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Group wants action on racism in Newfoundland and Labrador

Sobia Shaikh of Addressing Islamophobia NL says a broad approach to anti-racism is needed in Newfoundland and Labrador. Photo by Daniel Smith
Sobia Shaikh of Addressing Islamophobia NL says a broad approach to anti-racism is needed in Newfoundland and Labrador. Photo by Daniel Smith
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

David Maher

The Telegram

david.maher@thetelegram.com

@DavidMaherNL

A group advocating against Islamophobia and racism in general in Newfoundland and Labrador says it is disappointed by a lack of action by the provincial government on an anti-racism task force.

Sobia Shaikh, an associate professor in Memorial University’s school of social work, and Jennifer Selby, an associate professor in the department of religious studies, are members of the Addressing Islamophobia project.

The group got its start after the Quebec Mosque shooting in January 2016. A white nationalist terrorist entered the Islamic Cultural Centre in Quebec City with a gun, killing six worshippers and wounding 19 others. The perpetrator of the attack was found guilty of six counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison in February 2019.

Shaikh says an impromptu meeting after the attack led to the creation of the Anti-Racism Coalition, with the Addressing Islamophobia NL project starting shortly thereafter.

The group got funding from Memorial University and the National Council of Canadian Muslims for community consultations and a two-day conference in the fall of 2017 and spring of 2018. Shaikh says the organization met with about 400 people through their consultations.

Prior to the release of the community report, the group contacted Chris Mitchelmore, who had recently become minister of Advanced Education, Skills and Labour, the department responsible for the office of immigration and multiculturalism.

Days before the meeting, then-minister of Municipal Affairs and Environment Perry Trimper was removed from the Liberal caucus after audio leaked by the Innu Nation captured Trimper suggesting the nation had “played the race card” in negotiations.

“We thought that there could be an appetite, actually, because of the hopeful embarrassment around that,” said Selby.

“That didn’t happen.”

The group met with Mitchelmore and explained three key recommendations coming from the report:

• Establish an anti-racism action plan for 2020-25 to outline specific actions to be taken to combat racism in the province.

• Fund the Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Commission and Anti-Racism Coalition to “monitor and report on the prevalence and effects of incidents of racist, Islamophobic and other forms of cultural and religious discrimination.

• Promote anti-racism and anti-Islamophobia in all government departments.

Jennifer Selby says she felt dismissed after meeting with cabinet minister Chris Mitchelmore. Photo by Daniel Smith
Jennifer Selby says she felt dismissed after meeting with cabinet minister Chris Mitchelmore. Photo by Daniel Smith

“We received a letter back from minister Mitchelmore’s office in October, where I just felt it was … very trite and shallow. It was just kind of thanking us and saying, ‘Keep up the good work,’” said Selby.

“We had specifically spoken about some specific directives that you see in the recommendations and that was ignored in the letter.”

Shaikh says Mitchelmore committed to bringing the letter to the premier and taking action on the recommendations.

“There has been very little, other than stating in an abstract way, that he had met with us. There’s been very little movement,” she said.

The Telegram asked the Department of Advanced Education, Skills and Labour on Wednesday for comment on the meeting and to list anti-racism initiatives taken by the department since 2015. The Telegram did not receive any comment or information from the department by the Friday deadline.

“At the very least, we wanted a statement, we wanted a task force to be struck, which includes Islamophobia and instances of racism, and we wanted more statistics and information. We wanted transparency,” said Shaikh.

“We knew we wouldn’t get all of them. How could you? But we wanted a conversation started.”

“From my perspective, what was most discouraging was the kind of feeling of being patted on the head and just being dismissed,” said Selby.

Shaikh says any approach to anti-racism by the government has to be intersectional, especially in light of incidents of racism against Indigenous people throughout the province.

“We realized we couldn’t talk about islamophobia without talking about racism broadly, or without talking about settler-colonialism as per what happened in the Trimper (case),” she said.

The group says collecting data on incidents of racism and discrimination is crucial to fighting racism in the province.

The Newfoundland and Labrador Human Rights Commission’s 2018-19 annual report says it received 93 official complaints, of which 12 related to race, four related to religion and 60 related to disability.

Shaikh says there needs to be more active data collection undertaken by the government to inform anti-racism strategies.

The provincial government’s immigration strategy targets 1,700 newcomers to the province annually by 2022.

“If the goal is immigrant retention and the economy, then this should be part of it,” said Selby.

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