Toronto,An 11-year-old Muslim girl who told police she was attacked twice by a man who snuck up behind her and cut her hijab while she walked to school, told reporters the man smiled at her before running away.
“All that he did was smile. He smiled and ran away,” Khawlah Noman said.
The grade six student at Pauline Johnson Junior Public School recounted how she screamed, causing him to run off.She told police she was first attacked as she walked with her brother along Birchmount Road around 8:30 a.m. She felt someone behind her pull the hood of her winter jacket down and when she turned around and the man ran off. Khawlah and her brother decided to cross the road and walk with a bigger group of people. She told police the man struck again when she and her brother were held back from the group at a stoplight.
The blue hijab she was wearing was cut about 12 inches, the girl’s mother said. Khawlah said she noticed the scissors the suspect was carrying had a blue handle.
Talking to reporters through tears, Khawlah’s mother said she has lived in Canada for 25 years and has always felt safe in the community.
“I’m just happy she’s safe. The community, the school, everyone’s been so supportive,” said Saima Samad. “I don’t know why he did that. It’s just not Canada. I’m so proud to be a Canadian and I feel safe in this community. It’s not right and he should get help. This is not who we are.”
When Khawlah was asked what she would say to the man if she had a chance, she said, “I think what you’re doing is wrong. You should not act like this.”
The little girl’s younger brother said he saw the man pull off the hood of her sister’s jacket.
“I saw my sister and she was frightened and I was more frightened because I didn’t know if she was injured or if he was going to hurt her,” Mohammad Zakariya said.
The kids told the principal what happened when they arrived at school. Police were called to the scene by 9:15 a.m.
Toronto police say it’s too early to determine if the motivation behind the alleged attack is a hate crime but that officers are canvassing the neighbourhood for footage from surveillance cameras and people who may have witnessed the confrontation.
“The weather isn’t the best so it’s going to take time to locate video footage and review that video footage,” said Toronto police spokesperson Const. Jenifferjit Sidhu.
Sidhu called the girl’s actions “brave and smart.”
“The girl was brave enough to confront the man, make some noise and then proceed to walk with a bunch of other kids realizing there’s safety in numbers,” she said.
A spokesperson for the Toronto District School Board said the school where the student belongs is multicultural and inclusive.
“This school lives inclusiveness,” she said. “For something to happen to one of our kids here, it’s all the more piercing in the heart. “It’s one thing to assault an adult, which is never acceptable, but for this to happen to a child – I can’t tell you how horrified we all are.”
The school has brought in social workers for the children to speak with, if they wish to do so.
In the meantime, police are looking for information about a suspect who is described as a black-haired Asian male in his 20s who was sporting a moustache. He has a medium build, is between five-foot-eight and six-feet tall.
He was last seen wearing glasses, a black hoodie and black pants.Toronto Mayor John Tory said he was “shocked and appalled” by the incident.
“No child should ever be afraid walking to school in Toronto because of what they are wearing or for any other reason and I want to assure the family that Toronto Police are investigating. Anyone who can help with further information should contact Toronto Police or Crime Stoppers. I join with all Toronto residents in standing up to such an act of hatred. Intolerance and hate of any kind, including Islamophobia, has no place in our city, our province, or our country.”
Speaking at his cabinet’s retreat in London, Ont., Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the incident “troubling.”
“My heart goes out to the young girl who was attacked, seemingly for her religion. I can’t imagine how afraid she must have been,” Trudeau said. “I want her and her family and her friends and community that that is not what Canada is and that is not who Canadians are.”