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Accused in alleged south London Costco parking lot assault says he’s not Islamophobic

The Costco store in south London, Ont. Google Maps

The man accused in a recent alleged assault in a south London, Ont., Costco parking lot says he was not being Islamophobic when he told a family to go back to their country, but one of those on the receiving end of the comment disagrees.

According to a police report on the incident, officers were contacted at around 10:30 a.m. on Nov. 28 about a disturbance in the south end Costco parking lot, located at the corner of Wellington Road South and Roxburgh Road.

Read more: Assault charge laid in alleged Islamophobic attack in south London Costco parking lot

The victim was seated in a vehicle in the parking lot when a man exited his own vehicle and approached the victim, according to police.

Police say the man allegedly struck the victim’s vehicle and then opened the vehicle’s door before a “verbal and physical altercation ensued.”

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The man then got back into his vehicle and drove off. Police say the victim did not sustain any physical injuries nor was there any damage to the victim’s vehicle.

Hours after the incident, Nawaz Tahir, a lawyer and prominent member of London’s Muslim community, posted on Twitter that his father was the victim.

Tahir said that while he was not present during the incident, “multiple witnesses heard the assailant yell ‘go back to your f’ing country.'”

In a widely-circulated Twitter thread, Tahir said he was concerned that police were not treating it as a hate crime nor were they proceeding with assault charges “because when my brother in law finally parked the car, my father got out of the car… and responded to the ongoing verbal tirade by putting up his fists.”

Two days later, police announced that David Phillip Lavoie, 57, of London had been charged with assault.

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“I am saddened and rocked to the core that I was painted a racist and that a simple parking lot argument got out of hand and became someone else’s agenda,” Lavoie told Global News.

Lavoie says he was misinterpreted during the incident, adding that his comment toward Tahir’s family stemmed from the Michigan licence plates he saw on their vehicle.

“These individuals, I believed, were rude Americans that I wanted to go back to the United States, which I believed was their country … I try not to see colour, I see actions,” Lavoie said.

Lavoie says he’s especially disheartened by how he’s being portrayed because he’s faced discrimination in the past as an Indigenous man and as a veteran.

The 57-year-old adds that through his career as a social worker, he’s fought to help fellow veterans and those with trauma avoid discrimination.

“To work your whole life for this and then someone label you a racist, and be associated with a terrorist act, it’s really sad and it’s not responsible reporting,” Lavoie said.

David Lavoie, 57, says he’s been wrongly portrayed in the news that followed the alleged assault on Nov. 28. Supplied by Phillip Millar

Lavoie says he’s had to take down social media pages, resign from service clubs and organizations and cancel employment contracts due to backlash he received from the news of the alleged assault.

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He also believes police only laid the charge because of public pressure, something that his lawyer Phillip Millar wants investigated to determine whether or not it’s true.

“We wanted to shed some light on it because to go to trial would take nine months to clear this guy’s name and have his story heard,” Millar said.

“I’d like to see (Nawaz Tahir) issue an apology because he didn’t have all the facts and he took advantage of a media appetite for an easy story and he’s hurt somebody.”

When asked if the charge was laid because of public pressure, a spokesperson for London police told Global News in an email, “we are unable to speak to the matter as it is currently before the courts.”

Read more: Muslim leaders call for Ontario to tackle Islamophobia

Dr. Rubina Tahir, Nawaz’s sister, is one of three people who sat inside what police referred to as the victim’s vehicle. She sat inside with her husband and her father. While she confirms the vehicle had Michigan license plates, she disagrees that Lavoie was misinterpreted.

“I know what I heard and I can tell you that I heard a visibly irate man tell us to go back to our f’ing country, and nothing about America or the United States,” Rubina Tahir told Global News.

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She describes the incident as a horrible experience and says it was really scary to be on the receiving end of those words.

“He had a choice,” she said, adding that nothing Lavoie says after the fact can change how it made her and her family feel.

“You can’t make this sound better, that’s where I’m coming from and that’s what I want people to know. There is no way that you can make ‘go back to your f’ing country,’ sound better,” Rubina Tahir said.

Read more: ‘Not feeling safe’: Muslim Canadians want politicians to take more action on Islamophobia

She says her family brought the experience into the public eye because they wanted the justice system to take it seriously.

She hopes their willingness to talk with media will encourage others to speak up “when or if they see this happening to someone else.”

“Actions have consequences, and I really believe that to be true, and that’s why he was charged with assault, he’ll have his day in court and we’ll let the justice system decide,” she added.

“Do I feel that there was a real apology? Do I feel a great sense of remorse from him? I can’t confidently say that I do.”

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Lavoie has not reached out to the Tahir family privately about the matter, but he told Global News that he would “be open to anything to resolve it and to let them understand that in no way or form, as an Indigenous veteran social worker, that I meant any of my comments in a racist way.”

Lavoie is scheduled to make a first court appearance on the matter on Feb. 16, 2022.

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