Muslim woman speaks out about being harassed at Vancouver bus stop
VANCOUVER -- Shafira Vidyamaharani was waiting for her bus to work last week when a stranger accosted her.
She told CTV News the man was aggressive, asking her "Where are you from?" and, referencing her headscarf, "What's that thing on your head?"
Vidyamaharani, who said she's faced Islamophobia before, explained that she tried to move away from the man, but that only seemed to make things worse.
“I noticed that that upset him so he complained to another person who was also waiting in line about me, and I could tell that he was calling me names and slurs,” she said. "He decided to approach me closer and that’s when the threats started.”
The incident happened at the bus stop near Main Street and East 49th Avenue on Friday. It’s a stop that’s part of Vidyamaharani's regular commute to work.
“He said that he’s going to kick that thing off (my) head,” she said.
Vidyamaharani said she then decided to take out her phone and record what was happening.
In the video, the man appears angry to be on camera.
“I’ll kick that right out of your f***ing hand, b****,” he said. "Get out of my face.”
She continued to record for about a minute or so, and at one point in the video the man commented, “Why they allow people like you in this country, you can’t… you don’t even know what you’re doing.”
When the bus arrived, Vidyamaharani said she waited to see if he’d get on.
“I was pretty shaken by it, especially because he looked like he was waiting for me to get on the bus. It kind of looked like he could follow me,” she told CTV News
In the end, he got on the bus and she waited for the next one.
Vancouver police are investigating the incident. In an emailed statement, Sgt. Steve Addison told CTV News that police "applaud the victim for coming forward and immediately reporting the incident to VPD. That allowed us to immediately launch an investigation. No arrests have been made and the suspect’s identity is not known."
He added that the investigation is still in its early stages and they are still collecting evidence.
“The fact that it happened during a week when we’re talking about the murder of a Muslim family, who have been identified to be Muslim, makes it even worse,” said Fareed Khan founder of Canadians United Against Hate, referring to the attack in London, Ont., that left four members of a family dead on June 6.
“These people who are doing this, they are cowards,” said Khan. “Muslim women, particularly those who wear hijabs, have to constantly be conscious about this sort of thing.”
He told CTV News it’s time for Canadians to think about what kind of a country they want to live in.
“Canadians need to put pressure on their politicians at all levels, but particularly political leaders at the federal level, MPs. And say, you know what? We don’t want to have a country where hate becomes acceptable,” said Khan. "Hate is a pandemic, it’s a disease that has infiltrated itself into every corner of Canada and we have to treat it like a disease the same way that we dealt with COVID-19.”
He wants to see a national hate strategy that involves all levels of government, the public education system and provides resources to community organizations that work with people on the ground. Khan explained there’s already an anti-racism secretariat that was set up during one of the recent budgets that could take this on.
“There needs to be co-ordination by federal government,” he told CTV News.
But above all, before that can fully be done, he said we need to acknowledge what has happened in our past.
“The federal government (needs to accept) the fact that this country committed genocide against Indigenous people,” he explained. "Before you more forward you have to look at the way things have been in the past and you have to acknowledge your own wrong.”
In terms of what the public can do, Khan said bystanders need to step up when they see an incident happen like this unfolding, or at the very least record it as evidence for police.
Vidyamaharani agreed, telling CTV News there were people around at the time she was being harassed at but they were mostly seniors and other minorities, and no one stepped in.
“I did wish there was more support while the threat was happening,” she said. “I’ve always known that Islamophobia is something I’ll always have to be aware of.”
The next time this happens she said, “I would love people to just jump in. It doesn’t even have to directly address someone who is harassing the person, it could also just be you know directly talking to the victim and deflecting the situation from the violence.”
Vancouver police want to know more of what happened during this incident and are asking anyone who may have witnessed it or knows something to call their non-emergency line at 604-717-3321.