told Al Jazeera that “Muslim women are afraid” in Edmonton.
“I’ve had friends who have conversations about whether they should change the way they wear the hijab, or wear the hijab, or go out with a friend, or not go out,” said Rahmat, who founded Sisters Dialogue, a Muslim-led initiative. by women, in response to attacks. The group is currently working on a safe walking service to offer accompaniment to Muslim women who do not feel safe going out in the sun.
Demands for more support in Edmonton come amid growth, across Canada calling on the federal government to implement an action plan to eradicate Islamophobia, advocates say systemic racism and far-right fanaticism increase the risks of violence.
For many, the June attack in London, Ontario – and also a deadly shot of 2017 to a mosque in Quebec City and a fatal dagger last year outside a mosque in west Toronto – show how deadly the problem can be.
“I don’t think it’s fair for women to be afraid of fate,” Rahmat said.
Some Muslim advocacy groups, including the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), have also called for enforcement of street harassment laws, since most of the current attacks on Muslim women in Alberta have been made public.
Fatema Abdalla, NCCM’s communications coordinator, said at least 15 attacks on Muslim women have been reported in the cities of Edmonton and Calgary in the past six months.
“These women were either on their everyday walks or they were in a park or and LRT [light-rail transit] station or some form of transit station, ”Abdallah told Al Jazeera, adding that NCCM receives calls almost every week about verbal abuse aimed at members of the Muslim community across the country.
“They’re almost like we need to prevent them from happening so they don’t lead to more devastating attacks like the one we saw in London, Ontario,” he said.
Meanwhile, leaders of the Muslim community are taking steps to seek to curb violence on their own. Noor al-Henedy is communications director at Edmonton’s Al Rashid Mosque, which has organized self-defense courses for Muslim women this year.
While the community thought it was necessary to provide women with concrete tools to get out of a bad situation – and the courses attracted overwhelming interest – al-Henedy said they also reflected a shocking reality.
“It’s very sad and disappointing to be honest with you and I think it makes some people a little angry that we have to do this, that we have to resort to these measures,” al-Henedy told Al Jazeera in an interview in March.
“We care about the next generation; we care about our daughters, “she added.” When a 15-year-old girl comes and tells you that she’s too scared to cross the street, walking from school to home, it’s extremely worrying. It’s heartbreaking. “
Nur of the Canadian African Civil Service Council said the organization is also working on offering psychological support, and information for Muslim women to know what to do if they are attacked, including how and to whom to report. an incident of violence.
She called on international organizations such as the UN to urge Canada to act to respond urgently to the situation in Edmonton.
“We need international attention and solidarity because we cannot do this alone and our public officials are failing us. We need international help and intervention,” Nur said. “We are not well. We’re not really doing well. “