Recent acts of hate-motivated vandalism sought to create discord, but have served to highlight the bonds the mosque shares with the community it belongs to, one member says.
Toronto Police allege that on Oct. 6, a man vandalized Madinah Masjid mosque on Danforth Avenue with hate symbols. The same suspect returned to the same location the night of Oct. 12 and vandalized the mosque again with “hateful writing.”
Lee Bryans, 42, of Burlington, was arrested and has been charged with mischief and theft under $5,000, as well as two counts of interfering with lawful use or enjoyment of property.
‘We feel safe here’
Madinah Masjid is a staple in East York’s Muslim community. It has been serving people in East York since 1974, and has become a fixture on the east end’s Danforth strip.
A member of the mosque’s community said the neighbourhood’s reaction to the vandalism has been comforting.
“The outreach and support from the community had been astounding. We truly feel safe and supported by our community,” said the member, who did not want to be identified. “We feel safe here.”
Another mosque member named Murtasm, who did not want his last name used, had a theory about what inspired the act. “The world has gone crazy with sadness,” he said. “Look at what’s happening in the middle east. The person who did this was sick with sadness.”
‘Such a multicultural neighbourhood’
Community members who live and work in the surrounding neighbourhood expressed concern with the events of Oct. 6 and 12.
“It’s terrible because it’s such a multicultural neighbourhood. You have different pockets of people but everyone seems to get along. It’s the Danforth, you know?” Frances, an employee at a foot clinic along Danforth Avenue, said. “I’ve been working here for ten years, my boss has had this business for 25 years. But I can’t remember any incidents like that happening in the past, not hate crimes. It’s disgusting.”
Another business owner said incidents like this bring down the community, and the police should be doing more.
“Even if they had patrols that were late night or in the evening. It doesn’t happen in broad daylight.” said Orr from Fine Shoe Repair.
“There has to be additional time or punishment when one were to get caught. I mean you can have all the CCTV, but if you can’t identify the person than who’s to say they’re not going to keep doing it in different parts of the city?”
Hate crime stats on the rise
Islamophobia and other forms of hate have been on the rise in Canada. According to the Toronto Police Service Annual Hate Crime Statistical Report, since 2018, acts of hate based on religion and ethnicity have risen significantly.
The TPS provides a reporting service to address hate graffiti and asks victims or witnesses to report hate crimes online or reach out the the Hate Crime Unit at 416-808-3500.
The City of Toronto has several initiatives in place to address hate in the city under the umbrella of their Toronto For All campaign, which is aimed at educating Torontonians about various forms of hate such as Islamophobia and anti East Asian, and encourages citizens to call out these issues when we see them.
The Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights recently examined the increasing prevalence of Islamophobia across Canada. The report, Combatting Hate, outlines 13 recommendations to address the rise in Islamophobia and to ensure safety for Canadian Muslims.
“Violent incidences of Islamophobia have reached a disturbing and unprecedented level in Canada in recent years. Discrimination and hate-motivated attacks have long-standing and debilitating effects on individuals and communities. Concrete action must be taken to stem the tide of this rise in hate,” said Senator Mobina S.B. Jaffer, a member of the committee.
Some of the recommendations included that the Department of Justice undertake public consultations with a particular focus on affected communities – and introduce amendments to create specific Criminal Code offences for hate-motivated crimes.
In its attempt to address issues of hate and discrimination the Government of Canada has several initiatives, such as Building a Foundation of Change, which encourages innovation, public awareness and education, recognizing and listening to experts, and promoting dialogue on topics of racism and hate.
When asked for comment, Ward 14 Toronto-Danforth Coun. Paula Fletcher said in part, “I welcome the proactive approach put forward in Mayor Chow’s Keeping Toronto Safe from Hate motion … I am especially proud of the community’s response to these unacceptable acts of hate. A great example is the East Toronto Multi-Faith Committee. They have worked over many years to foster understanding and belonging amongst all faiths in the east end.”
We reached out to the TPS, and the NCCM for response to this story, but didn’t receive a response by the time of publishing.
The response from the City of Toronto reads in part, “The City condemns the promotion of hatred and ensures that hate graffiti are addressed right away.”