Edmonton Police are reviewing a video posted to social media showing a heated and racist exchange between a man and a group of young Muslim women, the second such incident in as many weeks.
Late Wednesday night, Yasmin Ugas was with friends at the Clareview Superstore buying groceries when, she said, a man approached them.
“A man came up to us and started apologizing to us for being slaves and wearing slave garments,” she said.
Ugas is Muslim and wears a hijab; another friend who wears a niqab was also present for the encounter.
“He has clearly a lot of ignorant ideas about why we’re wearing our hijab and he’s blaming our husbands on the fact that we’re being forced to wear this,” Ugas said.
“It was just really a way for him to start his schpeel about how Islam is trying to change the rules of Canada.”
Ugas said this isn’t the first time something like this has happened to her, but she said this incident stood out.
“I was shocked at the audacity he had to be able to speak so confidently about this,” she said.
“When people get upset, they love to bring out the racist in them.”
Ugas decided then to record the incident.
“I wanted people in the community to know that this is something that happens. This is something we’re not going to let go of, something we will hold these people accountable for – for their racism.”
Carolin Maran, a spokesperson for Edmonton Police Service, said the Hate Crimes Unit will review the video but stopped short of saying the unit will investigate it, adding police will need to look at the circumstances of the video and the incident.
Fardawsa Yusef, who was also present during the encounter, said she wants people to be more educated about Muslims and Islam in general.
“Isn’t Canada a multicultural country where we can believe what we want? What happened to our rights?” she said.
“This is not acceptable – for us to be fully covered and to be harassed because we chose to dress this way.”
Yusef said the situation left her feeling more sad than disappointed.
“Everyone is listening to what’s on TV, what’s on social media about Muslims and, like, ISIS, all these crazy things. We’re not crazy,” she said.
“We’re normal people that go to Superstore when our headphones are broken. We’re treated like aliens because we cover ourselves. It’s funny because they act as if we just came here. But for me, I was born here.”
The video shows an employee approach the exchange but no one intervenes except a bystander who kicks the wheelchair the man sits in and tells him to get out.
Ugas and her friends said they want employees to step up and intervene when these situations happen.
“That should be part of the policy. When these things happen, if nothing’s getting physical, you guys should step in and try to sort things out,” Yusef said.
A manager at the Clareview Superstore declined to answer questions from Global News. An inquiry sent to Loblaw Companies Limited, the parent company of Superstore, went unanswered.
Irfan Chaudhry, the director of the Office of Human Rights at MacEwan University, said businesses can and should do more to prepare their employees.
“There’s discomfort in approaching the situation. There’s hesitation if you don’t connect with the identity being targeted. That’s definitely where there should be more efforts being put into training programs,” he said.
This summer, Starbucks across the country closed for sensitivity and bias training, a move instigated after the unprovoked arrest of two young African American men at a Philadelphia store in April.
Chaudhry said it is better to support the victim of Islamophobia than try to confront the attacker. He suggests engaging the victim in conversation and ignoring the attacker, picking a random subject to discuss and creating a safe space until the attacker leaves.