TORONTO — As more news emerged Thursday of anti-Muslim incidents across the country, a coalition of anti-racism groups called on all Canadians to ensure Syrian refugees heading here in the weeks to come don't become scapegoats following the terrorist attacks in Paris.
The coalition, comprised of groups that include the Canadian Arab Federation and the African-Canadian Legal Clinic, held a news conference at the Ontario legislature to decry what it described as an alarming increase in hate crimes.
"We cannot use these new Syrian refugees that we commit to bring here to Canada as a scapegoat for these crimes against other innocent civilians" said Mohamed Boudjenane, the acting president of the Canadian Arab Federation.
"These same people we're bringing into Canada ... are the main victims of these terrorist groups."
The news conference was held as the Toronto Transit Commission reported that two women wearing hijabs were harassed and assaulted on the subway during the evening rush hour on Wednesday.
Two men and a woman made abusive comments, suggested the women were terrorists and pushed one of the women, a TTC spokesman said.
"The TTC condemns this behaviour and racist act utterly and completely - there are no words, frankly, that are strong enough," Brad Ross said in a statement.
An Ottawa radio station also reported Thursday that a Muslim student at Carleton University says she found a racist note in her mailbox saying: "Canada is no place for immigrants or terrorists. Go back home." CFRA posted a photo of the hand-written note on its website.
Racist graffiti targeted at Muslim women was also discovered Wednesday night in the washroom of a commuter GO Train, said transit agency Metrolinx.
In Montreal earlier this week, police arrested a man after a YouTube video showed someone wearing a Joker mask saying one Arab would be murdered in Quebec every week.
Those incidents follow an attack on a hijab-wearing Muslim woman in Toronto and a fire at a mosque in Peterborough, Ont., that is being investigated as a hate crime.
The backlash has the anti-racism coalition worried about what's in store for the 25,000 Syrian refugees Canada has committed to settling by the end of the year.
The refugees coming to Canada are not people just showing up at the border, as asylum-seekers often do, said Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins - they have mostly been "languishing in refugee camps for upwards of four years" where they may not have had good access to clean water, adequate food and education.
The province has formed an ad hoc cabinet committee on refugees to co-ordinate planning on offering them housing, education, health services, including mental health supports, and language and employment training.
But in addition to the government and social services help, Hoskins said he wants to tap into the outpouring he has seen from the general public, particularly around the holiday season.
Many people have been forming groups to privately sponsor refugees, but others who may not be able to do so could help. An Arabic speaker could act as a translator, Hoskins pointed out, while a retired teacher could help refugee children prepare to attend school. People can also donate clothing and non-perishable food items.
"We're looking at how can we provide an appropriate channel for that goodwill to be realized," he said. "What we're doing is so beautifully Canadian and what this province stands for in terms of us wanting to come together and help people in need."
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