B.C. legal community launches Islamophobia Legal Assistance hotline

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      In response to a national increase in discrimination against Muslim people, British Columbia's legal community launched the Islamophobia Legal Assistance Hotline on March 9 in Vancouver.

      Individuals who have experienced discrimination can access free, confidential legal advice and information.

      The hotline is run by the non-profit Access Pro Bono Society of B.C., which offers free legal services to people with limited resources.

      Interpretation will also be available for service in numerous languages.

      The hotline will document the types of issues being reported—without any identifying any individual information—in order to examine the issues.

      “The heated rhetoric of last year’s election built on years of divisive politics that repeatedly singled out Muslim Canadians and treated them as less worthy," Vancouver lawyer and hotline organizer Hasan Alam stated in a news release. "This has made Muslims more vulnerable to discriminatory treatment and hate crimes. It’s important to make sure that people who experience this hateful treatment can access help, which could include filing a complaint or contacting the police.”

      In Vancouver on January 8, a group of Syrian refugees were pepper-sprayed by a cyclist at a welcome event at the Muslim Association of Canada Centre on Kingsway. Up to 30 people required medical treatment after the attack. The Vancouver Police Department was treating the attack as a hate crime, and the attack was condemned by both Mayor Gregor Robertson and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

      Then on January 15, a leaked internal Vancouver Police Department bulletin stated they were searching for "Middle Eastern–looking men" who were taking photos of Pacific Centre Mall. The men turned out to be British tourists. The VPD is still conducting an investigation on how a local website obtained the bulletin and photographs. 

      However, like other forms of discrimination, Islamophobia can be used to target people who are not Muslim (but may be perceived to be) as well.

      “Anti-Muslim racism, discrimination and hatred affect members of many different communities in B.C.,"  South Asian Bar Association of B.C.'s Krisha Dhaliwal said. "It extends beyond Muslims to others who may be mistaken for Muslims, including Sikhs."

      The service is available for anyone who has experienced or witnessed Islamophobia in the form of profiling, refusal of service, exclusion, harassment, bullying, property destruction, threats, violence, and more.

      “Many people who experience this sort of discrimination may not even know that there might be legal options available to respond, depending on what happened, such as filing a discrimination complaint at the Human Rights Tribunal," Community Legal Assistance Society executive director Aleem Bharmal said.

      The hotline number is 604-343-3828. More information is available at the Islamophobia Legal Assistance Hotline website, which also has information about other resources.

      Organizations supporting the hotline include the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, the Canadian Bar Association (B.C. branch), the B.C. Public Interest Advocacy Centre, the Community Legal Assistance Society, the South Asian Bar Association of B.C., the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers (British Columbia), the National Council of Canadian Muslims, and the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers.

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at twitter.com/cinecraig or on Facebook.