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Messages are placed near a mosque that was the location of a fatal shooting in Quebec City, Quebec on February 1, 2017.

ALICE CHICHE/AFP/Getty Images

Muslim students at Canadian universities are welcoming the vigils, lectures and reflections taking place at their schools in the wake of Sunday's shootings in Quebec City, but they also say the show of support is much-needed to combat persistent incidents of Islamophobia.

Last year, posters for a conference on Islam and the media at Durham College and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology were defaced. This fall, anti-Muslim flyers appeared at McGill University and the University of Calgary. Less public but disturbing incidents have targeted individuals. Anti-Muslim insults were written on student-election posters at the University of Ottawa. A young woman at Simon Fraser University was told to remove her hijab.

"We've had conversations with diversity leaders at universities and we have heard that they feel students need support," said Amira Elghawaby, the communications director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM).

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A map on the group's website shows recent incidents across the country, including those at colleges and universities. The number of hate crimes against Muslims has been increasing, according to Statistics Canada.

Some blame social media for allowing messages of hate to be anonymously amplified and contributing to assaults or even the shooting in Quebec City.

"Voices on the fringe now have a longer megaphone," Ms. Elghawaby said.

Tougher measures against trolls and hateful messages are needed, students say.

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"I believe there is a double standard, if you say you want to blow up Parliament, or you want to blow up a mosque, that would be free speech," said Sabah Ghouse, the outreach co-ordinator for Simon Fraser University's Muslim Students' Association.

Recently, Ms. Ghouse befriended the woman who had been told to remove her hijab, introducing the international student to the university's Muslim student community.

Her association also emphasizes reaching out to non-Muslims.

During Islam Awareness Week, an event held all over Canadian campuses, her group invites students to "Try a Hijab On."

"People have a misconception that we are oppressed, so it's a way for women to approach women to learn more, or even for Muslim girls who don't wear a hijab to feel comfortable trying," Ms. Ghouse said.

"A lot of Islamophobia stems from misconceptions," said Ziyad Zeidan, the president of the University of Ottawa's Muslim Student Association.

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Mr. Zeidan says his university and all its students have also rallied in the wake of the shooting. On Tuesday night, a Protestant chaplain, a rabbi, student reps and an imam all spoke at an evening of reflection attended by hundreds. Friday, students at several universities will participate in Human Shield events at places of worship at their campuses.

Interfaith dialogue or even conversations between secular and religious students is the best way to combat Islamophobia, experts said. And even having those conversations online can be beneficial.

"If you have someone from the far right and someone from an ecoterrorist group – to take two extremes – someone from each group might find outrageous what the other is saying," said Vivek Venkatesh, an associate professor of education at Concordia University.

Dr. Venkatesh is the director of the Someone project, a project to combat hate online.

His research has found that some online forums – such as Reddit, where message threads can run into the thousands of comments – are in fact able to pull people out of their echo chambers and force them to rethink their prejudices.

"There is a sense that discussion online is knee-jerk, but … citizens find ways in which these conversations have lasting value," he said. "An open Internet is a very powerful way to have a dialogue."

Video: Quebec City mosque allows media inside to view aftermath of shooting
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