Hamilton police have made four arrests in connection with a clash that reportedly occurred at a Mohawk College speaking event involving People’s Party of Canada (PPC) Leader Maxime Bernier.
Investigators say about a hundred people gathered to protest the event on Sept. 29 and that there was an incident in which an elderly woman with a walker was allegedly blocked from crossing a roadway to get to the event.
That episode — caught on video and circulated on social media — has led to charges against the son of the owners of Soufi’s Restaurant in Toronto, which closed briefly after the owners say they received death threats as part of a social media backlash following the protest.
Alaa al-Soufi, 27, of Toronto, has been charged with two counts of intimidation, two counts of disguise with intent and one count of causing a disturbance.
Police say the protest turned violent after demonstrators reportedly clashed with supporters attending the Bernier speaking engagement, which was held at the McIntyre Performing Arts Centre on Fennell Avenue West in Hamilton.
According to police, about 100 protesters gathered outside the building and allegedly confronted attendees as they entered through the front doors.
Four people were arrested for breach of the peace but later released unconditionally, police say.
Investigators say the latest arrests were made after reviewing numerous hours of video from a number of sources, including media and social media footage. Two men turned themselves in on Wednesday, according to police, while one man was arrested on Tuesday.
Kevin Metcalf, 33, of Toronto, has also been charged with obstruction, and 30-year-old Maximiliano Herrera, of Hamilton, has been charged with intimidation and assault.
The fourth arrest was 23-year-old Victoria Wojciechowska charged with theft under $5,000 and wearing a disguise with intent, according to Insp. David Hennick.
On that night, there’s a patron who attended the event with a Canadian flag attached to a hockey stick. Victoria stole that flag and ran waya from the individual,” Hennick told Global News about Wojciechowska’s alleged actions on Sept. 29, “At the time, she was masked wearing a scarf that was wrapped around her head.”
The owners of Soufi’s, a Syrian restaurant in Toronto, say the business was forced to close its doors after they received death threats and messages of hate connected to the reported involvement of their son in the Hamilton protest.
The messages directed at the al-Soufi family’s Queen West restaurant reportedly started after social media posts alleged the owners’ 27-year-old son was one of the protesters blocking the elderly woman and her companion from entering the PPC 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,” read a statement issued by the al-Soufi family on Oct. 1.
The al-Soufis later decided to reopen their restaurant after getting a helping hand from Canadian restaurateur Mohamad Fakih.
Hamilton police Chief Eric Girt told Global News more arrests are expected as detectives investigate two other incidents that took place during the protests.
“We’re still looking to identify a male victim who was assaulted by a male suspect while videotaping the event on his cellphone, and the second was a female victim was assaulted when a male suspect knocked her hat from her head,” said Girt. “The suspects have been identified, but we generally need a victim to proceed with charges.”