Toronto Police Say Hijab-Cutting Incident Didn’t Happen, Investigation Closed

The Canadian Press, January 15, 2018

An 11-year-old girl’s claim that a scissors-wielding man approached her on the way to school and cut her hijab has turned out to be untrue, Toronto police said Monday as they closed their investigation into what was suspected to be a hate crime.

The alleged incident, which was reported on Friday, made international headlines and had drawn swift public condemnation from the prime minister, Ontario’s premier and Toronto’s mayor.

On Monday, police said their investigation concluded with no charges laid and no consequences for the girl.

“These allegations were extremely serious and not surprisingly, they received national and international attention,” police spokesman Mark Pugash said in an interview. “We investigated, we put together a significant amount of evidence and we came to the conclusion that what was described did not happen.”

Pugash said police don’t know how the story escalated and he’s not sure it’s their job to speculate why.

He stressed that it’s “very unusual” for someone to make false allegations of this type and said he hopes it will not discourage others from coming forward.

A Canadian Muslim organization expressed similar concerns, saying they feared others who experience hate crimes may be reluctant to report them out of worry that they will not be believed.

Safwan Choudhry, spokesman for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at Canada, said it would also be naive to ignore the risk of potential backlash against the girl and her family as well as other Muslims in light of Monday’s news.

“While this incident has proven not to be true, we did all witness that just a couple years ago a Muslim mother was brutally beaten up in Toronto while she was dropping her kids off at school,” he said. In that alleged incident in 2015, police had said the woman was kicked and beaten and had her cellphone stolen by two males before she fled to a nearby school.

There was a dip in police-reported hate crimes targeting Muslims in 2016, with 139 reported, according to the latest data from Statistics Canada. That followed what the agency called a “notable increase” in such crimes the previous year.

Many of those who denounced the alleged hijab-cutting incident last week said Monday they were relieved it had not, in fact, taken place.

“I join all Ontarians in being thankful and relieved that this assault did not take place,” Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said, thanking police for their work in the matter.

Toronto Mayor John Tory defended his decision to speak out, saying in a statement that he would continue to do so “any time there are reports or allegations of hate or intolerance in our city.”

“In this case, Toronto Police have investigated and determined that the events described did not happen. It is good to know that this event didn’t happen,” he said. “We all must remain vigilant in the fight against hate, racism, bigotry, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia to make sure our city remains an inclusive place.”

The Toronto District School Board — which had pledged last week to offer support to the girl, her family and other students — said only that they were “very thankful that this assault did not in fact happen.”

The Grade 6 student had said she was walking to Pauline Johnson Junior Public School with her younger brother when a man came up behind her, pulled off her jacket hood, and started cutting the bottom of her hijab.

She had said the man ran off but returned a short time later and once again started cutting her hijab from behind. The girl said that when she turned to confront him, the man smiled and ran away.

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