A Kitchener woman who fell victim to an alleged “hate-motivated” assault in that city earlier this week is speaking out about her experience and calling for stronger action to combat hate.
Early Wednesday afternoon, Milfrah Abid, who is an anti-racism advocate in the region, attended a busy DriveTest Centre on Ottawa Street North.
While there, a female patron reportedly uttered racist remarks against brown people.
“Really, you’re gonna be racist here in the DriveTest,” Abid is heard saying to the woman in a number of videos posted on Twitter of the incident.
“Everybody heard you here making a racist comment about brown people. … You say (explicative) Brown people. A lot of people heard that. … It’s not nice. It’s not polite.”
The woman in the video then appears to become agitated and is heard saying, “Ya, and neither is this,” before grabbing Abid’s phone and throwing it at her, saying that she did not give her permission to be recorded.
No one was physically injured during the incident, which is being investigated by members of Waterloo Regional Police Service’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, and General Investigations units.
On Thursday, police announced that they arrested and charged a 27-year-old woman from Waterloo with assault, theft under $5,000, and assault with a weapon in connection with the incident. The accused was held in custody for a bail hearing. Police told CP24.com that they “do not name accused persons until they have appeared before the courts.”
This afternoon, Abid, along with representatives from the Coalition of Muslim Women of KW (CMW) and the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) held a news conference at the far end of the plaza where the assault happened.
“Nothing really prepares you for something like this,” shared Abid, who is the coordinator of CMW’s Together Against Islamophobia program and works to help victims of hate and racism and train people to be active bystanders in such incidents.
“And it really begs the question, why would anyone treat anyone like that? Just because of how they look or how they dress? Why is hate so easy? And why can we give each other a chance instead? This is why I'm here to say it again, that our society should have no place for hate. The colour of your skin or the faith you follow should never be a reason for someone to treat you as inferior.”
Abid went on to thank those who have offered their support and condemned what happened, including WRPS, who she said respected her wish to not have identifiable police vehicles and uniformed officers come to her home when she gave them with a statement about the incident.
Further, Abid said that she was “made to feel like a stakeholder in the process towards justice” as investigators provided her with constant updates about how the case was progressing.
In her remarks, she also reiterated a call by CMW and the National Indian Council of Muslims’ for the federal government to do more to combat hate crimes by establishing a national support fund for survivors of hate and developing new hate crime legislation. Abid also said that the province must also do its part by delivering an anti-racism strategy where social service agencies are required to provide regular training on anti-racism and anti-Islamophobia for frontline staff, and investing in public education about Islamophobia and all forms of hate.
Lastly, Abid urged people to not be passive bystanders and report hate when they experience or witness it.
“That's the only way we create change,” she said, urging everyone to “refrain from demonizing anyone” as “restorative justice practices (can only happen) when there’s healing on all sides.”
“I can tell you firsthand that being assaulted to do something inside you. It hits you not just at the skin level, but triggers something some deep fears and anxiety within. This is not something anyone should have to experience but if you do please report it or intervene in whatever way is safest to do so.”
Sarah Shafiq, CMW’s director of advocacy, research, and youth programming, said they’re supporting their colleague during the initial “shock” of this “violent” incident, which she said is not isolated.
“(It) drives a deeper conversation about doing more proactive and upstream work to educate and inform people about the effects of racism, hate and discrimination. This incident also draws our attention towards the need for diversity, equity inclusivity trainings for all public and private organizations that serve the community,” said Shafiq, who thanked the “decent and kind citizens” for filming the incident.
“What happened on May 17 highlights that conflict resolution, de-escalation, anti-Islamophobia/anti-racism training should be part of every organization's mandate, be it public or private.”
Shafiq also said that the “ripples” of one hate incident are felt far beyond the victim and their families.
“We must all constantly look within to amend behaviours that could cause harm to others,” she said.
During the news conference, a representative from NCCM said she’s saddened and appalled by the “verbal and physical violence” Abid was made to endure.
“Hate crimes, as recorded by the police, have increased steadily in recent years. It is both harrowing and disappointing to see such an incident unfold, even in the most mundane of settings, a drive test center,” said Fatema Abdalla, adding what this incident shows is that Muslims, and particularly visibly Muslim women, continue to be the main target of Islamophobic and racist attacks.
“This cannot be the Canada that we live in. It cannot be the new normal. We have to stand for something better, and it's time that our elected officials stepped up to truly address hate and racism in our province and beyond. This starts with acknowledging the problem and educating the public.”
Berry Vrbanovic, Kitchener’s mayor, has also come forward to condemn the incident and lend his support.
“Mifrah, this video is very upsetting,” he wrote in a tweet.
“This type of assault is not acceptable anytime, anywhere! I stand with you, the Coalition of Muslim Women of KW and our entire community in speaking out against all hatred and racism in our region and everywhere!”
This investigation is ongoing and police are asking anyone who witnessed this incident or anyone with information to contact them at 519-570-9777, or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 or www.waterloocrimestoppers.com.