Islam unravelleds law enforcement partners
5 years of relationships, friendships, and collaboration across British Columbia.
June 14, 2017
Notice of Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and Islam Unravelled Partnership: A Joint Educational Initiative
Islam Unravelled, with support from the British Columbia RCMP, is creating an educational and awareness platform for British Columbia’s communities. This collaborative initiative will serve as a resource to provide sound information and answer important questions raised around Islam and Muslims today. The stakeholders in this initiative feel that lack of knowledge and misunderstandings lead to the phenomenon referred to as ‘Islamophobia’. This is a set of views, beliefs and behavior that may result in various forms of hate-motivated crimes ranging from harassment and violent threats to vandalism and physical aggression.
In today’s current socio-political environment, it is education that will play a major role in disseminating correct information, removing stereotypes and creating a sense of understanding that will lead to harmonious co-existence.
“The RCMP is committed to providing the highest quality of service to the diverse communities we serve. Our employees promote safe homes and safe communities through culturally sensitive, unbiased and respectful treatment for all peoples in Canada.” – Superintendent John Brewer, Officer in Charge: Enhanced Community and Aboriginal Policing Services
“We believe that accurate information and meaningful dialogue are key to an environment of understanding and respect in society. Islam Unravelled is committed to serving as a resource of authentic information and education for Canadian communities and organizations.”
Mufti Aasim Rashid, co-founder Islam Unravelled and Founder Al-Ihsan Educational Foundation Programs Planned for All Communities.
The partnership will focus on developing and implementing educational programs for the general public institutions and first responders. Joint presentations will be conducted at mosques to educate Muslim communities about hate-motivated crimes, and the procedures that should be followed in such circumstances.
A similar joint program, C.A.V.E. (Campaign Against Violent Extremism) was conducted by Aasim Rashid in collaboration with the RCMP, in which public lectures and Q&A sessions were conducted at post-secondary institutions and public libraries to address the issue of terrorism and radicalization.
Superintendent John Brewer,
Officer in Charge: Enhanced Community and Aboriginal Policing Services, RCMP
Mufti Aasim Rashid,
Co-founder Islam Unravelled
The BC Hate Crimes Team Islam Unravelled worked hand-in-hand with included:
- Superintendent John Brewer who Served as Officer in Charge Enhanced Community and Aboriginal Policing Services; RCMP “E” Division.
- RCMP Cpl. Anthony Statham
- New Westminster Police Department Det.-Cst. Gareth Blount
By Deidre Seiden
Side by side, two police officers stand at the front of a mosque addressing the crowd on a Friday night during the holy month of Ramadan.
The police officers, RCMP Cpl. Anthony Statham and New Westminster Police Department Det.-Cst. Gareth Blount, are members of the British Columbia (B.C) Hate Crime Team. Their message is simple. “
We want you to know we’re here for you from a policing standpoint,” says Statham. “We want you to report these incidents so we can track them and investigate them.“
According to a recent Statistics Canada report, while police-reported hate crimes decreased in Canada from 2013 to 2015, hate crimes against Muslim Canadians more than tripled during the same period, going from 45 to 159.
Statham believes there are even more incidents that have gone unreported.
This crime trend prompted the team to launch an initiative to attend mosques and Muslim prayer centres across B.C. and let the community know that police can help.
They need outreach from the police and they’re coming from places where police aren’t necessarily trusted,” says Statham. “
It’s our obligation to make an effort to get out and have contact with the community to tell them about hate crimes, the police and to be that positive presence.“
A complicated crime
The Hate Crime Team is the only one of its kind within the RCMP.
The two full-time police officers on the team investigate hate crimes as well as assist police officers in B.C. and across the country on cases where it’s believed hate, prejudice or bias is a motivating factor in a criminal incident.
Hate crime is not an area that’s very well known,” says Blount. “
I think there’s no such thing as a typical hate crime because of the complex effect they have on both the individual and the community.“
In Canada, there are criminal incidents that may be motivated by hate. In these cases, people are charged with a specific crime, like assault or uttering threats. However, Crown Counsel can ask to have a hate crime designation applied to the case, which can result in a stiffer sentence.
Then there are the separate sections in the Criminal Code of Canada that are deemed hate crimes in their own right: hate propaganda, public incitement of hatred and mischief relating to religious property.
We’re seeing hate propaganda a lot online now,” says Blount. “
This typically involves putting forth views that vilify an identifiable group or individuals from a group based on their religion, ethnic origin, sexual orientation or other unique factors.“
But in addition to investigating hate crimes, the team is focused on outreach.
Since the team first started this initiative during Ramadan in 2017 (May 27 to June 25), they’ve already spoken to more than 2,500 people across the province. Speaking engagements have often been delivered in conjunction with Metro Vancouver Transit Police, a key partner in hate crime awareness.
In order to reach the community, police have partnered with Islam Unravelled — an educational project that presents a positive and accurate image of Islamic beliefs — to help connect them with mosques and prayers centres.
Building relationships with the Muslim community is key to increase reporting since members of the community tend to be wary of police, says Tariq Tyab, from Islam Unravelled.
Often in the Muslim community, people are reluctant to engage police in their home countries because it could cause them more problems than it could solve,” says Tyab.
He says the outreach initiative is changing people’s perception of police in Canada.
People are paying attention because they’re worried about their families,” says Tyab. “
They’re being put at ease by meeting the police and realize they need to report a hate crime, even something they feel is small, and can do so without fear.“
There are always a number of people who approach Blount and Statham after the presentation to chat, share their experience, shake their hands and thank them.
