Alberta making up to $100K available for security upgrades at religious, cultural places
Alberta is taking steps to prevent hate-motivated crime and better investigate when such attacks happen, as well as enable targeted groups to protect themselves.
The justice minister and premier announced on Friday up to $500,000 was available in 2021 for faith-based groups and cultural facilities that have been targeted or are likely to to be.
The Alberta Security Infrastructure Program will make funds available through two streams: one, a grant up to $10,000 to complete a security assessment at a site and provide special training to staff, and, two, a grant up to $90,000 to purchase and install security equipment.
Although officials said eligibility details would be announced in coming weeks, they expect the money will help places like temples, churches or Indigenous friendship centres, for example, to buy window film, cameras, anti-graffiti sealant or alarms.
"All Albertans must be able to live in a province where it is safe to practice their faith, to exercise their freedom of religion. Albertans must feel safe to walk in their neighbourhood and not fear for their safety because of the colour of their skin," Premier Jason Kenney said during the announcement in front of Edmonton's Al Rashid Mosque.
All the speakers referenced the fatal attack on the Afzaal family in London, Ont., one week earlier.
"What you're doing today, honourable minister and premier, is an act of love. We heard the words, we've had the sentiments, we've had the hugs, but now there's action," Aumer Assaf said, calling security necessary.
"So as we work towards the dream you speak about, that we speak about, we don't live in that dream. We aspire to that, but we live in reality, and the reality is the Muslim community is under attack. It's not just the violence. It's the smears, it's the looks. Our women in their hijabs are visibly targeted and it's the small things that add up, that turn into a catastrophe."
SPECIAL HATE CRIMES UNIT CREATED
The funding for security equipment was one of a few anti-racism measures taken by Alberta in recent days.
A new community liaison is to provide the provincial government with a range of perspectives and expertise by connecting it with ethnic, religious and sexual minority groups most targeted.
And a specially tasked unit will work with law enforcement on hate crime investigations, and improving hate crime mitigation efforts and training.
Both are in the early stages of development and were announced by the government on Thursday as a "fresh approach" to working with affected communities.
"My goal as justice minister is to ensure that we prevent them before they occur, but when they do occur, I promise you that they will be thoroughly investigated. I will bring the perpetuators to justice," Minister Kaycee Madu vowed on Friday.
The initiatives were among 48 recommendations made by the Alberta Anti-Racism Council. In a report released Friday, the AARC also recommended reforms in the justice system, inclusive and anti-racism policies in the labour sector, and decolonizing education, among others. It advised establishing an ombudsperson to investigate all policing complaints, and working with the federal government to make hate crimes legislation more effective.
Right now, Madu said the investigative component of Alberta's hate crimes unit was the best way to ensure charges are prosecuted.
But all stressed the significance of digging to the root of racism in Canada.
"It has to be a matter of the heart to defeat this kind of hatred," Kenney said. "I can only imagine that this twisted individual responsible allegedly for this gross hate crime in London never developed a normal, personable friendly relationship with a Canadian Muslim."
He encouraged Albertans to reach out their neighbours and check in.
Al Rashid Mosque, dedicated in 1938, was Canada's first mosque.
A prayer for the London victims was to be hosted there at 2 p.m. MST.