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City Muslims anxious in wake of travel ban, Mosque shooting

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Troy Shantz

U.S. President Donald Trump’s efforts to ban travel from seven Muslim-majority countries has jangled nerves in the local Muslim community nervous, says a Somali-born Sarnian.

“Even though I have assurances from the Canadian government I feel anxious. I do not want to have that experience and cross the border and be treated like a suspect,” said Omer Gahnoog, a chemical engineer who has lived in the city the past four years.

“I went through the border in the past year at least ten times, and now I don’t feel comfortable enough to go again until this situation calms down.”

Trump signed an executive order on Jan. 27 prohibiting entry to the U.S. from residents of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Syria, Libya, Yemen and Somalia, the country of Gahnoog’s birth.

Initially, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said it wouldn’t exempt citizens of banned countries who were also citizens of countries like Canada, but the Prime Minister’s Office has since assured Canadians – including dual citizens – that, “Canadian citizens travelling on Canadian passports will be dealt with ‎in the usual process.”

At presstime, the ban was being contested in the U.S. courts.

None of which has assured Gahnoog, who has a Canadian passport. “It’s not even the fear of being deported, it’s the fear of being treated like a suspect or a criminal and just being humiliated there,” he said.

Gahnoog has a brother in North Carolina and another who works with the Canadian Forces in Colorado, and he’s not sure now when he will see them again.

Even before the U.S. restrictions, crossing the border wasn’t always easy, said Gahnoog, who lives in Sarnia with his wife, whose family is originally from Pakistan.

In 2013 he and a friend were detained and questioned without explanation for 45 minutes when attempting to cross from Quebec to the U.S., he said.

“That was in a safer time. Imagine now what could possibly happen?”

The Jan. 29 mass shooting at a Quebec Mosque that killed six men at evening prayers has compounded safety and security fears among Sarnia’s Muslim community, he added.

“How are we going to make sure our Mosque is secure?” asked Gahnoog, a member of the Sarnia Mosque’s executive board. “This has happened in Quebec, it could actually happen here.”

He added that the city’s Muslims only want the same things as other residents.

“We are just your neighbours. We are just people here trying to live a good life. We’re trying to raise a family, we’re trying to work, trying to make money, trying to support our families.”



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