As one of Canada’s fastest-growing and most diverse municipalities, Milton is home to many Canadian immigrants. People who came to Canada, perhaps for work, to be with family, or as refugees in search of a better, safer life. In speaking to immigrants from all over the world, a common fear is underlined: if they stand up when faced with racism or discrimination, they may be seen as ungrateful. Or worse, there is a prevalent belief that their status in Canada may be jeopardized if they “cause any trouble.” Overarching insecurity suffuses daily life for new immigrants. What about those who have become Canadian citizens—those who have lived in Canada for years or decades? People who came to Canada as immigrants and who are raising their Canadian-born children? When are they Canadian enough?
As individual human beings, we strive to belong: to our common interest groups, our societies, our cultures, and our countries. For many immigrants, the reality they face in a new country is fraught with feelings of exclusion. Those new to Canada simply seek a sense of belonging in Canadian society. But what does this really mean? Canada is a country which has historically celebrated its diversity and multiculturalism, a mosaic rather than a melting pot, or so we have claimed, but we are far from immune to racism and discrimination. Racist rhetoric seems emboldened of late.
Saima Furqan’s Story
We met with Saima Furqan. The following is based on our interviews with Furqan, the witness mentioned in the story and the Halton Regional Police Service who provided advice for residents involved in hate incidents or hate crimes.
Saima Furqan, her husband, and their two young boys live in Milton. Earlier this month, Furqan was spending the day with her youngest son, Usman (7). Furqan had parked her car on Milton’s Main Street. The plan was to go for frozen yogurt. Like any mother might do, she told her young son to exit the car on the safe side, away from the road. At the same time a man in another vehicle parked behind Furqan. Furqan walked around her car to take her son’s hand and as she and her son started across the street, the man got out of his car and seemed very upset. He said something under his breath to Furqan. She asked the man if he was speaking to her. She tells me that he responded by saying “we have rules in this country…go back to your own country and do whatever you want.” The man then continued to follow and verbally antagonize Furqan and her child as they walked away.
A woman who witnessed the situation from within a downtown Milton business says that she “heard a raucous, looked out the window and saw a woman with her child and a young man yelling at them in an aggressive tone.” Says the witness, “he gave her the finger and told her, go back to your country! It was offensive. It really bothered me because there was a child.” The witness says that it scared her too; she is a mother also and she felt unsettled that the child was present. She says that Furqan was trying to protect her child and moving away from the man. “We all have to stand up when we see something like this happening, especially when there is a child involved.” The witness later reached out to Furqan via social media to offer her support.
When the man first approached and admonished Furqan, she says she was shocked and she felt the blood rush to her face. “I was surprised. I was sad…It did hurt me.” Furqan wonders how to make people like this man understand that “not everyone who wears a hijab is a terrorist; not every Muslim is a bad person.” Furqan has been in Canada for 11 years. She remembers just one other incident involving racism, which she says was far less serious. “The world is changing, it’s a more diversified, multicultural society. I didn’t expect this today. Maybe 30 years ago, when it was different to see immigrants, but now it is so multicultural everywhere.”
Then there was her seven-year-old son standing next to her, clutching her hand. Furqan says that her son was confused. I ask her what her son said in that moment—he did what children do when they’re afraid or confused, he asked her questions: “Why he is telling us to go back to my country? Where do we go, Mama? This is my country.” Furqan says she tried to return her son’s attention to the afternoon treat they had planned. She didn’t want him to be afraid. “Don’t worry Usman, you will always find people like this. He is just being very rude.” She told him. But as she and her son walked away, and the man continued to turn back saying things to them, Furqan used her cellphone to photograph the man and his vehicle. “The Halton Police came into the mosque for talks last year,” Furqan remembered the police officer’s advice. The officer had suggested that if it was safe to do so, a cell phone could capture evidence. That sometimes an event is an incident and not a crime, but if you have some sort of evidence, the police can go and talk to that person and tell them to “knock it off.”
Furqan returned home after the incident on Main Street. She and her husband hosted a dinner with friends later that evening, so she didn’t discuss the incident with her husband until the following day. Then she recounted the incident in a post on social media, describing the events in general terms. She didn’t include any photographs in her post but she did contact the police. The police searched and found the person involved. Furqan was told that the police had visited the man and spoken to him about the incident. Furqan says that normally she would not confront someone who is rude, but she says this was very different. “It was very hurtful for me, my kids are so proud to be Canadians. For them Canada is their country, they were born here. When I homeschooled my older son, he wanted to start his day by singing Oh Canada. So we started the day playing Oh Canada on my phone.”
Furqan insists that despite this experience, there is much more love than hate. When she posted about the incident on social media, she received hundreds of comments in solidarity from neighbours in Milton. Her children had questions so she kept them updated on what was happening, explaining to her children that in her case because she is an adult, she talked to the police who helped her. But if this was at school, Furqan tells her boys that they would talk to the principal or a teacher, that this is how we resolve bullying.
“I felt sad that my son was with me, he still doesn’t know why that guy spoke to me. My son held my hand really tight, and he wouldn’t look anywhere.” Like any mother, she wanted to protect her child, wanting him to feel safe. “Usman asked me, where does he want us to go? He wants us to go to Pakistan? But it is so dusty! You said I was born in Milton hospital. Why does he want me to go to Pakistan?” Furqan laughs because her children know Pakistan as a place to visit family, but Canada is home.
How does it make you feel as a Canadian when someone decides that Canada belongs more to them than to you?
“It hurts. But this is just ignorance….This is racist, this is discrimination, and I won’t take that. I want to be fair, even with my children. So I made the decision to talk about it.” Talking about it was an outlet, and she believed that others could learn from her situation. “That is who I am, I don’t like this kind of behaviour. I personally think that human beings, the way God created us, we are supposed to learn in the world. If we don’t learn we don’t grow. There is something to learn every single day if you keep your eyes and ears open.”
What can you do in similar situations? Advice from the Halton Regional Police Service (HRPS)
Sergeant Paul Harrower with the HRPS says that Halton Police employ such initiatives as educating new Canadians as they settle in the Towns of Milton and Halton Hills. In addition to hosting tours of police stations throughout the region, police officers also attend various places of worship to deliver presentations on aspects of policing including Hate Crimes and Hate Incidents. The Halton Police strongly urge all members of our community to report such occurrences immediately as any form of racism or bias is not tolerated in our community.
For clarification, consider the following definitions:
Hate Crime – a criminal offence committed against a person or property, that is perceived to be motivated and/or is motivated, in whole or in part by the suspect’s hate, bias or prejudice based on real or perceived race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation or any other similar factor
Hate Incidents – involve behaviours that, though motivated by bias against a victim’s race, religion, ethnic/national origin, gender, age, disability or sexual orientation, are not criminal acts. Hostile speech or other disrespectful/discriminatory behavior may be motivated by bias but is not necessarily criminal in nature;
Although hate incidents do not involve a criminal offence, the Halton Police will most certainly still investigate such occurrences. In the event that a member of our community is victimized by a Hate Incident or Hate Crime we recommend the following action(s):
- If you feel that your safety or the safety of others is in immediate jeopardy, call 911
- If safety is not an immediate concern, remove yourself from the situation. Do not engage the individual or retaliate verbally or physically
- Try and obtain as much description of the individual or vehicle as possible ( I.e. Licence plate, make of vehicle, approximate age of individual)
- Report the incident to your local police station
- If any member of the community has questions, please contact Sergeant Paul Harrower of the 1 District Community Mobilization Bureau at 905-878-5511 ext 2467
READ past articles in our Immigration series: