News / Winnipeg

'Diversity Rally' shut down hateful rally, but some still feel hate daily

While many Winnipeggers showed up in droves to discourage an anti-Islam rally Saturday, some newcomers to the city say they experience racism consistently.

Jamila, 9, Salem, 6, Sedra, 6, Nour, 11, Islam, 5, Abdullah, 16 and Ata, 11 all came to Canada after fleeing civil war in Syria. After receiving threats of violence and vandalism, they no longer feel safe in the Manitoba Housing complex they live in.

Shannon VanRaes / For Metro

Jamila, 9, Salem, 6, Sedra, 6, Nour, 11, Islam, 5, Abdullah, 16 and Ata, 11 all came to Canada after fleeing civil war in Syria. After receiving threats of violence and vandalism, they no longer feel safe in the Manitoba Housing complex they live in.

A counter-rally on Saturday successfully shut down what organizers saw as hate speech bubbling up in Winnipeg, but some newcomers to the city say the treatment such rhetoric inspires still affects their daily lives.

Both a Worldwide Coalition Against Islam (WCAI) rally and Winnipeg Diversity Rally Against Hate rally were both set for Saturday afternoon, setting up a duel between the two demonstrations before the WCAI cancelled theirs at the last minute.

The counter-rally carried on at the Manitoba Legislature with about one thousand attendees “comprised of a diversity of peoples, united the banner of ‘we stand against hate’” said organizer Krishna Lalbiharie.

“The fact they withdrew their efforts suggest to me that we won. By that I mean we sent a clear message to all so-called patriot alliances that the response they will meet when they promulgate hate is a group outnumbering them 100 to one,” said Lalbiharie.

Since the removal of a Confederate statue led to clashes between white nationalists and anti-fascist protestors in Charlottesville, Va, in August, Winnipeg has seen its own wave of racism, with hateful graffiti messages such as “lost white civilizations” found on a bench along Wellington Crescent.

At the time that graffiti and other similar instances came to light, Mayor Brian Bowman issued a statement calling on Winnipeggers of all backgrounds to join him in denouncing acts of hate.

But as much as some people heeded the mayor’s call in denouncing hate as they saw it on Saturday, hateful actions have come to define life in Winnipeg for some newcomers.

Newcomer families live in fear 

Nour Ismil came to Canada as a refugee a year and half ago, seeking safety from the violence of the Syrian civil war.

Now the 11-year-old, her four sisters, parents and baby brother cluster together in the living room of their North End apartment each night, fearful it will be set on fire or otherwise attacked while they sleep.

For months now, four of the Syrian families living in the cluster of Manitoba Housing buildings they inhabit have endured taunts, insults, vandalism and threats from area residents.

“It’s very bad, they have eggs … rocks,” she explains in newly acquired English. 

Her neighbour Ata, also 11, is more direct.

“They said to me ‘we are going to burn you alive in your bed,’” he said, adding the house has been egged more than once and that he’s had rocks thrown at him. Just two doors down are the remains of another home destroyed by arson, making him all the more nervous.

But it was 16-year-old Anissa Hamrasho, who has been living in the Manitoba Housing multiplex for the past seven months, who took the matter to police after her father was physically attacked.

“His eyes were blackened,” she said, adding he didn’t see who attacked him because they came at him from behind after dark. The family has also had their vehicle’s windows smashed out more than once.

But despite appealing to law enforcement and settlement agencies, the families living in the small complex continue to face harassment.

Ismil’s mother, Zarah Shabab, shakes her head as she explains that she no longer feels safe living there and wants to be moved somewhere else.

She's at a loss to explain why they have been targeted, but hopes that an upcoming meeting with Manitoba housing will see their situation improve.

Stories like hers may leave many people wondering what they can do to help.

Lalbiharie said standing up against hate boils down to three actions.

“The first thing everyone must do is openly challenge hate when it’s presented to them. It needs to be exposed and confronted,” he said.

“The other thing is to get involved with organizations that are working to combat hate groups, like Amnesty International, Fascist Free Treaty 1. And look to your local religious organizations as well,” he said.

“Finally, it’s important that we look to the internet to see what’s being trolled upon and make sure that organizations that are working to combat hate groups are made aware of it.”

The vigilance of one Facebook user, who gave Lalbiharie a heads up about the Worldwide Coalition Against Islam rally, made Saturday’s event possible.

While there are no future rallies in the works right now, Lalbiharie said the coalition will be “vigilant” in their response to “efforts to organize hate rallies and the like in the city.”

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