New Zealand shooting prompts police to boost security around Ontario mosques
|Toronto Star 15 Mar 2019 at 13:27|
Police forces in Ontario are stepping up security measures in areas with large Muslim populations after deadly shootings at mosques in New Zealand on Friday.
Officers in Toronto, Hamilton and surrounding communities say they’re boosting patrols around all places of worship with a particular emphasis on mosques.
The moves come in response to two deadly rampages at mosques in Christchurch in which at least one gunman sprayed bullets at crowds of worshippers observing Friday prayers. At least 49 people died, with dozens more reported injured.
The Ontario police forces say they have not received reports of threats or suspicious activity at local places of worship, but say there will be a “heightened police presence” around the facilities in the coming days.
Many also say they have been in touch with community leaders to express solidarity and provide reassurance that safety is a top concern in light of the attacks.
“I want to send our condolences to those impacted by the heinous attacks in New Zealand,” Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders wrote on Twitter. “Please be assured that police officers will be patrolling your communities today, visiting mosques and other places of worship, to ensure everyone’s safety.”
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A similar message was issued by York regional police, who said uniformed officers would be on hand to reassure people anxious about pursuing their ordinary routines.
Their actions drew thanks from the mayor of Markham, Ont., one of the northern Toronto cities in the region.
“Thank you ... for always helping us feel safe and secure,” Frank Scarpitti wrote in a tweet. “People of all faiths should be free to worship freely without fear. We stand with New Zealand and Muslim communities here and around the world during this difficult time.”
In Hamilton, police said they had increased their presence at all area mosques and other places of worship after connecting with leaders in the Islamic community.
Social media posts suggested the heightened presence was not going unnoticed, with some noting the officers stationed at many mosques who were inquiring after the welfare of religious leaders and worshippers alike.
In Peel Region, consisting of cities west of Toronto such as Mississauga, Ont., and Brampton, Ont., Chief Chris McCord said specialized equity and community mobilization units would be making the rounds of mosques and other places of worship. The goal, he said, is “to check on their well-being and work to resolve any concerns they may have.”
“This is a sad day for the Muslim population and all residents of New Zealand,” he said in a statement. “Acts of violence not only have an effect on those directly involved, but have a long-lasting impact on communities.”
McCord’s words rang true for the executive director of the Muslim Council of Peel, an organization representing mosques, Islamic centres, schools and NGOs.
Rabia Khedr said reading word of the violence in Christchurch shortly before bed left her sleepless all night.
The news felt particularly jarring for a community still in shock from the 2017 shooting at a Quebec mosque that killed six people, she said, adding Canada’s close political and societal kinship with New Zealand made the latest shooting feel “weirdly close to home.”
Khedr called for a stop to divisive language inciting fear and mistrust and pleaded for unity to stamp out all forms of racial or faith-based hate.
“We need upstanding political and community leaders to speak loudly denouncing all forms of discrimination, including Islamophobia,” she said. “And we need to work together as people who value our shared freedoms in this country.”