Mosque says allegations are about guest speakers from before 2013
The federal government has stripped one of Ottawa’s largest mosques of its charity status over “activities that promote hate and intolerance,” Global News has learned.Liberal MPP John Fraser (second from left) and Liberal MP David McGuinty (second from right) at the Assalam mosque in 2013, the period examined by auditors.
The Canada Revenue Agency took action against the Ottawa Islamic Centre and Assalam Mosque following audits that raised concerns about its roster of guest speakers.
“Many of the views expressed by the organization’s speakers are misogynistic, homophobic, racist and/or promote violence,” the CRA Charities Branch wrote in a letter sent to the mosque president.
The CRA was also concerned that “radicalized individuals” had attended the mosque, one of whom, Ashton Larmond, is now imprisoned for attempting to join the so-called Islamic State.
While the CRA said the mosque had not been directly implicated in their radicalization, it said there was a “possibility” they may have been influenced by parishioners or speakers.
The federal agency said the guest speaker issue had been repeatedly raised with the mosque but auditors found “no indication that the organization has implemented any due diligence procedures with respect to the vetting of its guest speakers.”
Mosque officials denied promoting intolerance and said the troubles dated back to more than five years ago when the organization was run by two hardline board members. The audit covered the years 2012 and 2013. Speakers are now pre-screened, they said.
“We were really shocked this happened to us,” Muhammad Haile, the mosque secretary and a member of its board of directors since 2014, told Global News. “We don’t tolerate any hate.”
The revocation took effect on July 14.
It means the mosque no longer benefits from the tax advantages enjoyed by government-registered charities. Foremost, it cannot issue receipts allowing donors to claim their contributions as income tax deductions.
“It was devastating for us. It was like an earthquake. But what can we do?” said Ali Abdulle, the mosque treasurer, who called the CRA action “politically-motivated.”
The mosque can still operate as a non-profit organization, but the decision could serve as a warning to other charities that they cannot give a platform to those who have espoused bigotry….
4 speakers identified
A CRA letter obtained by CBC mentions four speakers who appeared on numerous occasions between 2009 and 2014: Abu Usamah At-Thahabi, Bilal Philips, Saeed Rageah, and Abdullah Hakeem Quick.
The letter says that when asked to provide a list of speakers who had appeared at the mosque, Assalam provided an incomplete list. CRA officials learned about the additional events by examining the mosque’s social media postings.
All four speakers are associated with the conservative Salafist school of Sunni Islam.
At-Thahabi is a New Jersey-born imam who previously headed the Green Lane Masjid in Birmingham, England, one of the U.K.’s largest and a subject of frequent controversy. At-thahabi has been a frequent visitor to Ottawa and has spoken at other venues in the city in addition to Assalam.
He was one of the subjects of a Channel 4 documentary called Undercover Mosque that included secret recordings of his sermons at Green Lane where he spoke in derogatory terms about non-Muslims, called women “deficient” in intelligence, and said gay people should be thrown from mountains.
At-Thahabi also spoke in 2016 and 2017 in Toronto and North York at the Salaheddin Islamic Centre and the Abu Huraira Center.
Bilal Philips is a Jamaican-born Canadian salafist based in Qatar with over 6 million Facebook followers. He also has visited Ottawa frequently. Philips has been banned or deported from a number of countries including Australia, Bangladesh, Denmark, Germany, Kenya and the U.K.
Saeed Rageah is a Somali-born preacher raised in Saudi Arabia and based in Toronto. He founded Ottawa’s Muslim Basketball Association, which continues to operate with a league of six teams. Rageah is founder and leader of the Journey of Faith Conference, which has invited controversial hardline speakers to Canada, at least one of whom — Mumbai imam Zakir Naik — was refused entry to Canada for past statements such as, “Every Muslim should be a terrorist.”
CRA also flagged Rageah’s links to a U.S.-based institute that has distributed al-Qaeda propaganda material.
The fourth speaker mentioned by CRA is Abdullah Hakkeem Quick, an American preacher who was cited for his references to the “filth” of yahud (Jews) and kafirun (unbelievers), and for saying that the Islamic answer to homosexuality is death.
CBC News has asked for more information.
The hate and intolerance allegations relate to guest speakers invited to the mosque between 2009 and 2013, who said what the CRA characterized as hateful things in other cities, according to Abdulle.
“They did not say it in our mosque, they said it somewhere else,” he said. “We think it’s unfair to us and it’s unfair to the community to be revoking our charitable status over what somebody said.”
He said the mosque community is vibrant, welcoming and promotes Canadian values.
The CRA said at least two speeches happened in 2014, after the previous administration left, and that throughout the period of review “the board of directors permitted individuals with extremist and biased views” to speak.
In its submissions to the CRA, centre officials said those talks were organized by other members of the mosque community, and that they have since closed off most of the basement to stop people meeting there without approval and permission.
In the documents officials said they’re also now vetting potential speakers more thoroughly.
The CRA had asked for transcripts or recordings of the speeches and the mosque didn’t provide them, and that there wasn’t enough evidence the organization did its due diligence, it said.
The name of one speaker the CRA said appears to have been radicalized and is willing to resort to violence was blacked out in the letter provided to CBC News.
The CRA said the revocation is based on issues identified in the organization’s two audits from before it registered as a charity, the agency’s correspondence with the organization and issues identified in the audit leading up to the revocation.
The revocation of charitable status means the mosque can no longer provide tax receipts, doesn’t qualify for an income tax exemption or the HST rebate.
Abdulle said the mosque will still be able to conduct its regular operations.