TORONTO — An unprovoked attack on a Muslim woman near an elementary school in Toronto appeared to be “motivated by hate,” police said Tuesday as they investigated the incident that was swiftly denounced by local politicians.
The attack came two days after a mosque in Peterborough, Ont., was set ablaze in the aftermath of last week’s terrorist attacks in Paris that left 129 people dead.
Peterborough police are investigating the fire as a hate crime and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau assured Muslim Canadians the federal government would work hard to find those responsible.
The Toronto assault took place around 3 p.m. on Monday near the mid-town Grenoble Public School while a woman was on her way to pick up her son.
Police said the woman, who was wearing a hijab, was approached by two men and attacked.
“It was a completely unprovoked attack,” said Const. Victor Kwong. “She was punched all over and kicked.”
The two men hurled slurs that were “bigoted in nature” at the woman and tried to rip off her hijab, Kwong said.
The woman fell to the ground and was robbed of her cellphone and some money before the two men fled the area, he said.
The entire incident was observed by a witness who called police, he said. The woman was taken to hospital to be treated for non-life threatening injuries and has since been released.
Police said they are currently interviewing witnesses, gathering surveillance video from the area and asking anyone with information to contact them.
“There’s no doubt that this is hate-motivated,” Kwong said, noting that police typically see a spike in such incidents after events like the attacks in Paris.
The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for attacks Friday in Paris that sent shock waves around the world. French officials say the attacks were carried out by disaffected French Muslims under the supervision of a Belgian who had fought in Syria.
Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, who represents the riding where the Toronto assault took place, said Canadians need to guard against racism.
“We need to be vigilant in our communities, whether it’s in Flemingdon in my own riding, or in Peterborough, or anywhere in the province and the country, not to let these horrible events trigger hatred,” she said.
“I think that this is actually a time we need to reach out to our Muslim neighbours and friends and recognize the acts that took place in Paris were acts of terrorism and not borne of religion.”
Toronto Mayor John Tory also denounced the attack, calling it “disgusting, unacceptable and not reflective of our city’s values.”
Some residents of the neighbourhood where the woman was assaulted expressed their dismay.
“It’s some kind of idiot, it’s not the Canadian people,” Sahar Badawi, herself a Muslim, said of the woman’s assailants. “Most people, regardless their religion, regardless what they believe in, they respect Canada, they love Canada. Once we come to this country, we are Canadian like anybody else.”
Not far from where the attack took place, police said they were also aware of “anti-Muslim” graffiti appearing in the hallway of an apartment building. Police said they’re looking to see if there’s a connection between the graffiti and Monday’s assault.
The National Council of Canadian Muslims had advised Muslims to be vigilant against potential backlash in the wake the Paris attacks, saying there was concern members of the community would be targeted.