May 13, 2018 1:32 pm
Updated: May 14, 2018 4:07 pm

Lethbridge Muslim community preaches tolerance, understanding following racist tirade

WATCH ABOVE: Faith and political leaders in Lethbridge, Alta. hope a new Islamic centre can encourage tolerance. Kyle Benning has more.

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An Islamic leader in Southern Alberta is calling for education and dialogue following the video of a woman spouting racist remarks at a group of men at the Lethbridge Denny’s restaurant.

Imam Aslam Piprawala welcomed dozens as the Lethbridge Muslim Association opened the doors to its new mosque and Islamic centre on Saturday.

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“We hope that through what we are teaching in this new centre, through our explanation of the religion … we will explain to people that we are human and we are nothing but human.

“All of our teachings are completely human and we hope that through our teachings, incidents like these can be avoided in the future,” he told Global News.

He said he had never seen anything like what was captured on the video since he’s been in the city.

READ MORE: Video of racist rant in Lethbridge shines spotlight on overdue anti-racism report in Alberta

The new centre opens following a huge growth in the Muslim population in the city – many of whom are Syrian refugees fleeing the country’s civil war.

Piprawala noted the old mosque could hardly hold 100 people and Lethbridge’s Muslim community has expanded to about 1,000. The new centre can hold about 500 people.

Several politicians were on hand for the grand opening, including MLAs Shannon Phillips and Maria Fitzpatrick.

Mayor Chris Spearman congratulated the Islamic community on its new centre and said it has been part of the city for about four decades.

He said he wants to see those who are looking for clarity about the Islamic faith and its teachings to speak with members of the community at the new centre.

“We have to find ways to address people who have incorrect perceptions of what Islam is and what Muslims are – and people who are uncomfortable with people who come from other countries to our city,” the mayor said.

LISTEN: ‘People aren’t seeing the whole story’: Woman making racist comments in Lethbridge video speaks out

Last June, Statistics Canada released data showing hate crimes in Alberta climbed dramatically.

READ MORE: Hate crimes against Muslims in Canada increase 253% over four years

In Lethbridge, however, police said they had received only two reports of hate crimes in 2016 – compared to five in 2015.

The woman at the centre of the video, Kelly Pocha, is still being investigated by Lethbridge Police Services but has not been charged.

She lost her job at a Cranbrook Dodge dealership after being identified in the video.

WATCH: Lethbridge police chief speaks to reporters about racist video investigation

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