Toronto police say an investigation into an incident where an 11-year-old girl was allegedly attacked twice and had her hijab cut by a man wielding scissors revealed the events never took place.
In a release Monday, police said “after a detailed investigation, police have determined that the events described in the original news release did not happen.”
“We had some very serious allegations on Friday, which we investigated,” Toronto police spokesperson Mark Pugash told Global News. “We investigated them in great detail. We put together a lot of evidence, we interviewed people and the investigators came to the conclusion that the allegations related to things that simply didn’t happen.”
When contacted by Global News, the girl’s mother Saima Samad refused to open the door and asked for privacy.
It was originally reported that the girl was walking to Pauline Johnson Junior Public School in Toronto’s east end at about 8:30 a.m. Friday when she noticed a man behind her with a pair of scissors cutting at the back of her hijab and that he had pulled off her hood and proceeded to cut.
Pugash did not want to go into specifics about how police determined the allegations were false.
“What I can tell you was a large team of investigators who pulled together evidence from a variety of sources and from interviews and they considered it very carefully.”
He said due to the amount of exposure the story received Friday, police thought it was “important” to release their findings as soon as possible. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne were among the notable names who commented on the incident.
Police had been investigating the alleged incident as a hate crime.
When asked whether any charges will be laid in connection to the incident, Pugash said the investigation is complete and that they don’t “anticipate anything further.”
Pugash said it’s “very unusual” for someone to make false allegations of this type and said he hopes it will not discourage others from coming forward.
A Canadian Muslim organization expressed similar concerns, saying they feared others who experience hate crimes may be reluctant to report them out of worry that they will not be believed.
Safwan Choudhry, spokesman for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at Canada, said it would also be naive to ignore the risk of potential backlash against the girl and her family as well as other Muslims in light of Monday’s news.
“While this incident has proven not to be true, we did all witness that just a couple years ago a Muslim mother was brutally beaten up in Toronto while she was dropping her kids off at school,” he said. In that alleged incident in 2015, police had said the woman was kicked and beaten and had her cellphone stolen by two males before she fled to a nearby school.
There was a dip in police-reported hate crimes targeting Muslims in 2016, with 139 reported, according to the latest data from Statistics Canada. That followed what the agency called a “notable increase” in such crimes the previous year.
With respect to a press conference held on Friday, Toronto District School Board corporate and social media relations manager Ryan Bird said in a written statement that a spokesperson was sent to the school after members of the media attended outside the school. He said the family was asked if they wanted to appear with the spokesperson.
“After expressing concern that they were going to be approached by media outside while trying to leave, as well as a concern that no members of the community be subject to the alleged perpetrator, the family was asked if they would like to join the TDSB spokesperson as she spoke to media,” Bird wrote.
“The family members said they would speak to media and it was our understanding that this happened after, not before, they provided statements to police.”
Bird said school board officials are “very thankful that this assault did not in fact happen.”
“Our motivation for commenting on the issue at the time was only out of compassion, care, concern and support — as did many elected leaders nationally, provincially and locally via interviews or social media.”
Meanwhile, Wynne released a statement Monday thanking the police for their work.
“I join all Ontarians in being thankful and relieved that this assault did not take place,” she said.
Mayor John Tory echoed that sentiment and said, “it is good to know that this event didn’t happen” in a statement Monday.
“We all must remain vigilant in the fight against hate, racism, bigotry, anti-semitism and Islamophobia to make sure our city remains an inclusive place.”
—With files from The Canadian Press, Nick Westoll, Don Mitchell and Mike Drolet