Hamilton

Man charged after incident at Hamilton Downtown Mosque, police classify it as a hate crime

The board of directors of a downtown Hamilton mosque is calling on governments to “take action on Islamophobia” after they say an intruder made “racist and threatening” statements in the mosque last week.

Hamilton police charged 54-year-old man with criminal harassment

A brown brick building with a sign reading "Hamilton Islamic School."
Hamilton Downtown Mosque has an Islamic school that children attend. (Hamilton Downtown Mosque/Facebook)

A 54-year-old man has been arrested and charged with criminal harassment following an incident at the Hamilton Downtown Mosque that police say, based on the man's "statements and actions," they have classified as a hate crime.

On Monday, Hamilton police issued a statement saying they charged a Hamilton man after reviewing video evidence and interviewing witnesses.

They say that on Friday at about 12:40 p.m. ET, police went to the mosque after a call about a trespasser who had entered the building and "made his way to a classroom with a teacher and students."

The man "proceeded to make hate-related comments" and "upon leaving the building (he) ripped up an English copy of the Qur'an that he had brought with him," police said.

"This has terrorized the teachers and students," the mosque's board of directors said in a statement posted on social media on Saturday.

According to the board, someone came to a community hall in which students were taking a gym class. They said a staff member asked the person to leave.

Initially, police said they sent officers to the mosque and removed a male from the property "without incident."

They also "increased presence" at the mosque over the weekend, police said. 

"Hamilton Police Service stands with and supports the Muslim community in denouncing Islamophobia. Incidents of this nature create fear and question the sense of belonging for diverse communities."

CBC reached out to the Downtown Mosque but did not hear back before publication. 

Incident is 'unacceptable,' National Council of Canadian Muslims says

The mosque's board of directors called on governments to "take action on Islamophobia."

Muslims have been celebrating Eid al-Adha, a holiday often called the Festival of Sacrifice, which traditionally involves coming together and sharing meals.

In a post on social media site X, the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) called the incident "completely outrageous and unacceptable."

"We expect every political leader to raise their voice in solidarity and a commitment to take action — now, before more folks get hurt."

A person in a hijab speaks at a podium with the City of Hamilton logo on it. She reaches forward with one arm.
Amira Elghawaby, Canada’s first anti-Islamophobia representative, speaks at a Hamilton event in October. (Justin Chandler/CBC)

Also on X, Amira Elghawaby, Canada's special representative on combatting Islamophobia, called the incident "heartbreaking," saying: "All children deserve safety."  

"I'm upset and I'm disappointed to hear about this disturbing incident today at the Hamilton Downtown Islamic School," Mayor Andrea Horwath said on X on Friday. "Any act of hate is completely unacceptable and will simply not be tolerated."

Hamilton has seen rising Islamophobia, say police, community members

Community members and police have said hate is on the rise.

In 2023, police reported about 26 per cent more hate incidents and crimes than the year before, logging 79 crimes and 141 incidents. Police define hate crimes as criminal offences motivated wholly or in part by bias or prejudice based on the victim's identity. They define hate incidents as events that can't be proven to be hate-motivated but include a "hateful overtone."

The war in Gaza led to more hate against people who are Muslim and people who are Jewish, police said.

Members of the Jewish community were targeted in 44 hate crimes or incidents in 2023, followed by members of the Muslim community, which were targeted 15 times.

In 2022, police reported 42 incidences targeting Jewish people in Hamilton, and five targeting people who are Muslim. Community members have said it's important to remember not all incidents are reported to police. 

Other Canadian communities are also dealing with hate. In London, Ont., there was recently a call for action following an allegedly hate-motivated arson attack at a Muslim family's home.

Posters marking the Salam Hamilton campaign will be on display in various public spaces.
Posters marking the Salam Hamilton campaign were on display in various public spaces in fall 2023. (Justin Chandler/CBC)

In Hamilton, initiatives including Salam Hamilton have sought to raise awareness about the Muslim community, in part to stand against Islamophobia.

Javid Mirza, president of the Muslim Association of Hamilton (MAH), previously told CBC Hamilton one of the best ways to fight hate is for people to get to know their neighbours.

"People who do hate-motivated crap are all cowards," he said, but if people get to know one another, they're less likely to do each other harm, even if they do fundamentally disagree.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Justin Chandler is a CBC News reporter in Hamilton. He covers all sorts of stories but has a special interest in how public policy affects people. Justin covered current affairs in Hamilton and Niagara for TVO, and has worked on a variety of CBC teams and programs, including As It Happens, Day 6 and CBC Music. He co-hosted Radio Free Krypton on Met Radio. You can email story ideas to justin.chandler(at)cbc(dot)ca.