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Azzedine Najd (R) and his wife Fadwa Achmaoui look at the memorial near the site of a fatal shooting at the Quebec Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City, Canada, January 31, 2017.

MATHIEU BELANGER/Reuters

A lawyer who helped launch an Islamophobia hotline says Canadians need to have a more open discussion about racism, and the killing of six people at a Quebec City mosque was a reminder anti-Muslim sentiments do exist in this country.

Hasan Alam, a lawyer who has worked with the hotline operated by the Access Pro Bono Society of BC, said he did not have figures on how often the hotline had been used, but he has heard anecdotally of an increase in anti-Muslim incidents in recent days. In one instance, he said, a Vancouver woman had her hijab pulled off as she walked down the street.

The Islamophobia hotline began operations last March and has drawn support from several groups, including the BC Civil Liberties Association and the BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre.

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Mr. Alam told reporters at a news conference Tuesday that some of the recent incidents he had heard of involved racist comments made on transit. When asked about the incident in which the woman's hijab was pulled off her head and if she had reported it to police, Mr. Alam said she was navigating that process on her own and he could not comment further.

A Vancouver police spokesperson said he was unable to locate information about the incident and was not aware of any attacks on the city's Muslim community. But Constable Jason Doucette urged the woman to file a police report.

"It's important to us," he wrote in an e-mail.

Mr. Alam said the attack on the Quebec City mosque Sunday was tragic and served as a "harsh reminder of the fact that Islamophobia exists here in Canada."

"I think Canadians do need to start talking more openly about racism and about Islamophobia. I think many times Canadians feel like it's taboo," he said.

David Namkung, president of the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers BC, told the news conference most victims of racism suffer in silence.

"While we have perhaps been distracted by the direction of American politics over the last few weeks, the attack is a reminder that our country may be more progressive on many issues, but we as Canadians are not immune from hate crimes and discrimination," he said. "It occurs on a far more regular basis than reported, in your community, in your office and in your neighbourhood."

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Mr. Alam said the hotline was launched after the National Council of Canadian Muslims observed an increase in Islamophobic incidents. Last March, Mr. Alam said the council had reported at least 20 hate-crime incidents against Muslims or people perceived to be Muslims in the preceding months. A map on the council website said there were 63 anti-Muslim incidents reported across the country in 2016.

Mr. Alam said some of the dialogue regarding Muslims during the last federal election campaign was divisive, and the recent rhetoric out of the United States has been even more extreme.

Laura Track, a lawyer with the BC Civil Liberties Association, joined Mr. Alam and Mr. Namkung at the news conference and called on Ottawa to suspend its Safe Third Country refugee agreement with the United States.

Ms. Track said U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order that temporarily bars citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. is "harmful and discriminatory."

"The Safe Third Country agreement is premised on the notion that the United States can provide refugee claimants with effective protection and a fair hearing. These notions have been seriously undermined over the last several days," she said.

"Canada must be on the right side of the fight to ensure that people fleeing violence and persecution can be protected in our country."

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Lorne Waldman, of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, also called for the agreement to be suspended.

However, Ahmed Hussen, Canada's immigration minister, said Tuesday that no change to the agreement is planned at this time.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau joined hundreds of others at a vigil for those killed in Sunday's shooting at a Quebec City mosque.
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