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September 10, 2021

  • Growing up in Edmonton in the 1970s and 1980s, lawyer Dany Assaf never saw himself as any different than his friends and neighbours. 

    His family had a rich history in Canada — his great-grandfather moved to the country from Lebanon in 1927 and helped build the first mosque in Canada. Like many boys his age, Assaf also dreamed of becoming an NHL player. 

    His family’s Muslim faith never came in the way of their Canadian identity.

    “We never imagined, we never even thought that we could ever be portrayed as the ‘other,'” the author of Say Please and Thank You & Stand in Line told Day 6.

    But that changed on Sept. 11, 2001, when the militant terrorist group al-Qaeda flew hijacked commercial airliners into the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon.

    Much of the United States is preparing to mark the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks in both New York City and Washington. Here, the Tribute In Light shines into the sky from Manhattan during a test on Tuesday, to honour the nearly 3,000 victims. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

    The attacks killed nearly 3,000 people, including at least 24 Canadians.

    “It’s like living in a nightmare because now you’ve got stereotypes and prejudices that are being attributed to you when you have absolutely nothing to do with this kind of terrorist act,” he said.

    Being othered

    According to a 2003 report from the Canadian Islamic Congress, more than 170 anti-Muslim hate crimes were reported to the group in 2002.

    This was a nearly 1,600 per cent increase from the 11 such reports that were made in 2000.

    “I thought one of [Canada’s] distinguishing features was that we were nice, we were kind, we were polite. But 9/11 just took that veneer right off,” said Sheema Khan, the author of Of Hockey and Hijab who moved to Canada when she was three years old in 1965.

    Somehow, you’re being pushed out or that you no longer belong for things that are completely beyond your control and things that you find abhorrent.– Dany Assaf

    Shortly after the attacks, Khan started writing a column for the Globe and Mail about Islam and Muslim issues. Though she was warned by the editors about potential hateful comments, Khan said she did not expect some of the replies.

    “You get people writing to you telling you to go home, that you should be deported, that you’re a terrorist, terrorist sympathizer, that I should die,” she said.

    “I saw the ugliness, the bullying, the hate.”

    Assaf’s family also received similar comments — not from anonymous voices online, but from one of their own neighbours.

    “My parents’ neighbour literally put up a sign in their front yard saying ‘Osama bin Laden lives closer than you think,’ with a big arrow pointing to my parents’ house,” he said. “That’s how personal it became.”

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    For Assaf, such comments particularly hurt because of his family’s nearly 75-year history in Canada.

    “It’s like almost a betrayal…. That somehow, you’re being pushed out or that you no longer belong for things that are completely beyond your control and things that you find abhorrent,” he said.

    Making allies 20 years later

    Hate crimes against Muslims are still an issue in Canada. In 2017, there were as many as 349 incidents of police-reported hate crimes against Muslims in a single year — a rise of 151 per cent over 2016.

    A person holds a sign “United against Islamophobia” during a rally in Quebec City on January 30, 2017. The day prior, gunmen killed six people in a Quebec mosque during evening prayers. (ALICE CHICHE/AFP via Getty Images)

    Assaf says the most effective way to resist the rise of Islamophobia in Canada is “to go back and draw upon the best of our Canadian history” in order to create the most inclusive meritocracy yet.

    Khan adds that a universalist approach will help Canadians build on the common ground we all stand on.

    “We have to … make allies with all kinds of communities and say we are against hate, period. And I think that’s a much more powerful way to proceed,” she said.

    Written and produced by Mouhamad Rachini

    Hear full episodes of Day 6 on CBC Listen, our free audio streaming service.

  • Two Hamilton doctors are taking to the streets in order to vaccinate underserved communities in the southwestern Ontario city against COVID-19

    Dr. Kerry Beal and Dr. Joe Oliver regularly walk neighbourhoods with low vaccination rates offering on-the-spot shots to those who can’t access them — particularly those experiencing homelessness.

    More often than not, the residents are happy to take up their offer.

    “When we go out and about walking the roads around the clinics that Kerry has set up to service these neighbourhoods, every five to 15 minutes we encounter someone that expresses to us that they would like the vaccine,” said Oliver, a pediatrician.

    “They’re not comfortable for various reasons, accessing a major or smaller pop-up centre, and they would like the vaccine then and there and would probably not otherwise go for it.”

    Nearly 85 per cent of eligible Canadians have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. But while vaccination rates were rising rapidly through the spring and early summer, uptake has slowed over recent months.

    Beal visits Hamilton’s Woodland Park ready to offer vaccinations to those living in an encampment. (Submitted by Kerry Beal)

    In Hamilton, about 81 per cent of the eligible population has been vaccinated with at least one shot. In one area of the city, only 59 per cent of the total population, including those not eligible to receive the vaccine, received at least one shot.

    With the growth of the delta variant, Beal says that she no longer tries to convince vaccine recipients through numbers alone, however.

    “The prevailing wisdom is that the herd immunity thing is a crock — it’s not really going to happen no matter what numbers you get to,” said Beal, lead physician of the Shelter Health Network.

    “Now, I try to convince people they need to get a vaccine because it will prevent you from dying.”

    Trauma-informed approach is key

    Both Beal and Oliver approach their practice with a trauma-informed approach. They provide physical space to those they’re offering vaccines to, offer the option to visit a clinic for their shot, and are intentional in the questions they ask.

    “I’ve also learned not to say, ‘Have you had both your COVID vaccines?’ That tends to set people off,” Beal said.

    “It’s better to just say, ‘Are you in the market for a COVID vaccine?’ Then they can say no without having to tell you that they’ve had them.”

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    Their approach is reaching people who not only may be uncomfortable walking into a clinic, but those without identification.

    Armed with iPads, Beal and Oliver can look up health card numbers for those lacking identification. Others who may not yet have a health card, like new immigrants, are also offered shots.

    “They come to us with their immigration papers and we just enter that in COVAX [Ontario’s provincial vaccination record system], which gives them some ID so that when the vaccine passports finally come into play, they’ll be able to get a record of their vaccine,” Beal said.

    The pair also carry a mobile printer to provide vaccination receipts to their clients.

    Protecting younger people

    Oliver says he got involved with Beal’s work in an effort to help protect populations that can’t be vaccinated.

    “Our kids [under 12] can’t get vaccinated. A good way to protect them is for all of us adults who can safely be vaccinated to do so,” he said. 

    And as hospitalizations increase amid the fourth wave, Oliver cautions that it will be children who end up going without necessary medical care if health centres are at capacity.

    “It definitely has implications.”

    Volunteers help vaccinate visitors to a weekly barbecue at St. Patrick’s Church in Hamilton. Beal says that leftover doses at the end of the event are offered to the community members in the area. (Submitted by Kerry Beal)

    Working on the front lines of the pandemic, Beal and Oliver have become so in-tune with the communities they serve, they’re able to work together sometimes without words.

    “Do you remember when we were out at that encampment off the side of the highway?” Beal asked Oliver. 

    “It was like I had a bird dog. I just gave you a hand signal and pointed at the guy … and you chased him around and you asked him if he needed a vaccine,” she recalled.

    Oliver responded with a laugh, saying: “You don’t want to miss anyone.”

    Written by Jason Vermes. Produced by Pedro Sanchez.

    Hear full episodes of Day 6 on CBC Listen, our free audio streaming service.

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