A family-owned Syrian restaurant in Toronto says it has been forced to close its doors after receiving death threats and messages of hate.
Soufi’s, owned by the Alsoufi family and located in the city’s Queen West neighbourhood, allegedly started to be attacked after social media posts reported the owner’s son was involved in a protest in Hamilton that saw an elderly woman and a companion blocked from entering a People’s Party of Canada rally.
“We would like to reiterate that our son Alaa regrets the incident that occurred in Hamilton this past weekend. That said, he did not in any way verbally or physically assault the elderly woman and has nonetheless offered to apologize personally for not doing more,” a statement issued by the Alsoufi family Tuesday evening said, adding Alaa was “doxed and physically assaulted” on Friday.
“Alaa has been an activist and humanitarian for the past nine years, fighting for the rights of oppressed communities in Canada and worldwide. We support and love our son for standing up against oppression.”
The statement included screenshots of messages allegedly sent to family, many of which contained vulgar language.
“We know everything about you and your followers. We will never relent in defending our homeland to terrorist threats of your kind. Your weak apologies ring hollow to us while you’re (sic) delusional fanatics continue to stoke the raging fires and taunt our proud patriots. Keep it up and your family and those who defend your family’s terrorist actions will suffer immensely,” one of the messages read.
“Your (sic) going back in a box or not your (sic) going back,” another message said.
A protest outside of the event being held by Maxime Bernier turned violent as demonstrators clashed with supporters and others attending the event. While the woman was trying to get into the event, demonstrators allegedly started yelling, “Nazi scum.”
Hamilton police confirmed four people had been detained and there were no reported injuries.
Upon hearing of the incident, Bernier tweeted his support to the woman, “Thank you so much Madam for standing up for free speech! We need courageous people like you if we are to keep our country STRONG and FREE.”
When asked about Tuesday’s news, David Turkoski, the son of the woman stopped during the protest, said he was “absolutely disgusted in anybody who would ever to do that to anybody.” He said he would like to bring his 81-year-old mother to the restaurant to try the food.
“I was honestly saddened by the polarization that’s happening in Canada — how people have black and white views,” he said, adding no one should have prevent people from attending the event.
“We have to uphold the rule of law, not vigilante justice. My mother filed a complaint and left it with the police — it’s up to them now.
The family first announced the closure of the restaurant on Instagram.
“As a result of numerous hate messages and death threats we’ve received over the past week, we’ve decided to permanently close out shop,” the post on the restaurant’s page read.
“Our decision is made with a heavy heart in effort to maintain our family and staff’s safety.”
The restaurant went on to thank its customers and neighbours for their support over the two years Soufi’s was opened.
“We would also like to extend our love and appreciation to our wonderful staff, who have invariable embodied the hard work, dedication, passion and graciousness of Syrian newcomers,” the post said.
Patrons were quick to respond to the social media post.
“If there’s any way at all that I can help, please let me know,” an Instagram user wrote.
“I am so sorry, you will be missed dearly. Thank you for the kindness and the great food,” another person said.
In the statement released Tuesday evening, the family thanked the community for the messages of support.
“We are heartbroken about having to make this decision; however, we could not put our family members, staff, and patrons in danger. The magnitude of hate we are facing is overwhelming,” the statement said.
“We know this hate does not reflect the people of Toronto. The people of Toronto are loving, welcoming people. We have heard from countless community members and organizations who have restored our faith in the city.
“Our family and business do not condone acts of hate, violence or harassment in any shape or form. We want to restate that we are not affiliated with any political group or organization or either side of the political spectrum. We simply believe in kindness, peace and understanding between all people.”
Toronto police told Global News Tuesday afternoon that there wasn’t an active investigation involving the restaurant.
— With files from The Canadian Press