Members of the Muslim community condemn Edmonton police for revealing the location of two mosques where packages of suspicious white powder were delivered.
By releasing information about the scene, the Edmonton Police Service (EPS) may have pinned targets on the properties, said Friday Said Omar, Alberta advocacy officer for the National Council of Canadian Muslims.
“It increases the anxiety of these congregations because they feel like they may have become a bigger target,” Omar said in an interview.
“When, unfortunately, they are on the front page, it really creates panic.”
Omar said the city’s police promised to continue identifying details of the locations of the deliveries after mosque officials raised security concerns.
EPS spokeswoman Cheryl Voordenhout confirmed on Friday that police had assured at least one of the two mosques that the locations would not be made public.
Omar said when police revealed the location of the two mosques to the media on Thursday, it sparked fear and frustration.
These anxieties are exacerbated by the timing of deliveries, he said. Thousands of worshipers gather in the city every day to mark the holy month of Ramadan.
Some mosques are taking extra precautions, hiring security guards or taking the unusual step of locking their doors, he said.
“All the mosques will literally be packed. And that’s one of the main reasons, of course, why we didn’t want those names to come out.”
The deliveries are being investigated by the EPS Hate Crimes and Violent Extremism Unit.
The first package was found on April 15. The second was found on Thursday. The white powder in both incidents has since been deemed a harmless substance.
In a Thursday press release on the white powder incidents, police revealed the location of the two mosques.
CBC News reported the names of the mosques, but later removed those credentials from its coverage after members of the community raised security concerns.
In a statement Friday, Voordenhout said it is standard practice for EPS to release whereabouts information when reporters ask about specific events.
“Especially when the media is already aware of whereabouts information, it is common to confirm the obvious,” Voordenhout said.
“However, we recognize in this situation that the publication of this information has raised concerns within the Islamic community, and the EPS Community Relations Section will follow up with the relevant mosques to help provide reassurance and support. “
An anti-hate advocate said the case should serve as a reminder of the role of law enforcement and the media in managing the risk of hate crime copycats.
Too often, when the location of a mosque that has been targeted by a hate crime is reported, the community faces further harassment, said Mustafa Farooq, CEO of the National Council of Canadian Muslims.
Online racist forums share details of ongoing hate crime investigations and urge others to identify the mosques involved, Farooq said.
Similar hate-filled calls to action can often be found in comment sections on social media, he said, noting that he also faced threats of violence online.
When the names of mosques are identified, it gives them a target for white supremacists and racists, he said.
“That’s why I think it’s so important for people to report, but for law enforcement to act responsibly to ensure information isn’t released without the express permission of the people reporting. .”
Following the suspicious deliveries, Farooq said the council is focused on raising awareness among community members and promoting calm within the community.
Voordenhout said as part of the EPS investigation into white powder deliveries, all mosques in Edmonton received information on what to do if they encounter suspicious packages.
Police have been briefed on the investigation so they know they should direct any further reports of suspicious packages to the Hate Crimes Unit, she said.
The backlash “a real concern”
There is a real concern for backlash following a hate crime, said Kurt Phillips, board member of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, a nonprofit that monitors groups hate crimes, far-right groups and hate crimes in Canada.
“One of the big fears, of course, is copycats; people who have seen that these mosques, these religious institutions have been targeted…and are trying to create more fear,” said Drumheller-based Phillips. .
Police should defer to targeted communities to minimize the risk of further harm, he said.
“They are the ones who know their own security issues best.”
Noor Al-Henedy, spokesperson for Edmonton’s Al Rashid Mosque, said the location of targeted mosques should have been protected by police.
Islamophobic crimes appear to be on the rise in Edmonton, she said.
The city has been grappling with a string of high-profile crimes targeting the Muslim community in recent months, including the vandalism of mosques and multiple attacks on women wearing the hijab.
“We have seen an escalation,” Al-Henedy said. “It’s a very sad truth that it didn’t come as a surprise.”
She said she was discouraged to see Muslims targeted, especially as so many mosques open their doors to the wider community during the final days of Ramadan.
“This is a month of mercy. This is a month of inclusion,” she said.
“To see a group or individuals using this as an opportunity to drive fear into the hearts of members of the Muslim community is just heartbreaking.”