Fatmeh Kalouti says she felt the backlash last September, after a Somali refugee attacked an Edmonton police officer and ran down pedestrians on downtown sidewalks.
A Muslim woman who wears a hijab, Kalouti didn’t know the accused man, but heard about the ISIS flag he reportedly had with him before his arrest.
In early October, days after the attacks, Kalouti was leaving a north-end Walmart in her car when a vehicle pulled up beside her, swerving into her lane.
“He kept trying to come into my lane and push me into the curb,” she said.
When she slowed down to let him pass, he slowed down; when she sped up, so did he. That went on for about two minutes.
“He rolled down his window and said, ‘Go back to your country. You’re not welcome here,’ ” she said.
Under-reporting of hate incidents
Kalouti is a member of a group called Safety Within the Muslim Community, which formed after the Sept. 30 attacks. She told her peers at a meeting Tuesday she didn’t report her encounter on the road.
“I was just, like, nothing’s going to come out of this,” said Kalouti, who works at the Mennonite Centre for Newcomers. “Nothing is going to happen. So, I didn’t bother.”
Some families were fearful about sending their children to school in the days after the attacks, said Kalouti, who also chairs the city’s Safety Summit Committee, which plans annual conferences to address safety concerns in the city.
Safety Within the Muslim Community hopes to help Muslims feel safer in Edmonton. But so far it has been difficult to get a grasp on the scope of the problem, said Ahmed Abdulkadir, one founder of the group.
They want to encourage Muslims in Edmonton to report hate incidents committed against them.
In the past few months, Kalouti said, she has heard from five to 10 people who have experienced the type of vitriol she did. They also didn’t report the incidents.
“Hate incidents happen to the Muslim community, to Muslim women, often,” said Abdulkadir, executive director of the Ogaden Somali Community.
He said he has witnessed or been told about 15 hate incidents, but knows of only three that were reported.
Hate incidents versus hate crimes
Irfan Chaudhry, an Edmonton-based hate crimes researcher and the founder of the stophateab.ca reporting database (which does not focus on the targeting of specific communities), points to academic studies that suggest hate crimes, in general, are under-reported.
Victims can feel stigma and shame. Or they may mistrust law-enforcement officials, or a lack a clear understanding about what constitutes a hate incident or a hate crime, he said.
Hate incidents and hate crimes are both motivated by hatred, bias or prejudice toward an identifiable group based on race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age mental or physical disability, sexual orientation or any other similar factor.
According to Edmonton police, hate incidents are non-criminal while hate crimes include the commission of a criminal offence. There is a high Criminal Code threshold for determining hate crimes.
Edmonton police do not track reports by religious affiliation.
‘Undertones of Islamophobia’
In other jurisdictions, it has been documented that Islamophobia has become more pronounced after radical attacks by or on Muslims. After the shootings at a Quebec City mosque in January 2017, police in that province found there has been an increase in hate incidents and crimes targeting Muslims.
“There is definitely sentiments and undertones of Islamophobia, I’d say in Canada, globally as well,” Chaudhry said. “Because of some of the connotations people have around the faith and it’s perceived connection to violent extremism.”
Owais Hikmat, a member of Safety Within the Muslim Community and a director at the Al Rashid Mosque, said he encourages people to report hate incidents and crimes, but noted the results have been less than satisfactory. He said he knows of about five incidents that were reported “and not taken care of as much as [victims] wished.”
Creating a record
The National Council of Canadian Muslims is tracking hate incidents, but not only those reported to police. It also considers incidents reported to it directly, or in the media, and notes all cases are first verified before they’re added to an interactive map showing where in the country they occurred.
The map indicates there were six hate incidents in Alberta in 2017; four were in Calgary, one in Red Deer and one was in Edmonton. According to the map, there haven’t been any yet in Alberta this year.
Statistics Canada’s most recent data is on police-reported hate crimes in 2016. According to the information provided by jurisdictions that track it, hate crimes against Muslims actually decreased that year.
Chaudhry pointed out a key distinction: the data focuses on crimes. With hate incidents, if there’s no criminal element to the act, police are unlikely to get involved.
“I think that’s where the numbers tend to get a little bit skewed, in some sense,” Chaudhry said. “There may be less crimes happening to certain communities, but we know from just the conversations we have with the people who belong to these various communities that these acts of hate are still happening.”
Without evidence that hate incidents are happening, Abdulkadir said, it’s hard to figure out how to effectively combat them.
With evidence, he said, “people will talk about it and find solutions to it.”
“The challenge now is, how can we ensure people are coming forward to report and document them? We need to have a better sense of just how big of a picture this might be.”