Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced a program Friday morning intended to protect vulnerable residents from hate crimes.
The Alberta Security Infrastructure Program will provide grants to religious and ethnic organizations that are at risk of being targeted by hate-inspired violence or vandalism. This includes places of worship, temples, synagogues, gurdwaras, community centres such as Indigenous friendship centres, ceremonial facilities and monuments.
“All Albertans must be able to live in a province where it is safe to practice their faith, to exercise their freedom of religion,” Premier Jason Kenney said at a news conference at the Al Rashid Mosque in Edmonton Friday morning.
“Albertans must feel safe to walk in their neighbourhood and not fear for their safety because of the colour of their skin.”
The funding can be used for things like security and technology improvements, as well as staff training, Kenney said.
“As we tragically witnessed this week, religious and ethnic minorities in Canada remain at risk of being targeted with hate-motivated crime,” Kenney said.
“These cowardly acts of bigotry have no place in our province. Alberta’s government stands shoulder to shoulder with these communities and is proud to deliver on our election commitment to help keep them safe.”
Grant applications will open in the fall. The province said a total of $500,000 will be available this year. Applicants will be eligible for up to $10,000 to assist with security assessments and training, as well as $90,000 for the purchase and installation of security infrastructure such as alarms, gates, motion detectors and security systems.
“Complex problems such as hate crimes and racism place an incredible burden on vulnerable Albertans,” Justice Minister Kaycee Madu said. “My goal as justice minister is to ensure to prevent them before they occur.
“The Alberta Security Infrastructure Program will empower these Albertans and their communities by providing additional layers of protection for those in need. Empowered communities are safe communities.”
Madu said $1 million will be available through the grant next year.
The announcement comes just days after a Muslim family of four was run over and killed by a vehicle in London, Ont., in what police say was a targeted attack because of their faith.
Salman Afzaal, 46, his 44-year-old wife, Madiha Salman, their 15-year-old daughter Yumna Afzaal and Afzaal’s 74-year-old mother were killed after police say a pickup truck intentionally mounted the sidewalk and struck the family.
Nine-year-old Fayez Afzaal, the lone survivor, suffered serious injuries.
The accused Nathaniel Veltman made a brief virtual appearance in court Thursday to face four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder.
“Some would think that acts of this kind of violence like this don’t happen in Canada, but last week’s mass murder in London was a terrible reminder of how many communities in Canada feel that their day-to-day security and safety cannot be taken for granted,” Kenney said.
Aumer Assaf, a spokesperson with the Canadian Islamic Centre, said the security grants are “absolutely necessary.”
“The reality is, the Muslim community is under attack. It’s not just the violence — it’s the sneers, it’s the looks. Our women in their hijabs are visibly targeted and it’s the small things that add up that turn into a catastrophe,” he said.
“We in the Muslim community, we hear the whispers of hate but we are a community that listens to love. Canada is a place of love.”
Assaf said he is thankful that the government is taking action to combat hate. He asks that Canadians across the country reach out and get to know their Muslim community.
“We are part of the landscape. We are the landscape. We. I mean we — not Muslims — I mean we. I call myself a Canadian Muslim, an Albertan Muslim. I have deep roots in this province, my family has been coming since the ’20s,” he said.
“I ask my fellow Canadians that we just be kind to one another. Just be kind.”
On Thursday evening, the province also announced a new community liaison position on hate crimes that will connect directly with ethnic and religious groups, as well as sexual minority communities who are targeted by hate-motivated crime.
The liaison will work with the groups to provide the government with a range of expertise on how it can best tackle hate-motivated crimes in Alberta.
In addition, the province said it will also set up a hate crime coordination unit, which will work with law enforcement to “improve and harmonize hate crime mitigation efforts across the province and facilitate training opportunities, intelligence gathering and investigative supports. This includes strengthening the approach to successfully prosecuting individuals charged with hate-motivated crimes.”
The province said the liaison position and unit are still in development and more information will be shared in the coming weeks.
“Hate-motivated crimes and racism are unacceptable — full stop,” Madu said in a news release.
“We’re taking action to help support and empower the communities and groups most affected by this deplorable behaviour. In light of the recent attacks on Canadians simply because of their chosen faith, I hope the new community liaison and hate crimes coordination unit show Albertans our province is fully committed to protecting those being targeted.”
There have been a series of racially motivated assaults against mostly Black, Muslim women in Calgary and Edmonton in the past six months or so, which have left many in the community feeling anxious and unsafe. It’s gotten so bad that the Al Rashid Mosque in Edmonton has begun offering Muslim women self-defence lessons.
“Alberta’s government is committed to the safety and security of all communities that have been impacted by these despicable hate-motivated crimes,” said Leela Sharon Aheer, minister of culture, multiculturalism and status of women.
“From Black Muslim women in Edmonton and Calgary attacked for wearing hijab to the recent rise in anti-Semitism and anti-Asian hate, these incidents have had a significant impact on Albertans from diverse backgrounds. The new community liaison and hate crimes coordination unit is a critical step in addressing racism in our province and is the result of strong government leadership and community advocacy.”