The battle against Islamophobia in London must start with children and young people, community leaders were told Monday.
More than two dozen leaders signed "the Charter for Inclusive Communities" at a news conference Monday at Covent Garden Market. Similar signings took place in five other Canadian cities where community leaders denounced hate-motivated actions against Muslims and declared their support for building inclusive communities.
Ingrid Mattson, chair of Islamic studies at Huron University College, spoke at the London news conference about education's role in raising awareness of different multicultural groups.
"We sometimes think that if young people co-exist in a school then by being together, it's enough to overcome stereotypes and misconceptions, but that's not true," she said.
"Unless there's education about communities and their differences, then it's very easy for them to absorb negative information that comes through news."
The National Council of Canadian Muslims, an Islamic advocacy organization, drafted the charter in response to an increase in the number of hate crimes and incidents targeting Muslims.
Two of the incidents occurred in London. Last month, a Western University student from Iran was punched by two men who called him an Arab and told him to go back to his country.
A few weeks later, a woman wearing a hijab and tending to her four-month-old had her hijab pulled off in a London grocery store while she was repeatedly punched.
Deputy mayor Paul Hubert, London West Liberal MP Kate Young, London-Fanshawe NDP MP Irene Mathyssen and police Chief John Pare were among the leaders who signed the charter.
Rizwan Mohammad, a national representative of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, said the charter will serve as a starting point in the long-term battle against Islamophobia.
"We've never had a document to guide those conversations in directions we can all agree on. ... We have common ground to start from to find practical results."
The next step for the London committee is organizing sessions that would bring together Muslim women to talk about hate-crime protection, violence prevention and personal safety tactics, said Saleha Khan, a local representative for the national council.
"We're looking at developing and delivering peer-to-peer education on hate-crimes, identifying hate crimes and hate-bias activities, bullying, violence prevention and personal safety."
The council hopes to expand programming to the larger community after the first peer training session in five weeks, she said.
Defined as "fear or hatred of Islam and its adherents (Muslims) that is translated into individual, ideological and systemic forms of oppression."
The National Council of Canadian Muslims says the number of hate crimes and incidents involving Muslims has more than doubled in 2016 compared with the same period last year.