Edmonton coalition tries to calm refugee fears after weekend attacks

Edmonton coalition tries to calm refugee fears after weekend attacks

Habiba Abdulle's phone rang off the hook Monday with calls from refugee mothers afraid to send their children to school in Edmonton.

"The question they were asking, 'Is it safe for us to go?' " said Abdulle, an advocate with the Alberta Somali Community Centre. "Because they were afraid of the backlash."

Their concerns were sparked by news early Sunday that police had arrested Abdulahi Hasan Sharif, following two weekend attacks that police Chief Rod Knecht said were being investigated as possible "acts of terrorism."

Sharif, a Somali refugee who came to Canada in 2012, is accused of ramming a car into a police officer on Saturday night, then stabbing him with a knife. Police said later, during a high-speed chase that ended downtown, Sharif struck and injured four pedestrians with a rented cube van.

On Monday, police charged Sharif, 30, with five counts of attempted murder and several other offences, none of them terror-related.

As police announced the charges, Abdulle and more than a dozen others were meeting to discuss the impact of the news on vulnerable communities in Edmonton. They're part of a safety committee that looks for grassroots solutions to crime, poverty, and racism.

Around the table sat representatives from the city's Indigenous community, the Ogaden Somali Community of Alberta Residents, police and the city, the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers, and Edmonton Centre MP Randy Boissonnault.

Reassurance, support at school

The group decided to contact school boards to ask about measures in place to support parents and determine what more could be done to reassure them.

"In my mind, that was hugely important that we talk to the moms," said Jan Fox, executive director of Reach Edmonton, an organization that aims to make Edmonton a safer place.

"Can you imagine? I'm a mom, too. And I can understand their fear."

Abdulle said her organization is instructing clients on ways to deal with hate incidents. Already, she said, some were expressing fears of backlash due to attacks overseas in Paris and Barcelona.

"What makes it more scary is, it's too close to home," she said. "It happened in Edmonton. It happened in their neighbourhood."

Most importantly, said Abdulle, they've been reassuring newcomer parents that Edmonton is a safe place, encouraging them to stay calm and go about their business.

"Because we don't want the terrorists to win," she said.
andrea.huncar@cbc.ca @andreahuncar

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