The main door last the Islam Care Centre on Somerset Street West. Kunqin Wang, Centretown News

Vulnerable sites welcome funds for security upgrades

By Kunqin Wang

Two key worship and gathering places for Ottawa’s Muslim residents have been granted nearly $50,000 for security upgrades to protect people and property from hate-motivated crime.

The main Ottawa Mosque on Northwestern Avenue near Tunney’s Pasture, just west of downtown, as well as the Ottawa Muslim Association building located next door, were awarded $46,000 under a federal Security Infrastructure Program, according to a Nov. 30 announcement.

“This funding will support two projects designed to help the community enhance their security.  One of the projects will fund the installation of cameras and an access control system at the Ottawa Muslim Association Mosque,” the statement said. “The other will fund the installation of security cameras and an access control system, perform a security assessment and provide training on the use of security equipment at the Association’s Hall of Peace.”

The OMA has experienced several incidents over the years. “People with masks came in and broke our windows,” said OMA president Naeem Malik.

“Recent incidents are a jarring reminder that the inclusive and generous Canada we all want is now, and ever will be, a precious and delicate work-in-progress that we dare not take for granted,” Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said in the Nov. 30 press release announcing the Ottawa security funding.

“There is no place in our society for attacks that target groups simply because of their faith,” added Ottawa Centre MP Catherine McKenna.  “Our government will continue to stand against discrimination.  We have a collective responsibility to stand against prejudice in all its forms, and to never allow intolerance and hate to take root in our communities.”

The government recently doubled funding for the Communities at Risk: Security Infrastructure Program), bringing it to $10 million over the next five years.

Public Safety spokesperson Scott Bardsley said the funding will allow communities “dto implement security measures both inside and outside of their facilities, including security assessments, alarm systems, fences, gates, lighting, security film for windows, closed circuit television systems, and cameras.”

According to Bardsley, since April 2012, 11 projects have been funded in the National Capital Region, with nine projects in Ottawa and two in Gatineau, for a total value of more than $525,000 in funding.

In Ottawa, seven of the funded organizations are Muslim, and two are Jewish.

“We need that money to protect our building and the people who come for worship,” said Malik.

In the Nov. 30 statement, Malik specified that the funding would help the association “increase security around its properties, which protect worshipers and visitors to the mosque and provide a safe environment to offer prayers and perform religious practice.”

After experiencing several targeted attacks — including ones that appear to be motivated by hate — Qamar Masood, president of the Islam Care Centre, said more funds and better communication are needed to handle security problems at Muslim places of worship.

The Islam Care Centre is a Centretown-based Muslim social service organization and place of prayer temporarily located on Somerset Street, but which has plans to construct a new, six-storey building on Lisgar Street.

The ICC can currently accommodate about 250 worshippers.

“A couple of times the robbers came inside and robbed our donation box,” Masood added. “Someone set fire to the building, as well. However, we are not the only one who is targeted.”

Masood, who indicated that the ICC plans to apply for the funds as well for better cameras and gates, said prevention of trouble through security installation is better than dealing with incidents after they occur.

To curb the likelihood of hate-related incidents, Masood said “the key is communication” about the Islamic religion and culture because the reason behind the hatred is “lack of knowledge”.

“Once we let them know who we really are, these incidents will cut down. It’s our weakness that we are not able to have open dialogues,” he said. “We are willing to come down and talk about what exactly we do and get rid of the hatred. We are here for love and peace.”

Masood said the planned rebuilding project is in a fundraising phase, as $2 million is still required to start construction at the ICC’s property at 312 Lisgar St.

He said various security measures would be incorporated in the new facility.

“We trust the police forces. We trust the system over here. We know exactly if anything happens, they will be there to rescue us,” Masood said.