London Police Chief Brad Duncan rearranged his schedule to address Muslims gathered at the Islamic Centre of Southwest Ontario (ICSWO) for prayers Friday (April 5).
Duncan skipped convocation at the Ontario Police College to appear with Imam Dr. Munir Elkassem in front of 100 men and women there for prayers in a display of solidarity with the Islamic community.
Duncan urged city residents not to judge an entire segment of the population by the actions of two “radicalized” individuals while calling on members of the Islamic community to come to police when they see suspicious activity.
On Thursday (April 4) the RCMP confirmed what had been speculated all week: two Canadians killed in a terrorist attack and hostage taking at a gas plant in Algeria in January —Xristos Katsiroubas and Ali Medlej — were from London.
A third local resident, Aaron Yoon, has also been linked to the attack.
Duncan said he wanted to get out ahead of any anti-Islamic sentiment that may be brooding in the broader community. He said incidents of racially motivated violence or harassment would be dealt with “swiftly.”
“I thought it was very important to be here,” he said, London Police Service (LPS) diversity officer Sgt. Marcel Marcellan at his side. “We have a Muslim community that has existed here for decades. They have contributed to the fabric of our community.”
Duncan said he hasn’t seen an increase in the frequency of threats or racist activity against Muslim people in the week the London connection has been in the news, but has spoken to Muslims who are concerned that could happen.
Both he and El-Kassem referred to an increase in anti-Islamic “activity” following the arrest of a London man in summer 2010 on terror charges, the latter worried it would be “déjà vu” in spring 2013.
Turning frequently to speak directly to a news camera at the side of the room, El-Kassem dedicated the first half of his sermon to a plea to the media — don’t paint all Muslims with the same brush, and don’t jump to conclusions.
“Why is it that when someone who’s name suggests they are Muslim commits a crime, (you) have to excite everybody?” he asked. “Demand explanations? Terrorism has no religious identity."
He said the Islamic community is no more responsible for the actions of Katsiroubas and Medlej than an entire church is responsible for the transgressions of a pedophilic priest.
“Don’t pass judgment on a group until you know all the facts,” he said. “Don’t turn bitter a sector of the Canadian citizenship because you implicate them by association. That is my message to the media.”
Assan Mostafa hasn’t seen a spike in racial tension either, but said he has prepared the eldest of his three children, an eight-year-old daughter, for a possible backlash at school.
“I can’t say I feel less safe,” he said. “But kids can be cruel, so I talked to them about what to do in case someone says something. It’s my eight-year-old I’m concerned about the most. I told her to make sure she is aware of her surroundings.”
Mostafa, past-president of the ICSWO, said Muslims, mainly women, are used to a level of harassment, being honked at or yelled to from cars in public, for example, but he hasn’t been told of any incidents of violence in the past week.
“Nothing you would report to the police.”