People put difference aside, come together to support Muslim neighbours

On Saturday, Feb. 4, a crowd of 300 people gathered at the Human Rights Monument on Laurier Avenue to show their solidarity against Islamophobia.

The crowd, composed of people from various faith groups, marched to the U.S. embassy at Sussex Drive bearing signs with slogans welcoming refugees and migrants

Organized by Solidarity Ottawa, the Pan-Canadian day of action against Islamophobia was held in condemnation of President Donald Trump’s travel ban, and in response to the Quebec mosque shooting that took place on Jan. 29.

Dylan Penner, one of the event’s organizers, expressed that Islamophobia has long been used as a crutch to justify discriminatory policies in our own country, referencing federal legislation like the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act and Security Certificates.

“We are here to tell the Prime Minister that tweets are not enough, and it is the time for action,” said Penner.

Amira Elghawaby, a spokesperson for the National Council of Canadian Muslims, joined the event as a speaker. Elghawaby said that legislation in the name of national security can potentially harm people, and that “Love is stronger than hatred. Silence is violence. We can’t be silent any longer.”

The organizers were calling for open borders for refugees from the U.S., amendments to discriminatory laws, revocation of the Safe Third Country Agreement, and the declaration of Ottawa as a sanctuary city.

Penner expressed that the ongoing protests against Islamophobia, supported by over 400 organizations in 13 Canadian cities, shows that the movement is gaining momentum, with the overall hope that the government will take action in response to the movement.

Even though Canada is often praised as a champion of human rights, Penner said that, when it comes to the rights of specific groups like Indigenous people, the LGBTQ+ community, people of colour, and refugees, Canada has failed.

Hossam Sleiman, who has been a part of Solidarity Ottawa for the last seven years, said that this movement is made up of different activists and not just one particular group.

Sleiman believes that the wars happening in Muslim-majority countries, which created the refugee crisis in the first place, helped to fan the flames of intolerance.

“The root of Islamophobia is really the foreign policy,” he added, revealing that he had personally been a victim of Islamophobia in the past.  

“When I cross borders, many a times, I am put on holding status, my fingerprints are taken. My pictures are taken. Things like slurs happen as well.”

Now that similar events are happening across the country with increasing frequency, this is far from the last time that privileged Canadians will be forced to confront an ugly reality of our society.