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January 29 a day to remember the tragic consequences of hate

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January 29, 2018

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One year ago today – January 29, 2017 – Canadians learned of the mass murder of six people, and the wounding of many others at a Centre culturel islamique de Québec in Quebec City. I was riveted by my tiny screen as the events were reported in real time on social media late into the night – a bystander watching from behind a glass window powerless to do anything.

This was the first time Muslims were killed inside a mosque in North America. Politicians and community leaders were loud and immediate in their condemnation of this extreme act of hatred. There was no place for this kind of terror in Canada, they said.

Speaking out is important – and should be the beginning of a larger response to hate. Often, however, rhetoric is the only response, with the act of hatred attributed to a “lone wolf” and the machinery of the criminal justice system left to administer an incomplete version of justice that offers no concrete action on the systemic issues at the root of hateful incidents.

Already the mosque killings seem to be fading from public memory. Does anyone remember the names of the victims? Where is the renewed advocacy around ending Islamophobia and making hate crime laws more effective? These concerns underlie the recent social media campaign – #RememberJan29 – which calls on Canadians to recognize and reflect on January 29 in line with other days of historic significance.

Compare the aftermath of this shooting to the December 6, 1989 “Montreal massacre.” Back then, Canadians were still coming to grips with the feminist movement and new conversations around patriarchy and toxic masculinity. The massacre at École Polytechnique de Montréal made that conversation more urgent and more real. Today, we all know the name of that killer, and every year we pause to commemorate the women he killed. In fact, the government has designated December 6 as the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. Nearly 30 years later, we have an annual reminder of the tragic consequences of misogyny and a yearly catalyst for advocacy efforts to end violence against women.

Similarly, the killing of Muslim people in their place of worship should have made ongoing conversations around white supremacy and Islamophobia more urgent and more real. The Ontario Human Rights Commission’s recent public opinion survey confirms that people of Muslim faith are among the most marginalized in Ontario – less than half of the respondents had positive feelings towards Muslim people. The hearings on M-103, the federal motion to condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination, took place after the mosque shooting when support should have been at its height. Yet, the hearings focused mostly on defining Islamophobia rather than combatting it. The death of six innocent people and the injuries inflicted on many more is proof that hatred of Muslim people, whatever we call it, is real and deadly.

The politicization of these issues cannot justify inaction. We need all levels of government to address impunity for hateful commentary that provides a fertile breeding ground for hateful acts. We need to challenge all levels of government to listen to the lived experience of community members and proactively break down barriers to substantive equality. As a society, there should be zero tolerance for racism which requires all Canadians to call it out – online and in person. 

As a first step, albeit a symbolic one, the government should designate January 29 as the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Islamophobia and Hate Crimes.

Azzedine Soufiane. Mamadou Tanou Barry Khaled Belkacemi. Aboubaker Thabti. Ibrahima Barry. Abdelkrim Hassane. Let’s remember their names and where we were when they died. And let’s make sure that we hold ourselves accountable to take all steps required to address the hate that killed them.

Renu Mandhane
Chief Commissioner
Ontario Human Rights Commission