People of the Islamic faith who feel discriminated against in B.C. now have a way to make their concerns known.
An Islamophobia Legal Assistance Hotline was launched by members of Vancouver’s legal community this morning.
They claim there has been a nationwide increase in reported incidents of racial and faith-related discrimination against Muslims in recent months. In January, more than a dozen Syrian refugees were pepper sprayed outside the Muslim Association of Canada Centre in Vancouver in an incident that police are treating as a hate crime. The suspect was never found.
Hasan Alam, a Vancouver lawyer who has helped to organize the hotline, says over the course of the last ten years, the previous Harper government utilized the rhetoric of islamophobia for purposes of fear mongering and justifying laws like Bill C-51.
“This rhetoric gave tacit approval for anti-Muslim bigotry and has contributed to Canadian Muslims, and in particular Canadian Muslim women, being more vulnerable to discriminatory treatment and hate crimes,” says Alam.
He says there is a serious lack of legal resources available in B.C. to those individuals who have been impacted by Islamophobia.
On top of that, Alam says, victims of Islamophobia often come from marginalized backgrounds. They are new immigrants who speak little or no English and don’t have the means or ability to access legal help.
“Often they are scared to reach out to law enforcement agencies due to their precarious citizenship status,” says Alam, adding the hotline will, hopefully, address all those issues.
The hotline service will be free and confidential.
Interpretation will be available in order to provide services in multiple languages.
The organizers say the hotline will cover everything from a defacement of a mosque, to a physical attack on the street, to verbal abuse at a bus stop, to denial of service at a store, to workplace isolation and bullying, to unfair targeting or profiling by authorities.
“It will cover any type of harassment, violence, vandalism, discrimination or other adverse treatment that someone suffers because they are Muslim or perceived to be Muslim,” said executive director of the Community Legal Assistance Society, Aleem Bharmal.
It will also help keep track of the types of issues that are being reported in order to better understand the scope of the problem in British Columbia.
The hotline is being run by Access Pro Bono Society of BC, a non-profit that assists individuals of limited means to obtain free legal services. The staff will receive the calls and connect those in need of assistance with legal professionals.
Krisha Dhaliwal of the South Asian Bar Association of B.C. says Islamophobia is not something that should only be of concern to Muslim people.
She says non-Muslims can be perceived to be Muslim, especially if they have brown skin, dress differently or speak a different language.
“I am sure we’ve all heard stories of Sikhs, for example, who have been targets of hate speech, violence and vandalism that was meant for Muslims,” says Dhaliwal.
She says the trend of Islamophobia is rooted in more than just the fear of one minority group.
“Today people might be concerned about Muslims against a backdrop of the unrest in the Middle East and the changing migration patters around the world,” says Dhaliwal. “But yesterday, people were worried about the Japanese against the backdrop of World War II and tomorrow, who knows what minority group is going to be in the hot seat as culture and geopolitics around the world change.”
The hotline number is 604-343-3828.
Members of the public can also learn about the service at islamophobiahotline.ca, which went live this morning.