‘Pure Islamophobia’: Advertising van saying Canadians are ‘under siege’ by Muslims spotted in Toronto

The Toronto Police Hate Crime Unit is investigating video of an advertising van spotted in Toronto spreading Islamophobic messaging. Michelle Mackey reports.

The Toronto Police Hate Crime Unit is investigating after a van adorned with video screens saying Canada is “under siege” by Muslims was spotted driving around Toronto.

The cube van’s screens played a video that says: “Is this Yemen? Is this Syria? Is this Iraq?”

The video then shows Muslims kneeling in prayer and concludes, “No. This is Canada. Wake up Canada. You are under siege.”

Canada’s Special Representative on Combatting Islamophobia, Amira Elghawaby, touched on the controversial van in a social media post, saying, “I have a message of my own: Your attempts to divide and hate won’t work. Canadians will recognize and reject it for the hate that it is. Love overcomes hate. Always.”

The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) also denounced the ad, calling it “extremely dangerous messaging.”

“We have seen Islamophobic hate kill in Canada, including in Ontario. This public campaign is pure Islamophobia and hate,” an NCCM statement reads. “This needs to stop now.”

Paramount Fine Foods CEO Mohamad Fakih responded to a video of the van on X, formerly known as Twitter, offering up a $25,000 reward to anyone with information that would lead to an arrest.

“It has been two days since this clear incitement of hate occurred on Toronto streets,” reads the post on X. “Today, I am offering a reward of up to $25,000 for information that leads to the arrest of the individuals who paid for, designed, or in any way facilitated this hateful campaign. Please call Toronto police as soon as you can today.”

NCCM Advocacy Officer Fetema Abdalla said incidents like this are a “high priority.”

“Over the last eight months especially we have seen an increase of hate incidents of over 1300 per cent. These include calls for incidents at schools, in public spaces, places of worship and workspaces.

“This is just one example of one of the dangerous levels of Islamophobia. Spreading a public message and a public campaign as harmful as this is what results in more fear and more harm toward Muslims in Canada. This is extremely unacceptable.”

Toronto Police say after reviewing the footage, the Hate Crime Unit has launched an investigation.

“We encourage anyone with information, or who may have witnessed the truck or have video footage or images, to please contact police and make a report,” Toronto police said.

Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow said she hoped all three levels of government would come together to stand against the messaging on the vehicle.

“We’ll look for ways to join together; both federal, provincial and municipal governments should come together and say this is not acceptable. We condemn this kind of behaviour, and it shouldn’t be allowed.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh told CityNews he was “deeply alarmed” by the van.

“In general we are seeing a really alarming and disturbing rise in hate targeting people for their religion, for their country of origin, for who they are. This is a problem. This is something we’ve got to take very seriously.”

“We should build a country that’s safe for everyone to be able to live their lives and contribute freely and this is an example of that increasing hate that I’m really worried about,” he said.

Members of Toronto’s Muslim community were also speaking out about the van on Wednesday.

“This is racism and Muslim hate,” Mohammed Abudulkam said outside of a downtown Toronto mosque. “This is making us feel less safe, and we are not happy. I think 100 per cent it is dangerous. This video can create Islamophobia and Muslim hate.”

Muslim Jakir Chowdhury, however, said it could be used as a learning experience.

“Things like this always could act as a way to invite people into the community,” he said. “They could use this opportunity to learn about Islam. Islam is not about hate and division. It is about loving everybody…we live our lives in peace and harmony and forgiveness.”

“It’s not right,” he said. “But it’s (important for) our Muslim brothers and sisters to see things like this and not get frustrated and have their heart filled with hate but rather look at it as an opportunity to educate people and spread the beautiful religion of Islam.”

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