Canada has appointed its first special representative on combatting Islamophobia as the government seeks to stem hatred and discrimination after a series of attacks targeting members of Muslim communities in the country in recent years.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Thursday that human rights advocate Amira Elghawaby would take up the post, with a mandate to support Ottawa’s efforts to end Islamophobia and to offer advice on government policies, legislation and other programmes.
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“Diversity truly is one of Canada’s greatest strengths, but for many Muslims, Islamophobia is all too familiar. We need to change that. No one in our country should experience hatred because of their faith,” Trudeau said in a statement.
Elghawaby’s appointment, he added, “is an important step in our fight against Islamophobia and hatred in all its forms”.
For years, Muslim community leaders in Canada have called on authorities at all levels to tackle racism, hate-motivated violence, and the prevalence of far-right groups.
Researchers in 2020 found that the number of hate groups operating in the country had tripled in recent years, with anti-Muslim rhetoric one of the “most salient” topics among right-wing extremists online.
A year later, Trudeau’s government held national summits on Islamophobia and anti-Semitism in a push to tackle the problems. That effort came after a series of deadly attacks and harassment targeting Muslim communities across Canada raised alarm and spurred calls to action.
In June 2021, four members of a Muslim family were killed when a man ran them over with his truck in London, Ontario, while a gunman killed six Muslim men as they prayed at a mosque in Quebec City in 2017. A mosque caretaker was also killed in the Toronto area in 2020.
On Thursday, the National Council of Canadian Muslims advocacy group welcomed Canada’s appointment of Elghawaby, who previously worked with the organisation, as an “historic moment for Muslims in Canada”.
“This is the first time the fight against Islamophobia will have an established home in Canadian government,” the group’s CEO, Stephen Brown, said in a statement.
“There are urgent changes that need to be met, from better oversight for our national security agencies, to stopping our community organizations from being unfairly audited. We have a lot of work ahead and we are so excited that there is now an Office that can help us bring about these changes at the institutional level.”
A contributing columnist at the Toronto Star newspaper, Elghawaby currently works at the Canadian Race Relations Foundation. She also was a founding board member of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, a non-profit that tracks hate groups in Canada.
In a series of tweets on Thursday afternoon, Elghawaby thanked the Canadian government for her appointment.
“I look forward to meeting with elected officials, policymakers, and community leaders across the country to amplify the voices of Canadian Muslims and work together to fight discrimination and hate in all its forms,” she wrote.
Thank you to Minister @HonAhmedHussen, his team, and the Government of Canada for making this position a reality, as a way to foster greater diversity and inclusion across the country. 1/ 6
— Amira Elghawaby (@AmiraElghawaby) January 26, 2023