Attack on Western University Muslim student 'a wake up call' says Mayo
Attack on Western University Muslim student 'a wake up call' says Mayor
The attack on a Western University student from Iran, being probed by London police hate crime officers, is a ''wake-up call'' for London, Mayor Matt Brown says.
''This is . . . another wake-up call for all of us, that racism exists in 2016, and it's our collective responsibility to address it,'' Brown said Thursday from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities annual conference in Winnipeg.
''I'm deeply concerned and saddened to learn this act occurred in London. Islamophobia has no place in London, in Ontario, in Canada, or anywhere . . . We need to stand shoulder-to-shoulder as Londoners and clearly communicate this type of hate won't be tolerated.''
Mohammad Sharifi, a PhD student from Tehran, was sitting with his girlfriend at Covent Garden Market Saturday when he was pushed to the ground and punched by two men who he says called him ''Arab,'' and told him to go back to his country.
The incident put London in the national spotlight.
By Thursday, the National Council of Muslims and Iranian Canadian Congress were demanding a stern response.
''We call on the authorities to prosecute the perpetrators of this unacceptable act to the fullest extent of the law,'' Saleha Kahn, a London spokesperson for the council, said in a release. ''Londoners are appalled by this senseless act of hatred.''
Congress president Bijan Ahmadi noted the ''very unfortunate'' incident was ''the third attack . . . in the past eight months,'' referring to two high-profile incidents last February when racial slurs were directed at actor E.B. (Edward Benjamin) Smith, who was playing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Grand Theatre.
The Cleveland native took to Facebook to decry the incidents, saying it was the first time he'd experienced such direct racism in Canada. On learning of the slurs, Brown called the actor to apologize on the community's behalf.
''It's really unfortunate that in a city with over 20 per cent immigrant population, we still see these hateful acts,'' said Ahmadi, whose group urged Brown, police and the province to ''keep the issue of combatting racism at the top of their agenda.''
''We hope that when the Crown attorney looks at the case . . . (that) if the law allows, (they) will look at the possibility of charging them for hate crime,'' he added.
Those calls were echoed by London Coun. Mo Salih, who has been speaking out about the incident to news outlets and on social media, and outspoken social justice advocate and police observer Forrest Bivens, a former member of London's diversity and race relations committee.
''Assuming the . . . evidence points in the direction (of an assault motivated by hate), that seems to me to hit the Criminal Code for a hate crime. I hope they don't back off of it out of any kind of reluctance or timidity,'' said Bivens.
''We're all basically saying the same thing. The Crown needs to hear that,'' he added. ''Hate crimes need to be prosecuted so people get the message more clearly . . . so the rest of London thinks twice before they go down this road.''
Blaire Gibson, 24, and Justin Smart, 24, of London, have been charged with assault.
Hate crime officers reviewed details of the attack because it has elements of a hate/bias-motivated offence, police said.
The Criminal Code defines a hate crime as an act to intimidate, harm or terrify an individual or group. Victims are specifically targeted for who they are, rather than because of anything they've done.
There is no specific ''hate crime'' charge. Police probing an assault apparently motivated by racism, homophobia, Islamophobia or other form of hate pass the evidence to the hate crime unit for investigation. Crown attorneys can prosecute incidents as hate crimes, a factor considered in sentencing.