It's a phone they hope never rings, but the B.C. organizers of the first Islamophobia hotline in Canada know it's only a matter of time before it does.
Hasan Alam, a Vancouver lawyer who helped set up the service that launched Wednesday, said it's needed because of an increase of anti-Muslim incidents across the country.
He said the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) has reported "at least 20 incidences of hate crimes against Muslims or people perceived to be Muslims" in recent months. "Just recently in January here in Vancouver, we saw that a group of Muslims, gathered outside a fundraiser for Syrian refugees, were pepper-sprayed by someone riding by on a bicycle," Mr. Alam said.
The NCCM, which has a "hate-crime map" showing incidents across the country, also reported several other examples that occurred earlier this year.
In February, a leader of a community group received a call from a man asking whether the introductory course for suicide bombing was open. "You are a Muslim, you blow people up," the caller replied when asked what he meant.
Also that month, in Bromont, Que., a father and his children, including a teenage girl wearing a hijab, were yelled at and threatened at a McDonald's restaurant. In January, a South Asian man was subjected to racial slurs by a couple while shopping at a Wal-Mart in Calgary, and a school was spray-painted with the message: "Syrians are animals."
During the same month, at the NCCM offices in Ottawa, an anonymous caller left a voicemail message saying, "Muslims should pay for their sins" and that "raping Muslim girls is God's word."
Last year, following attacks by Islamic extremists in Paris, a mosque was burned in Peterborough, Ont., a Montreal man posted a video threatening to kill "one Arab a week," and a Muslim woman was punched and called a "terrorist" as she waited outside a Toronto school to pick up her children.
"There's definitely been a significant rise in the sorts of instances of hate that are taking place against Muslims," Mr. Alam said. "I think these instances are sort of a wide variety. They happen in the workplace, they happen on the street, they happen against places of worship as well."
The Islamophobia Legal Assistance Hotline was established with the help of nine legal and human-rights groups, including the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, the B.C. Public Interest Advocacy Centre and the Community Legal Assistance Society. It is being run by Access Pro Bono Society of British Columbia, a non-profit that helps people obtain free legal services.
Mr. Alam said volunteers answering the hotline will connect callers to lawyers, who will provide free legal advice or information.
In B.C., the RCMP have a special hate-crime team that takes 911 calls from people who are victims of hate incidents. But Mr. Alam said the Islamophobia hotline provides another avenue for people who need help.
"And the lawyers that we have on the roster for the hotline speak multiple languages," he said.
"Often people slip through the cracks because they don't speak much English, or no English at all, and don't know where to turn to."
Amira Elghawaby, communications director for the NCCM, welcomed news of the Islamophobia hotline in B.C. "It's a good addition to the supports that Canadian Muslims need more and more frequently," she said.
"Often when people experience a hate crime or a hate incident, they don't really know where to turn," Ms. Elghawaby said.
"They don't know whether they even want to report what happened to them … [and] don't want to bring negative attention to themselves. We find there is reluctance to report it to the police, and so having a hotline is hopefully going to be helpful."
The Islamophobia hotline number is 604-343-3828. The website is at islamophobiahotline.ca.