TORONTO – Though relieved by the news that the attack on the 11-year-old Muslim girl was not true, Canadian Muslims voiced concerns that these fake reports might discourage others from coming forward.
“Hate crimes toward Muslim people are real,” Sabreena Ghaffar-Siddiqui, a researcher at Hamilton’s McMaster University who focuses on hate crimes against Canadian Muslims, told CBC.
“I have heard stories of Muslim girls having their hijab pulled off their head, pushed, thrown to the ground. These are real stories … and the reaction that we got from the government and leaders needs to still be there.”
Earlier reports claimed that an 11-year-old student at Pauline Johnson Junior Public School in Scarborough, Ont., was walking to school on Friday morning when a man approached her from behind and tried twice to cut off her hijab with a pair of scissors.
Her story captured national attention, and drew public condemnation from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Toronto Mayor John Tory.
However, Toronto police said Monday that the attack did not happen.
“After a detailed investigation, police have determined that the events described in the original news release did not happen,” police said.
“The investigation is concluded.”
Siddiqui said after hearing the news that the incident did not happen, she was concerned that it might eclipse real hate crimes.
Her thoughts were shared by Amira Elghawaby, a human rights advocate based in Ottawa, who said she was saddened to learn that the girl’s story was not true.
Elghawaby added that this incident will likely only serve to embolden “those who do hold discriminatory views of Muslims.”
She also stressed that, as an 11-year-old, “she probably doesn’t really understand the full implications of what she’s done” and deserves compassion from adults.
“Hindsight is 20/20 and I’m sure the police, and the school and everyone will be reviewing how this was addressed. And we, as community members, all we want to do is think about this young girl — give her support — we don’t want her to be vilified,” said Elghawaby.
She emphasized that the Muslim community does deal with “real issues of hate and discrimination too frequently in our society, and we must continue to address that.”
On the other hand, the prime minister of Canada said he was relieved that the incident hadn’t in fact taken place.
“We have seen an unfortunate pattern of increased hate crimes in past months directed towards religious minorities, particularly towards women,” PM Justin Trudeau said, calling such violence “a warning sign of increased intolerance.”
“We are a country that defends freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and people’s rights to go to school without being fearful or harassed,” he said.
“This is fundamental to who we are.”