TORONTO — Mosques across Canada have increasingly had to ask congregants to stay vigilant against potential attacks and harassment during the holy month of Ramadan, Muslim advocacy groups say, noting that the normalization of such security conversations is a concern.
Two mosques in a city north of Toronto and one in Montreal were the subject of security incidents this month. With two weeks of Ramadan still left in the leadup to Eid, the Muslim Association of Canada said mosques have been advising worshippers on ways to stay safe while also looking at measures to boost security on-site.
"We need to ensure that our community is safe, but the fact that that's becoming a requirement, and that's becoming a normalized practice because it's a real fear, is a problem," association director Memona Hossain said in an interview.
A spokesperson for the National Council of Canadian Muslims said Ramadan in recent years has brought with it an increase in reports from community members of confrontations.
"It has become almost a cycle," said Steven Zhou, adding the increase might be related to the increased visibility of Muslims during the holy month.
Mosques are bustling during Ramadan as people gather to pray multiple times a day while fasting and sometimes prayers last into the night, Zhou said. He added, however, that attacks against Muslims take place year-round.
Last week, mosque leaders allegeda man brought his car to a Markham, Ont., mosque around prayer time at dawn, uttered Islamophobic slurs, made threats to burn down the place of worship and tried to ram into congregants. Police are investigating.
In a separate case, also in Markham, a man is facing criminal charges after allegedly blocking the entrance to a mosque, yelling derogatory slurs at worshippers and assaulting several people.
In Montreal, surveillance videos showed a man trying to strike a young worshipper at a mosque last week before using a rock to break through the building's front door.
The National Council of Canadian Muslims and the Muslim Association of Canada said it has become increasingly common for imams to tell congregants how they should react if an active shooter enters a mosque.
Those conversations started happening more frequently after a gunman entered a Quebec mosque in 2017 and killed six worshippers, and they continued after June 2021, when four members of a Muslim family were killed while out for an evening walk in London, Ont. A man is facing terror-related murder charges in their deaths.
"These are very surreal conversations," Zhou said.
"Such as, 'Where are the appropriate exits for when a shooting happens?' When people are lining up, if somebody has a car, (they're) wondering, 'Will it be easier for that person to ram us?' ... A large number of people are afraid and just tired of having to look over their shoulders all the time."
Abu Noman Tarek, an imam in Brantford, Ont., and director of the Canadian Council of Imams, said his mosque recently had a conversation with the local police chief about "how could we make sure that mosque is ready to face such situations."
"No Canadian should leave their home with their religious identity or to go to the religious place with fear that they could be under attack, and they might not come back to their family members," Tarek said.
All three national advocacy groups said the Muslim community in Canada is strong and members will continue to gather at mosques despite a fear of attacks.
They said Canada has come a long way in addressing Islamophobia but there is still a lot more work that needs to be done.
"We hear our leadership saying that it's a priority for them and we hear resources being put into place, but something isn't lining up great because we're still seeing a consistent increase in these issues," Hossain, of the Muslim Association of Canada,said.
Zhou added that the National Council of Canadian Muslims was happy to see increased funding for the Security Infrastructure Program in the recent federal budget so places of worship can access more money for security upgrades. But he criticized the government for taking too long to process the funding.
Public Safety Canada did not immediately respond to requests for comment on that.
Zhou said discussion of the safety concerns of Muslims was important.
"This has been a long-standing set of issues," he said.
Last month, figures released by Statistics Canada showed hate crimes reported to police continued to spike across the country in the second year of the pandemic as people were targeted by race, religion and sexual orientation. The report said police-reported hate crimes targeting Muslim Canadians increased by 71 per cent.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 13, 2023.
Fakiha Baig, The Canadian Press