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Senator Salma Ataullahjan, Chair of the Standing Committee on Human Rights, delivers remarks following the release of a report titled 'Combatting Hate: Islamophobia and its impact on Muslims in Canada' in Ottawa, on Nov. 2.Spencer Colby/The Canadian Press

Senators are calling on the federal government to create a hate-crime hotline to allow victims of Islamophobic attacks to report abuse, with a study warning that for many Muslims “fear of violence is a daily reality.”

A report launched Thursday by the Senate human-rights committee says violent attacks on Muslims have “reached a disturbing and unprecedented level in Canada.”

One in four Canadians do not trust Muslims, and Canada leads the Group of Seven in targeted killings of Muslims motivated by Islamophobia, expert briefings submitted to the year-long Senate inquiry found.

On Jan. 29, 2017, 46 people were attacked in the Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City during evening prayer. Six died and five were seriously injured. The mosque shooting has been followed by violent attacks on Muslims in Edmonton, Saskatoon, Toronto, Mississauga and London, Ont.

“The horrific acts of violence targeting Muslims in recent years have left Muslim communities feeling like they are constantly under attack and that they are physically unsafe,” the report says.

“The psychological impact of constant fear and vigilance is a heavy burden.”

In 2021, 144 hate-motivated crimes directed at Muslims were reported to police across Canada, though many incidents go unreported, the study found. Muslim women have been attacked in Canadian cities, including in Edmonton at knifepoint.

In Lévis, Que., Karim Elabed, an imam, said a pig’s head had been placed at his mosque, along with graffiti of a swastika. He told the Senate committee members he had received several threats, including from a far-right group telling him to close his business.

The senators visited Muslim communities across Canada and heard from 138 witnesses in the year-long study. They also heard how Muslims have faced enhanced scrutiny while boarding planes and how Muslim charities have been disproportionately targeted by the Canada Revenue Agency.

Muslim high-school students, including girls wearing veils, told the senators they experience abuse on a daily basis.

Syrian refugee children walking across a soccer field in Mississauga experienced people stopping their cars to yell and swear at them. Meanwhile, women shopping in grocery stores had to face threats while in line at the checkout.

Fatima Coovadia, a commissioner with the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission, recounted how she called 911 after she and her mother were pursued by another driver and threatened after stopping at a drive-through.

The report says Islamophobia is present not only in Canadian society but in many of the country’s institutions. “This is an uncomfortable fact for many Canadians, but one that must be confronted head on,” it says.

It calls on the federal government to ensure that mandatory, regular training on Islamophobia and unconscious bias is in place for all federal public servants, as well as the judiciary.

Muslims have a variety of heritages and identities, but one aspect of Islamophobia is that it attempts to erase this diversity, reducing Muslim identities to stereotypes.

The committee recommended that the Heritage Department develop multimedia educational resources on Islamophobia that can be incorporated into classroom activities for different age groups.

Its chair, Senator Salma Ataullahjan, said at a news conference in Parliament that Islamophobia is “an acute threat and urgent action is needed.”

“Anti-Muslim hatred in Canada is costing people their lives, physical safety and mental well-being,” she added.

A federal hotline for reporting hate-related crimes – to complement existing provincial versions – would enable people to report incidents and support the collection and publication of data, the report says.

The Senate report also asks Ottawa to provide additional funding to address hate-motivated crimes, including direct support for affected individuals and communities, and to develop national police standards and training, plus dedicated hate-crime units.

The study found that visible symbols of Muslim faith, such as the hijab, increased people’s vulnerability to hate crimes, discrimination and employment obstacles.

In his testimony, Kashif Ahmed, the board chairman of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, said Muslim women were “primary targets when it comes to violence and intimidation.”

Nuzhat Jafri, the executive director of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, told the senators that women and girls, especially those recognizable by their attire, are often afraid to leave their homes for work, school or other activities.

The report says Muslim women also encounter Islamophobia in the form of “micro-aggressions,” including marginalization, discrimination, offensive language and threatening gestures.

“Testimonies highlighted the fact that Islamophobia in the workplace is not merely the consequence of a handful of people’s actions; rather, it is a systemic issue that is widespread,” the report says.

Muslim men also encounter discrimination, including through the immigration system, the report found.

“Western stereotypes associating Muslim men with security issues have resulted in their disproportionate detention, reinforcing presumptions that they pose security risks,” it says.

El-Farouk Khaki, of the El Tawhid Juma Circle, told the Senate committee that discrimination and harassment and threats “are pervasive experiences for many Muslims in Canada.” Queer, trans and other “non-conforming Muslims” are particularly susceptible to harm and lack adequate protection.

Kamal Khera, the Diversity and Inclusion Minister, said it is “disheartening that Muslims across Canada experience daily incidents of Islamophobia.”

“The tragic events in the Middle East are having a devastating impact on Muslim, Arab and Palestinian communities here at home who are experiencing a frightening rise in hate,” she added. “The feelings of fear, pain and anxiety are real. As Canadians, it is incumbent upon us to address all instances of hatred whenever and wherever they occur.”

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