Published April 10, 2023

Officials at Markham, Ont. mosque call for government action after alleged attack

Police allege a man came to the mosque, shouted Islamophobic slurs and drove his vehicle directly at a worshiper

Officials at a mosque north of Toronto are calling on the provincial and federal governments to take action after an alleged hate-motivated attack took place there last week. 

Speaking at news conference Monday afternoon inside the mosque, Qaisar Nasir Khan said the suspect brought his car to the mosque around dawn prayer, uttered Islamophobic slurs, made threats to burn down the worship place, and tried to run over congregants.

“It was shocking. It could have resulted in serious injury, or God forbid, even fatalities," he said. 

As president of the Islamic Society of Markham, Khan said the normal primary function of his job is to make sure congregants are fed when they visit the mosque during the month of Ramadan. 

“I didn’t expect to be here in front of you talking about this issue” he said. 

Khan called on the federal government to address wait times for a program offering money for security upgrades at places of worship, and to expand that program to include costs for third-party security.

He said he wants to see Ontario pass legislation that would, among other proposals, expand educational resources that challenge Islamophobia and create a provincial hate crimes watchdog to review those types of investigations.

York Regional Police said they are investigating the incident, which occurred on Thursday. 

The 28-year-old male suspect was detained and charged with one count each of assault with a weapon, uttering threats and dangerous driving.

York Police deputy chief Robertson Rouse, who spoke at the news conference Monday, said the hate crime unit and intelligence bureau are investigating the matter.

“We want to reassure the community that these incidents are taken very seriously,” he said. 

Rouse said the suspect isn’t associated with any larger extremist group, assuring community members that there are no further threats to their safety as a result of this incident. 

“We are doing everything we can to ensure our faith communities remain safe,” he said. 

In a statement Sunday, the National Council of Canadian Muslims also alleged the man ripped up a Qur'an.

All levels of government are "working hard to make life safe for all Canadians," but Khan said more needs to be done to address the problem.

Recounting recent deadly Islamophobic attacks in Canada, including one in London, Ont., which left four members of a family dead and one wounded after a man ran over the victims with a truck in 2021, Khan said Muslim community have "reasons to feel afraid." 

"Make no mistake. We could have been at a funeral today," he said. "We will not be intimated. We will never stop in our mission of love and self-purification and trying to do the right thing." 

Thursday’s incident at Islamic Society of Markham comes a week after Islamophobic graffiti appeared on the walls of a Toronto mosque.

Police said on March 31 that they were investigating a possible hate crime at Towfiq Islamic Center after "hateful messages" were sprayed on the walls of the mosque.

The National Council of Canadian Muslims also reported an alleged hate crime on transit in early March in which a knife-wielding man threatened a hijab-wearing Muslim woman in Toronto. Toronto police have said an investigation is underway into that incident too. 

Amira Elghawaby, Ottawa's special representative on combatting Islamophobia, said anti-Muslim hate crimes and threats are especially worrying during the month of Ramadan given the number of congregants at mosques normally increases.

“Sadly, every time we hear about hate incidents somewhere happening in Canada, there is a lot of distress, there is a lot of anxiety” she said. 

Elghawaby said hate-motivated crimes against Muslims in recent weeks have triggered concerns among Muslims in the Greater Toronto Area.

“It is certainly concerning that we are hearing about more incidents that are being reported just in the past few weeks,” she said. 

“Hate crimes are message crimes, and so the message that is heard sadly loud and clear is one of fear and sometimes anxiety."

Banner image: THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Rahmat Gul

This report from The Canadian Press was first published April 10, 2023.

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