There really is no substitute for getting out and talking to people,” says Blount. “
We have the opportunity to do that — talk to people face to face — and deliver a positive message: together we can make a difference.“
Chief Officer Dave Jones joined Metro Vancouver Transit Police on April 1, 2019, following a 37-year career with the New Westminster Police Department where he began as a Reserve Police Section volunteer. He was hired as a full-time police officer with the department in 1986 and steadily made his way through the ranks. He was promoted to Inspector in 2000, to Deputy Chief Constable in 2009, and finally to Chief Constable in 2011. During his time at New Westminster Police Department, Chief Jones worked in a variety of sections and led a number of projects, including the initiative that effectively dealt with the influx of crack cocaine dealers into New Westminster in the late 1990s. He also worked with various city departments in the creation of the Integrated Service Team model that is still in effect today.
Chief Jones is the recipient of a Chief Constable Commendation, a Sr. Officer’s Commendation, a Queen’s Jubilee Medal and a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal. In May of 2013, he was presented with the Member of the Order of Merit of the Police Forces medal by the Governor General of Canada. Chief Jones holds a Bachelor of General Studies degree and is currently enrolled in a Master of Law degree program.
Chief Jones has deep roots in the community. He is a member of several police organizations, and is a dedicated volunteer with community soccer and sports programs.
To the passerby, the police presence in and outside the Al Jamia Masjid mosque on West Eighth Avenue Thursday could have signaled that something serious and untoward had occurred.
Even Police Chief Adam Palmer was there.
But a look inside the basement of the mosque, where Palmer and some of his highest-ranking officers assembled with Muslim community leaders, revealed that something different was going on.
The embrace between Palmer and Haroon Khan, a trustee of the mosque, gave it away.
“Good to see you, thanks so much for having us,” Palmer said.
“Thanks for coming,” replied Khan, whose father was one of the founders of the mosque when it opened in 1963.
The two leaders were there to partake in a bit of history. It was the first time in recent memory that the Vancouver Police Board had held one of its regular meetings at a mosque.
For the board, which is comprised of private citizens and chaired by Mayor Gregor Robertson, it is rare to meet outside the VPD’s Cambie Street precinct. It’s also rare to meet in places of worship, with only the Ross Street Temple being the other.
In the past decade, the board has met at community centres and several times on the reserve of the Musqueam Indian Band. The joint decision to meet at Al Jamia Masjid came after an impromptu community gathering in January outside the mosque after six men were gunned down at a mosque in Quebec City.
Palmer and Robertson attended the vigil, along with a large crowd, to pay respects to those who died and to stand together against hate and racism, which continues in Vancouver; the mosque’s front doors were splattered with red paint after the bombing in May in Manchester and, a couple of years ago, someone tried to set a fire outside the building.
The board also heard Thursday, during a presentation from an officer who works closely with the Muslim community, that police investigated 16 reported hate crimes against Muslims last year, and another four this year.
“The stereotyping is out there — there are ignorant people out there,” said Khan, prior to the meeting. “There are people out there who are fostering hate and intolerance through their words and their actions. When they stereotype Muslims as crazy people, it’s wrong, it’s not true and we have to do the best that we can to show who we are.”
Over the years, the mosque has served as a homeless shelter, has organized food drives for low-income people and discussed Islam with other faiths, including supporting workshops to unravel questions groups have about what it is to be Muslim.
Ihsan Malik, chairperson of the mosque, said having police officers and the police board meet at the mosque was important to give others a sense of Muslims’ “cultural sensitivities and religious barriers.”
He pointed out that when people participated in the vigil outside the mosque in January, many were curious about the building and what went on inside.
“That tells you there is still very limited knowledge out there of Islam,” Malik said. “What people see on TV is what they perceive Islam to be. But it is not like that. Islam is a very beautiful religion, very peaceful.”
Malik and Khan described the Muslim community’s relationship with the VPD as “very good,” although Malik said he wants to see more Muslim officers on the force. He said he knows of two Muslim officers.
The VPD was unable to provide a count of Muslim officers before the posting of this story but it was noted at the meeting that a recruiting session is planned for a mosque in Burnaby.
The board heard from two young Muslim girls who are members of a VPD cadet program. Both spoke of how safe and accepted they feel in the program, with one talking about the fear she has when she leaves the house in her hijab; she’s been spat on and called names during her bus ride to school.
Robertson, who listened to both girls’ brief speeches, said he continues to be concerned about racism in Vancouver and acknowledged hate crimes are underreported in the city.
“We need to be going after that, every chance we have,” the mayor said.
Palmer agreed that hate crimes go unreported, but he said that happens for all types of crime. The chief said it is possible hate crime statistics against Muslims could increase in the future as the department continues to do more outreach in the community.
“If we let the community know that we want to hear from them — that we want to break down those barriers and let them know that they can trust the police — you may actually see numbers go up,” he said.
Police board member Barj Dhahan, who is of the Sikh faith, said the board and police department continues to strive to be inclusive of all communities in Vancouver, with the main focus being public safety. He foresees the board holding future meetings with other faith-based groups at their buildings.
“If there is a divine power, it is one divine power,” Dhahan said. “We may experience it differently, we may have different rituals, different beliefs, different ways. But at the end of the day, it’s all about being together in the city of Vancouver as one community, as well as honouring and respecting our differences, too.”