Since last November, Canada has resettled nearly 30,000 Syrian refugees (roughly six times more than the U.S.). At the same time, reports of hate crimes against Muslims—including those who grew up in Canada—are double what they were last year.
An ad campaign up on Toronto bus shelters is designed to get people talking about Islamophobia. In the poster, a white man tells a woman in a hijab to go back where she came from; she says, "Where, North York?" referencing a Toronto neighborhood.
"We're not going to change the minds, the viewpoint, of people who are very Islamophobic," says Philip Haid, CEO of Public Inc., the creative agency that came up with the campaign for the local immigration organization OCASI and the City of Toronto (and Co.Exist contributor)
"But we were asking ourselves, for people who are kind of on the fence—people who aren't anti-Muslim but they are maybe a little uneducated or a little bit fearful, people who could easily be swayed to something more negative—how do we start a conversation with them?"
Like in other North American cities, the conversation in the ad is a fairly common experience for Muslims in Toronto.
"'Why don't you go back where you come from' is a comment that is all too often flung at those who do not 'fit' a certain image of what it means to be a so-called Canadian," says Amira Elghawaby with the National Council of Canadian Muslims. "Of course, these identities are arbitrary— the original inhabitants of this land are the Inuit, Métis, and Aboriginals. For anyone else to claim that they represent the true Canadian identity is deeply problematic, as everyone else is an immigrant."
The creative agency considered a variety of messages, but decided to keep it direct and simple. "We felt like if in doing this to start a conversation, we can't be too subtle," says Haid.
It worked. As soon as the ads went up, people responded—often to criticize the ad, but also to discuss the issue. Elghawaby thinks the ad works as one tool—among many—to help shift attitudes.
"The campaign illustrates that Muslims do belong here, that their neighborhoods, are our neighborhoods, your neighborhoods," she says. "It's a simple message, but powerful, in challenging those who claim to hold the power to decide who does and who doesn't belong here."
Ontario plans to launch a broader campaign soon.
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