Tide of hate crimes rising in Canada
By ALANNA MITCHELL, The Globe and Mail
With reports from Tu Thanh Ha and Associated Press
Friday, September 21, 2001
Overnight, Canada has changed from a country of easy tolerance to a place where people who look dark-skinned are the targets of insults, threats and even physical attack, groups representing Muslims, Arabs, Sikhs and Hindus say.
"There is the Canada before the 11th of September, and now as I see it, there is the Canada after the 11th of September," said John Asfour, president of the Canadian Arab Federation. "Certain things have come to the surface. That tolerance we pride ourselves on maybe was never there."
Hate-motivated crimes have skyrocketed in Canada since the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington last week. This is happening in lock step with a wave of similar incidents in the United States and Britain.
Police acknowledge the trend. Robert Mueller, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said police in the United States are investigating at least 40 cases of hate crime against Muslims and other members of visible minorities since the terrorist attacks. They include two possible murders, as well as arson, assaults and threats, Mr. Mueller said.
In Canada, many of the incidents are aimed at any dark-skinned person, regardless of religion or ethnic origin.
On Friday night, a resident doctor at Montreal's Royal Victoria Hospital was caught alone in an elevator with a man. He instantly began remarking on her Saudi Arabian background and began insulting her, Chantal Beauregard said on behalf of the hospital.
Then he pushed her against the elevator wall and tried to strangle her with her own head covering. The elevator doors opened and he fled.
"It was obviously a very frightening experience," Ms. Beauregard said.
The hospital has stepped up its security forces and increased the number of cameras monitoring the building. Female doctors are not allowed to be on duty by themselves at night. Women are escorted to parking lots if they wish.
"I suppose extremists come in all sizes and shapes," Ms. Beauregard said. "We are very concerned."
In Hamilton, police are investigating a fire that heavily damaged the Hindu Samaj Temple. That follows on the heels of threats against the Mount Hamilton Mosque and attacks at mosques in St. Catharines and Oshawa.
Police in most parts of Southern Ontario are increasing security at Sikh, Hindu and Muslim places of worship.
"Some people don't think we are different," said Roshan Pathak, treasurer of the Canadian Council of Hindus.
He travelled to Hamilton to witness the fire damage at the temple there. He said he is praying that peace comes back to the world.
Manjit Singh, a chaplain at McGill University, said hate-motivated crimes against Sikhs are mounting.
"People look at the visual [of suspected terrorist leader Osama bin Laden], and then they see an actual Sikh male with a turban and a beard, and they have not really realized that Sikhs are from a different country and a different religion and a different language," Mr. Singh said.
He said one of the Sikh priests was out for a walk in a Montreal park when he happened to look to the side. A man was forming a pretend gun with his index finger and thumb and pointing it at him. Then he made as if to shoot him.
"Everyone is so nervous," Mr. Singh said.
He said Canada is normally solid and tolerant.
"But the other thing is, there is always a latent element of racism in Canada that's been lying low."
Dr. Asfour of the Canadian Arab Federation said even well-meaning citizens have taken to warning those who look dark-skinned to watch out for their safety.
"Our language has changed, and our attitudes have changed, and psychologically maybe we all have changed," said Dr. Asfour, a poet and scholar of English literature. "And this change will remain with us forever."
In Britain, attacks on visible minorities are on the rise. The Times of London reported that an Afghan cab driver was left paralyzed from the neck down after being dragged from his cab and beaten on the streets of London. A 19-year-old Asian woman, whom two men beat with a baseball bat, is recovering in a London hospital.
In the United States, Arab-American and Islamic groups have reported hundreds of cases of harassment, intimidation and violence. On Monday, a Sikh man in Arizona was shot and killed at the gas station he owned.