These are the words of a Black Muslim woman attacked in February at the Century Park transit station in Edmonton. This incident would have been bad enough on its own. Yet since December, there have been at least six such incidents against Black Muslim women, all of which have occurred in broad daylight and in public spaces surrounded by traffic.
Since the awful Southgate Centre mother-daughter attack in December 2020, Canadians were astonished that such a violent attack could occur in a public place. The rush to declare this as “un-Albertan” came from a slew of political leaders. This surface-level condemnation, however, lacks a deeper understanding of Alberta’s history with racism. The province itself has estimated a hate crime is reported to police every three days.
Although Alberta was the first province to establish a provincial hate crimes unit in 2019 following the recommendation of the Taking Action Against Racism report, there has not been a formal policy approach at the provincial level to address hate crimes.
The current UCP government’s track record in identifying and addressing hate in Alberta is less than stellar. It has responded to hate by standing by staff with a racist and homophobic history, defending a public appointee with a history of anti-Semitic remarks, defunding anti-racism programs, and ultimately denying equity issues of public concern.
The consequences of this inaction can mean more bold action from violent groups. Prominent white supremacist groups attended a protest against COVID-19 restrictions with tiki torches — a clear nod to Charlottesville — under the guise of advocating for freedom of speech and assembly. It took Premier Jason Kenney two days to condemn the Feb. 20 incident. Tiki torches appeared again — along with Trump flags — at a protest on Feb. 27.
It should be clear these incidents do not occur in a vacuum. The Al-Rashid Mosque in Edmonton, the first built in Canada, has faced vandalism and bomb threats. The country observed the fourth anniversary of the Quebec City mosque shooting, now the National Day of Remembrance of the Quebec City Mosque Attack and Action Against Islamophobia on Jan. 29. And MLA Janis Irwin, one of the most vocal politicians in Alberta speaking out against the attacks Black Muslim women have faced, reported vandalism at her Edmonton Highlands-Norwood constituency office.
Yet, as demonstrated by the (at least) six reported hate-motived assaults of Black Muslim women since December, the brunt of daily hate incidents and crimes are experienced by visibly Muslim women, specifically Black Muslim women. Not investigating these crimes properly and providing the needed support to victims can result in additional violence and harm to victims.
While this is acutely clear to Black women, others are beginning to acknowledge colonial institutions have never been concerned with the human rights of the marginalized. This is evident as the current UCP government has predominantly targeted initiatives, groups or laws supporting vulnerable, racialized and disabled Albertans. For example, the government passed Bill 16, the Victims of Crime Act, which allows the province to access a fund meant to support victims of crimes for other purposes, much to the dismay of victim advocates.
What can be done? Researchers at Human Rights First have highlighted the first, important step for policymakers and politicians to take when a hate crime occurs: sending “immediate, strong, public and consistent messages that violent crimes which appear to be motivated by prejudice and intolerance will be investigated thoroughly and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
Alberta needs to reconcile its historical treatment of Black women and prioritize monitoring and documenting hate crimes and instances. Governments need to ensure funding and support for anti-discrimination and gender-based violence for women while reinvigorating crime fund victims.
Without any meaningful action, the message instead is: hate crimes in Alberta are a part of life. Deal with it.
Hannan Mohamud is a student in the English Common Law program at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law and Alberta top 30 under 30, 2021, originally from Edmonton.
Sarah Mushtaq is a community advocate, consultant, and writer based out of Windsor.