In the aftermath of the recent Paris terrorism attacks, Toronto has seen an influx of Islamophobic activity. Osama Omar, a University of Toronto student, wrote a Facebook post on November 17, claiming that a stranger insulted him and spat on him at the intersection of College and Spadina. Omar believes the assault was an act of Islamophobia.
According to a CBC News interview with Omar, he stated that the attack occurred while he was waiting for a streetcar at the intersection.
“[While] waiting for the streetcar home, a man approached me and straight up SPAT on me. He proceeded to verbally abuse me with swear words and attempted to swing at me, twice. I was quite caught off guard with such an unexpected incident, I didn’t know what to do. There was no one around except for a couple of people at the other end of the platform. I decided to walk away. The whole time, the man swore under his breath and stared me down,” Omar wrote on Facebook.
Abdullah Shihipar, president of the Arts & Science Students’ Union (ASSU), told The Varsity that Islamophobia has always been prevalent on campus, and that while it may ‘spike’ after such events, it doesn’t “necessarily go down.”
Shihipar referenced the public Facebook page, UofT Confessions, as a site where Islamophobia manifests. “At one point, every week, there was a post on Muslims, Muslim women, ‘why do Muslim women wear hijabs’ and stuff like that… those are U of T students and their opinions,” Shihipar said.
When Shihipar heard about what happened to Omar, his reaction was mixed.
“Surprise in a sense that you’re always surprised when an incident like that happens on campus, a university campus… but at the same time, not surprising because we’ve been hearing about this string of Islamophobic attacks, in the city,” he explained. “I think we have to get over the surprise aspect, because we have to realize that this type of racism, Islamophobia does manifest itself in a city that we think is inclusive, and in a campus that we think is inclusive,” Shihipar said.
Other groups have echoed Shihipar’s sentiments, many choosing to release public statements condemning the incident. “[It seems like everyday, there is yet another story of a racist hate crime. This time it hits home even further, with an attack on our campus, on a fellow student,” read a portion of the ASSU’s statement.
“For a student to be made a target of a hate crime like this is unacceptable,” said the U of T Muslim Students’ Association (MSA) in an online statement. “Islamophobia and racism are real and when it hits this close to home on campus, it is cause for concern.” Since then, the MSA has promoted a series of events and resources, such as a workshop focusing on self-defence for Muslim women.
The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) published a statement, in which they expressed disgust at the attack and other Islamophobic incidents, and offered support for Muslim students. “To all Muslim-identifying students on campus: you have nothing to be apologetic for. Instead, you have every right to prioritize your mental, emotional and physical health above everything else,” read part of the UTSU’s statement.
U of T president Meric Gertler also released a statement, stating that discrimination is “intolerable” and against the principles of the university. “Such actions are reprehensible and antithetical to the fundamental values of our academic community. Instead, our institution reaffirms its commitment to be a safe and welcoming place for the widest breadth of communities –— and their perspectives, ideas, and debates.”