Interview: Alberta Primetime on Islamophobia and Canada’s Refugee Resettlement Efforts

Earlier this month, firm founder Raj Sharma was interviewed on Alberta Primetime this week. A partial transcript of that interview follows.

Michael Higgins: Mustafa, it didn’t take long for news of the ban to spread, but it also didn’t take long for the rhetoric to begin flowing. What’s your view on how Canadians are responding?

Mustafa Farouk: I think that the reaction’s mixed. I think the vast majority of Canadians are reacting as we expect them to: with shock, outrage, this notion that we’re not going to go down the same path of discriminating against people just based on their religion. [That’s 00:07:03] something that’s important to our [tried and 00:07:05] protected values. At the same time, there is this disturbing rise of this alt-right, neo-Nazi movement in Canada that is spouting rhetoric around discrimination against refugees, discrimination against immigrants, around excessive vetting based on religion, based on origin, and that’s something that, as Canadians, we should all be concerned about, and try to think about, “Where is our country going? How do we want our kids to live?”

Michael Higgins: Your organization runs the Alberta Islamophobia hotline. What’s coming through the hotline? What are you hearing?

Mustafa Farouk: Really bad stories. Although I’m not at liberty to really discuss all of them, and some are in front of law enforcement and some are still in the investigation stages, we’re getting reports of a real increase of Islamophobic activity: people’s cars being vandalized, people having fecal matter dumped in front of their house in Edmonton-

Michael Higgins: It’s not just notes being left on windshields or in doors?

Mustafa Farouk: It goes far beyond that, really tragically. There are people being verbally and sometimes physically assaulted when they’re in public places, especially in transit. These are things that we are seeing each and every day, and it’s something that is disturbing, but at the same time I think it’s also important to recognize that the vast majority of Canadians reject this, and we’ve rejected it again and again, and it’s time that we stand up openly and say, “We reject it.”

Michael Higgins: Raj, Premier Notley indicated on Wednesday that Alberta is willing and able to take more refugees if Ottawa removes the cap on intake. What’s needed to make that happen?

Raj Sharma: That’s a fantastic sentiment, and Brad Wall of Saskatchewan, the Premier of Saskatchewan, also indicated something similar, very welcoming. These are the better angels amongst our politicians in Canada, and of course we have the execrable Kellie Leitch, who’s been talking about extreme vetting, who’s this sort of Trump-light, who’s excited with the Trump presidency, and we know, for example, what happened in Quebec, and the perpetrator and the alleged attractional links towards Trump and Marine Le Pen, for example, from France. The key is, of course, is that Mustafa’s right; Canadian society has been far more inclusive and more welcoming than certain elements of the United States. We have to be on guard and on watch for individuals that want to exploit differences and not celebrate all the similarities and commonalities that we have.

In terms of welcoming more refugees to Canada, we’ve done this … What I say is that we’ve been redlining in terms of refugee resettlement for about 120 to about 180 days, and our settlement services are a little bit fatigued. I think they’ve been pushed. We’ve had to put them through some in hotels for weeks. That wasn’t ideal for the kids. There’s been some access as to the food banks, but [overall 00:10:24] we were able to do this massive push to welcome 40 thousand Syrian individuals, refugees, to Canada.

It was a resounding success, I think, but before we bring on more refugees, I think we really need to take a look at our settlement services and whether settlement funds are sustainable, and I would caution both the politicians and Canada not to react in a knee-jerk fashion to whatever Donald Trump newest policy is. I think we’re going to be in adrenal fatigue at a certain point, and so we have to adopt a Zen mindset and look at what is best for our communities, and I would really urge sustainable funding and support for our settlement services.

Michael Higgins: Gentlemen, we’ve barely touched on this conversation. Wish we had a little bit more time. Very much appreciate your perspectives, though.