Did Islamophobia contribute to the paramedics’ negligence in the death of Yosif Al-Hasnawi?

by Harshita Singh

On Saturday, December 2, 19-year-old Yosif Al-Hasnawi was shot two kilometres away from Hamilton’s Al-Mustafa Islamic Centre where he had just participated in a service. Witness accounts report that the paramedics who responded to the incident did not take Yosif’s suffering seriously, and he died later that night.

Yosif’s father, Majed Al-Hasnawi, and his teenage brothers are suing the Hamilton paramedics and the murder suspects for $10 million. The claim outlines the multiple ways in which the paramedics’ failure to properly treat Yosif contributed to his death, as well as the emotional and financial impact Yosif’s death has had on his family.

Yosif, an Iraqi-Canadian teenager, left the masjid with his brother and friend and saw two young men harassing a senior citizen. When Yosif intervened, he was shot by one of the two young men.

Dale Burningsky King and James Matheson are under arrest for Yosif’s death, charged with attempted murder and accessory to murder, respectively. But Yosif’s parents and community members also want to hold Hamilton’s paramedics accountable for their negligence that night.

Witnesses describe Hamilton paramedics’ role in Yosif’s death

People from the mosque urged paramedics to take Yosif to the hospital faster, but were ignored. Paramedics on scene were heard laughing and Detective Bereziuk of Hamilton Police Service confirmed that witnesses described their unprofessional and irresponsible behaviour.

Amin Al Tahir, the director of Al-Mustafa Islamic Centre, describes the paramedics’ negligence that night: “For more than 20 minutes we asked the paramedics to take him to hospital and they said, ‘No, he was just fine. When he saw you coming he started acting out.’ And they started to laugh with each other. We told them, ‘Please, take him to the hospital. He has difficulty breathing.’ They decided to take him because people came more and more.”

Tom Raczynski, who lives in the area, came out of his house after hearing screams. He saw an injured man in distress, but felt that paramedics did not respond quickly to Yosif’s pain.

“He was lying there complaining he was hurting and they kept saying he was faking,” said Raczynski. “The one paramedic kept saying, ‘Oh, you’re a good actor.’ I just thought it was disgusting. Like somebody’s shot, you take him in to the hospital, you don’t leave him lying there.”

Yosif’s father, Majed Al-Hasnawi, told CTV News Toronto on December 4 that his son, an aspiring doctor, always stuck up for others. “He was a great boy. He was very religious. Sometimes I’d wake up at night and find him praying. He believed in peace.”

Majed said the night he died, his son had been reading a few pages of the Quran publicly at their mosque as part of celebrations marking the birth of the Prophet Muhammad.

“The paramedic took part in killing my son,” said Majed Al-Hasnawi. “If he did it on time, there is big time for doctor to save his life. ‘I cannot breathe.’ These were the last words I heard from my son.”

Hamilton begins to investigate claims, investigations yet to be released

Since the press coverage of these witness testimonies and a Brock University vigil organized by Yosif’s peers, the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care has launched a formal investigation with the possibility of laying charges under the Ambulance Act. The Ministry says it cannot comment on an ongoing investigation.

Niagara Regional Police Service has agreed to to launch a criminal investigation into the medical care Yosif received at the scene of the shooting. This new investigation opens the possibility of paramedics being charged criminally.

Hamilton Paramedic Service said it will also conduct an internal investigation, but cannot speak with anyone involved until after the Ministry’s investigation. The Special Investigations Unit says it’s still assessing whether there are grounds to investigate the conduct of police.

Yosif’s death in view of rising Islamophobia in Canada

In 2015, the number of police-reported hate crimes against Muslims increased by 60 per cent, according to Statistics Canada. Although there were six less hate crimes against Muslims in 2016 than in 2015, police reported crimes against Muslims still accounted for one-third of all hate crimes in Canada.

A year ago yesterday, six men were shot to death in the Quebec City mosque. Yosif died barely a kilometre away from his place of worship while trying to protect another community member, possibly because of the negligence of the paramedics on the scene.

Would he have received a better degree of care from them if he was not Muslim? This is a question that is becoming increasingly pertinent in the Hamilton investigations, the Al-Hasnawi family’s lawsuit, and for oppressed people all over Canada.

The callousness with which Hamilton paramedics treated a dying Yosif is not an isolated incident, and must be examined in the context of increasing violence and hatred against Muslims in Canada.