TORONTO — Police are searching for at least two suspects in connection with a hate crime investigation after a Muslim woman was allegedly attacked and robbed while picking up her children from a Toronto school on Monday.
The incident occurred at around 3 p.m. near the Grenoble Public School in the Don Mills Road and Eglinton Avenue East area, police said.
Toronto police said the men approached the woman called her a “terrorist” and told her to “go back to your country,” adding that the men then tore off her hijab, robbed her of her money and cellphone and punched her.
Police said the woman then went to a nearby school asking for help and was transported to hospital. She has since been released.
Supt. Mark Barkley said Monday that the woman was recovering from her injuries and resting as police continue their investigation.
“The full weight of our investigative resources are being put to the test right now,” he said. “We’re investigating, we’re looking at video trying to get the best evidence possible we can to identify who’s responsible for this.”
Barkley said they were trying to determine what the motivation behind the alleged assault and robbery, to determine whether it was an “isolated incident.”
He added that a hate crime investigator would be speaking with the family and police are asking any witnesses to come forward with surveillance video or images of the suspects.
The brother of the woman, who spoke to Global News under condition of anonymity, said his sister was “very traumatized” after the alleged attack.
“She’s very taken aback, she received multiple shots to her stomach, to her face, we’re worried about her internal situation right now,” he said, adding that she was called a “terrorist” and told to “go back.”
“That’s the school I went to, that’s the school she went to. We were born and raised here, our parents came here 40 years ago, 45 years ago, and we’re not going anywhere.”
The woman’s brother said he believed the attack was an isolated incident, but added that the anti-Muslim graffiti discovered inside a Toronto apartment building Monday occurred at his cousin’s residence.
“We are Canadians and we want to uphold Canadian values,” he said, adding that the alleged incidents created anxiety and fear in the neighbourhood.
“It is our collective duty to make sure these fears and these heinous crimes whether it’s here or in Paris or anywhere else does not take place.”
A woman who knows the alleged victim and works at Grenoble Public School said she was in “very bad shape” following the alleged attack.
“She was crying. She was shaking,” said Sahar Badawi.
“It’s a hate crime. When people stop a woman in the street. One grab her scarf and one punch her and start saying bad words about Muslims.”
A parent with children at the school said she was shocked to hear about the incident in the news.
“I feel it’s too bad. It’s not easy,” said Inass Elhassem. “It is a good area. Everybody accepts others. That is unacceptable of course.”
The Toronto District School Board issued a statement Tuesday saying it plans to send a note to parents so they are aware of the attack that took place off school property.
Area resident Joanna Whitney said she was shaken by the assault.
“That makes me want to cry that people react like that,” she said.
“There’s no need for it. We’re supposed to be an inclusive country.”
Mayor John Tory also decried the attack, saying it’s unacceptable in a city built on inclusivity and diversity.
“I know I speak for all Torontonians when I say that this is a random act, this is an unacceptable act that involves stereotyping people who are not responsible for acts that are going on overseas at all,” he said.
“Here in Toronto we embrace each other, we understand each other, we reach out to each other and we don’t commit these kinds of acts. I trust this will be an isolated act that will not be repeated because it’s just not consistent with our way of life or consistent with the way we think of each other.”
Premier Kathleen Wynne also urged caution to the people of Ontario in the wake of the alleged attack.
“We need to be vigilant in our communities,” she said.
“Whether it be in my home riding in Flemingdon Park, or in Peterborough, or in the province, or the country, not to allow these events to trigger racism and allow that to take hold.”
Anyone with information is asked to contact police or Crime Stoppers.
With files from Steve Morales, Caryn Lieberman and Jennifer Tryon