Toronto restaurant closes after death threats arise from relative’s involvement in Bernier protest

A Syrian family says it is shutting down its Toronto restaurant after receiving death threats, a week after a relative was involved in a protest at a Maxime Bernier speaking event in Hamilton where a senior was blocked from entering.

The Alsoufi family, owners of Soufi’s located on Queen Street West near Tecumseth Street, posted on Instagram on Tuesday, saying the restaurant is shutting down for good.

“As a result of numerous hate messages & death threats we’ve received over the past week, we’ve decided to permanently close our shop,” the message said. “Our decision is made with a heavy heart in effort to maintain our family and staff’s safety.”

The post’s caption said, “Please know that we do not wish to hide or conceal the events that led to these threats, and wish to address the claims and information shared by certain media groups in the near future, once it’s safe for us to do so.”

The restaurant ended up embroiled in controversy after a family member was involved in a protest outside a speaking event for the People’s Party of Canada leader in Hamilton on Sept. 29.

Some protesters attempted to prevent people from entering the building and one video, which was widely shared among Bernier supporters, shows several protesters, one masked, blocking the path of 81-year-old Dorothy Martson and her husband.

“They were in a lineup … and treating me like I’m a criminal,” she said, during a previous interview at the Hamilton-area retirement residence where she lives.

Protesters attempting to prevent people from entering an event for People’s Party Leader Maxime Bernier block the path of an elderly woman, yelling at her and her companion. 0:24

A large crowd of protesters decrying the event stood outside with signs advocating for immigrant rights and yelling chants denouncing those entering, comparing them to Nazis and neo-Nazis. Supporters of the People’s Party — some wearing “Make America Great Again” hats — stood behind police and verbally engaged with some of the protesters for about an hour.

A scuffle occurred in the crowd of around 100 about half an hour before the event at Hamilton’s Mohawk College was scheduled to start. Two men from opposing sides of the protests were led away in handcuffs by police.

In a Facebook post last week, the restaurant identified one of the people who blocked Marston’s way as a man named “Alaa,” seeming to indicate he was a family member.

“We would like to formally apologize for the unfortunate incident that occurred with the elderly woman,” the statement from the Alsoufi family reads. “Alaa regrets that he did not step aside and/or stand up against the act of verbal abuse.”

A peaceful protest outside an event for Maxime Bernier turned violent Sunday evening as supporters of the People’s Party of Canada began to arrive and enter the venue. 0:36

The Facebook post said the family is “extremely lucky and grateful” to be in Canada and respect people’s opinions, but they “kindly ask that people refrain from sending abusive and/or threatening messages to our staff and family members.”

The restaurant’s Facebook page has since been deleted. CBC News has reached out to the owners for comment.

In the Instagram post, the restaurant owners said that since opening in 2017, they had “been met with nothing but curiosity, respect, acceptance and love from the people of Toronto, and for that we are eternally grateful.

“We will cherish the countless memories of us sharing stories, food, music and laughter.”

adam.carter@cbc.ca

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