TORONTO – A series of incidents against Muslim women in Ottawa has prompted the city’s police to issue an appeal to others who may have been victimized to come forward.
In an email this week to members of the Muslim community, Staff-Sgt. David Zackrias urged the reporting of all forms of abuse.
“In recent days, female members of Ottawa’s Muslim community have voiced concerns about safety, following incidents of verbal abuse towards them — by strangers,” Zackrias states.
“If these types of incidents are not reported, little can be done to help other members of the community from also being victimized.”
The memo comes amid an intense and divisive election campaign debate over the niqab, a veil some Muslim women wear. Conservative Leader Stephen Harper and Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe have expressed their antipathy toward the niqab on the campaign trail.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, however, has backed the right of women to where what they want — a stance that polls suggest has cost him support in Quebec. Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau also supports a women’s right to choose.
Zackrias, who works in the diversity and race relations section of the police service, said in an interview from Ottawa on Friday that police had received six reports of problems in the past few weeks.
“There’s racial slurs, profanity,” Zackrias said. “We’re letting the community know if there are any sort of threats or intimidation or abuse they should be reporting.”
He said he had no details readily available, but police had not opened any formal investigations or made any arrests at this point.
Toronto police said they were not aware of any similar incidents in their city but Muslims across Canada have complained in recent weeks about problems.
In one nasty incident, a pair of teens tore the headscarf from a pregnant woman in Montreal, causing her to fall on the ground. The attack prompted the Quebec national assembly to pass a unanimous motion Thursday condemning hate speech and violence against all Quebecers.
The National Council of Canadian Muslims called that assault a hate crime, saying it came at a time when “inflammatory rhetoric targeting Muslims” had been heightened by the federal election campaign in which women who wear the niqab have been “vilified by politicians.”
At a recent conference on race relations in Winnipeg, one Muslim woman said people look at her like she’s an alien because of her hijab.
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