Canada – Dunia Nur was buying paint when it happened. The Edmonton, Alta. Community organizer was speaking Somali to her aunt on the phone when a man in the store aggressively told her to “speak English”. When she tried to get out of the situation, he blocked her path.
“He was offended that I spoke my language,” said Al Jazeera Nur, a Canadian of Somali origin and president and co-founder of the African Canadian Civil Engagement Council. “I tried to move and then he blocked me.”
Although the recent incident has not yet escalated, Nur said it left her in danger, especially since it happened shortly after a Muslim family was run over by a driver in London, Ont., In a deadly attack which police say was spurred on by anti-Muslims. to hate.
It also happened amid a spate of verbal and physical attacks on predominantly black Muslim women in and around Edmonton since late last year – a reality that Nur says has left many behind. many community members afraid to leave their homes.
At the end of June, two sisters, Muslim women who wear the hijab, were attacked by a man armed with a knife who hurled racist slurs at them on a path just outside the city. In other cases, Muslim women have been thrown to the ground while walking or threatened while waiting for public transport.
The city says Edmonton police have received reports of five incidents involving black women wearing hijabs since December 8, 2020, and the police hate crimes unit has arrested and charged a suspect in each. case.
But advocates for the Muslim community say incidents often go unreported. “We had a meeting at the town hall where many women came out and said that they had already been attacked with knives, that they had been told to go home, that they had suffered a lot of violence based on gender and hate crimes. – it just hasn’t been reported, ”Nur said.
“Black Muslim women are attacked and they are attacked because of anti-black racism and they are attacked because of Islamophobia[c] rhetoric and they are attacked because they are women… I feel like right now we’re at a point where we don’t know what’s going to happen to us when we get out.
Capital of the province of Alberta in western Canada, Edmonton had just over 972,000 inhabitants in 2019, according to a municipal household survey.
In an email to Al Jazeera, Mayor Don Iveson’s office said some Edmontonians “have failed to get the message that racist and bigoted behavior is not welcome in our city.”
“There are systemic and long-term factors that contribute to this, there are also specific prejudice issues in the hearts and minds of people. [Edmontonians] who should know better – and there are far too many of these people who have been allowed, in different ways, to spit hate in this community. And I, like most Edmontonians, want this to end. Now, ”the statement read.
Iveson said Edmonton City Council supports calls to strengthen hate laws in Canada and has provided financial assistance to support initiatives to address hate 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 responded with a work plan outlining 70 different actions that address the issues identified. A more comprehensive strategy will be presented in early 2022, ”the press release said.
City council also passed a motion earlier this month directing Edmonton to engage more with Black, Indigenous and other communities of color to address harassment and violence.
The motion also directs the mayor to write to the federal government “to request a review and potentially update the current definition of hate crime” for any racial, gender or cultural discrepancy or prejudice, the city said.
But despite these measures, activist Wati Rahmat told Al Jazeera that “Muslim women are afraid” in Edmonton.
“I’ve had friends who wondered if they should change the way they wear the hijab, take the hijab off, or hang out with a friend, or not go out,” said Rahmat, who founded Sisters. Dialogue, a Muslim initiative led by women, in response to the attacks. The group is currently working on a safe walking service to provide support for Muslim women who do not feel safe going out on their own.
Demands for more support in Edmonton come as growing pan-Canadian calls for the federal government to implement an action plan to stem Islamophobia, as advocates say systemic racism and far-right fanaticism increase the risk of violence.
For many, the June attack in London, Ont. – along with a deadly 2017 shooting at a Quebec mosque and a fatal stabbing last year outside a mosque in western Toronto – show how point the problem can be fatal.
“I don’t think it’s fair that women are afraid to go out,” Rahmat said.
Some Muslim advocacy groups, including the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), have also called for tougher street harassment laws, as most recent attacks on Muslim women in Alberta have taken place in public.
Fatema Abdalla, communications coordinator for NCCM, 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 going for their daily walks, or they were in a park or on a light rail. [light-rail transit] station or some form of transit station, ”Abdalla told Al Jazeera, adding that the NCCM receives calls almost every week about verbal abuse targeting members of the Muslim community across the country.
“It’s cases like these that we need to prevent from happening so that they no longer lead to attacks as devastating as the one we saw in London, Ont.,” She said.
In the meantime, leaders of the Muslim community are taking steps to try to stem the violence themselves. Noor al-Henedy is director of communications at Al Rashid Mosque in Edmonton, which this year organized self-defense courses for Muslim women.
While the community felt that it was necessary to provide women with concrete tools to get out of a bad situation – and the classes aroused immense interest – al-Henedy said they also reflect a shattering reality .
“It’s very sad and disappointing to be honest with you and I think it makes some people a bit angry that we have to do this, that we have to resort to these measures,” al-Henedy told Al Jazeera in an interview with Mars.
“We are worried about the next generation; we worry about our daughters, ”she added. “When a 15-year-old girl comes to tell you that she is too afraid to cross the street, to walk from school to home, it is extremely worrying. It is heartbreaking.
Nur of the African-Canadian Civil Engagement Council said the organization is also working to offer psychological support, as well as information for Muslim women on what to do if they are assaulted, including how and to whom to report. an incident of violence.
She called on international organizations such as the United Nations to push Canada to take action to urgently respond to the situation in Edmonton.
“We need international attention and solidarity because we cannot do it ourselves and our officials are failing us. We need international help and intervention, ”Nur said. ” We do not agree. We really don’t agree.