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Shining a light on racism is important, despite giving perpetrators attention

22-year-old Munira Abukar says she’s more determined than ever to fight for a seat on Toronto city council so she can speak out against the type of bigotry she faced this weekend.

“I was shocked, I was disappointed and I was angry. I think not for myself but for my parents – to see their hearts break and see their dismay,” said Abukar, who’s running in Ward 2 against Rob Ford.

On the weekend several of her campaign signs were vandalized and one was marred by the phrase “go back home.”

But since the ugly incident she’s received a torrent of tweets, almost four thousand she says, offering support and encouragement.

“It’s been amazing, I’m humbled to be a hashtag on Twitter:#IStandWithMunira,” said Abukar. “The only mayoral candidate that has stepped forward in terms of the ‘big-3’ is Olivia Chow. I’ve also seen words of encouragement from Dionne Renee, Morgan [Baskin], Adam Vaughan, Kristyn Wong-Tam and Sarah Doucette.”

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Abukar hasn’t been the only candidate confronted by intolerance. Ward 27 incumbent Kristyn Wong-Tam received a profanity-laced letter attacking both her ethnicity and sexuality. The openly-gay candidate says she has also received death threats.

“We cannot stay silent and complacency is not an option. Over the last four years I’ve seen an escalation of this behaviour,” said Wong-Tam.

There is the fear that focusing attention on such personal attacks gives the perpetrator the attention they crave and feeds their hate, but experts in the field of race relations say shining a spotlight serves an important practical purpose.

“The fact is, there is always a core group that’s going to hate no matter what, but what we have to worry about is who that core hater is going to influence,” said Anita Bromberg, of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation. “By speaking out and by having the candidates condemn it, then the message becomes loud and clear to those who could be influenced: this is simply unacceptable and it has to be stopped.”

Abukar has filed two police reports, one for sign theft and another for the racist vandalism of her signs this weekend.

Ironically, the bigotry meant to slow her down has done the opposite. She’s now campaigning more vigorously, bouyed by support from complete strangers.

“A lof of the messages have me really emotional because they’re like: ‘I’ve never met you, I’m from Norway or South Africa but I lived in Toronto and I have solidarity and will tell all my friends about you.’”

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