Family member of Somali women attacked outside Southgate Centre says they feared for their lives

Click to play video: 'Southgate Centre attack victims’ family speaks about hate-fuelled crime' Southgate Centre attack victims’ family speaks about hate-fuelled crime
The daughter and sister of the two women attacked in the parking lot of Southgate Centre is speaking out about her family's ongoing struggle. Sarah Ryan reports – Jan 6, 2021

A family member of two Somali women who were attacked in a mall parking lot says they thought they were going to be killed.

The woman, who was part of an online news conference Wednesday by the National Council of Canadian Muslims, said she was speaking anonymously because she’s concerned about her family’s safety.

“I am the daughter of one of the victims of this brutal attack and the sister of the other,” she told the news conference.

“As racism and Islamophobia increases here in Alberta and across the whole of Canada and in various parts of the world, we are taking every possible precaution to protect the dignity and well-being of my family.”

Read more: Edmonton police charge man after ‘hate-motivated’ attack outside Southgate Centre

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Police have said two women wearing hijabs were sitting in a car in the lot at Southgate Mall in Edmonton on Dec. 8 when a man came up to the passenger side and began screaming. They said the man shattered a window, then chased and knocked the passenger to the ground as she tried to run away.

The second woman tried to help, but she was also pushed to the ground as she tried to stop the assault.

The family member said she believes she almost lost her mother and sister that day.

“While I am full of gratitude that they are here with us today, we all bear scars from this horrific day that we’ll carry with us forever,” she said.

The woman said she wanted people to know more about her mother and sister.

“The two Black Canadian Muslim women … are strong and powerful and brave survivors,” she said, noting her family has lived in Alberta for generations and always felt at home.

“We never questioned whether we belonged here until the day of this vicious attack.”

Click to play video: '2 women recovering after hate-motivated attack in Southgate Centre parking lot' 2 women recovering after hate-motivated attack in Southgate Centre parking lot
2 women recovering after hate-motivated attack in Southgate Centre parking lot – Dec 10, 2020

The woman said her mother and sister were met with extreme violence and hate when they were attacked by two suspects who she believes were motivated by Islamophobia and racism.

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“The verbal abuse and racial slurs used during this incident only compounds the extreme trauma and isolation that this incident has caused my family,” she said. Some of those slurs, she noted, were: “You don’t belong here, go back to your country and I’m going to kill you.”

The woman said her mother, who is the strongest woman she knows, had her hijab forcibly removed and could only beg and plead for help as she was being attacked.

“These men threatened the lives and safety of my mother and my sister for being visibly Black and visibly Muslim,” she said. “They shattered the illusion of our safety and made us feel like strangers in the only place we have ever known.”

Her sister, she added, said her attacker had hatred in his eyes.

“His physical action and aggression made her believe he was going to kill them both.”

Read more: Woman charged following ‘hate-motivated’ attack at Southgate LRT Station

Richard Bradley Stevens, 41, has been charged with two counts of assault and one count of mischief in the attack.

Police said Wednesday there was a second man at the scene, but there was no evidence to lay charges.

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“They interviewed all witnesses and reviewed all available surveillance footage of the Dec. 8 incident,” said a statement. “It was determined that there is no evidence to support laying charges against a second individual in this disturbing incident.”

Police have encouraged anyone who has more information to report it.

Alberta NDP Critic for Multiculturalism Jasvir Deol released a statement Wednesday that said there is no room to ignore the fight against racism.

“These attacks have left lasting scars and have deeply affected the victims who, like all of us, are also struggling during the COVID-19 pandemic. My heart goes out to each of them and I renew my commitment to fighting against racism on every front, and at all times,” Deol said.

“Even as we do all we can to fight this pandemic, we cannot lose sight of this issue as a province and as individuals.”

Sameha Omer, who is the council’s director of legal affairs, said the problem hasn’t be solved by the charges.

“We ignore the existence of white supremacists and Islamophobes at our peril,” said Omer, who added that attacks will happen as long as there isn’t action to prevent extremist groups from operating.

The council is asking municipal and provincial politicians to form a plan to stop street harassment and end racist violence in Alberta. It wants white supremacist groups dismantled and is urging Canadians to donate to victims of such violence.

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“There is no place for such intolerance and hate in our communities,” said Omer. “Now more than ever we need to take a stand.”

With files from Global News.

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