OTTAWA–Toronto police have launched a hate crime investigation into a phone call from a man who vowed to "slaughter" members of a local Muslim group unless they stop speaking publicly about Islam.
A message left Monday on the voice mail of the secretary general for the Muslim Canadian Congress warned that organization members must "cease from your campaign of smearing Islam" or "I will slaughter you."
The message mentioned congress founder Tarek Fatah and current president Farzana Hassan-Shahid by name. Both have openly criticized the politicization of Islam and alleged influence of Iran and Saudi Arabia in Canadian mosques.
It's not the first time they've been threatened. Hassan-Shahid said since publishing her book Islam, Women and the Challenges of Today, she has been heckled and had her home vandalized.
"But swearing by God that `I will do this and slaughter all of you,' that's pretty chilling," Hassan-Shahid said yesterday.
Canada's Secretary of State for Multiculturalism said he was deeply disturbed by the threat and had notified Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day about the case. "Threats of violence against individuals for their political or religious views have no place in this country," Jason Kenney told reporters here yesterday.
"It's totally unacceptable and I would hope the whole community – both the Muslim communities and the broader community – would stand in solidarity with those who are being threatened."
Fatah is well-known for his opposition to Sharia law, having campaigned against a 2005 effort to introduce the religious arbitration courts into Ontario law. The Muslim congress has also lobbied for the right of women to lead prayers in mosques and against mandatory requirements to don the hijab.
Those who oppose his views accuse Fatah of monopolizing the media's attention and fostering Islamophobia.
He said a threat last August persuaded him to resign as communications director for the Muslim Canadian Congress, but he still writes newspaper editorials, hosts a current affairs show and is writing a book.
Fatah says both he and Hassan-Shahid will continue to speak out but are frustrated with the lack of public debate and the inability to air their views without the threat of violence.
"It's the youth I'm trying to reach out to with respect to providing a different perspective on Islam and women's rights and progress in general and nobody seems very interested in even entertaining another viewpoint," Hassan-Shahid said yesterday.
"It does surprise me a bit because Canada is a very open society and has always tolerated dissent. I feel that the subculture among traditional Muslims within Canada seems to be extremely insular, seems to not want to integrate at all."
Toronto police Sgt. Jim Hogan, former head of the Hate Crime Unit, said crimes motivated by hatred for religious or ethnic groups tend to fluctuate year by year and often relate to current events either in Canada or abroad. The unit tallied 15 reports of anti-Muslim hate crimes last year. That's up from only one in 2000, but down from the spike in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks.