Edmonton police are investigating after a woman wearing a hijab was assaulted Tuesday at the Southgate LRT station — the second high-profile attack in seven days against Muslim women wearing headscarves.
Both attacks were at Southgate Centre, at 51st Avenue and 111th Street. On Dec. 8, two women wearing hijabs were assaulted in the parking lot.
Premier Jason Kenney said on Twitter the Tuesday assault is “completely unacceptable, it is revolting, it is un-Albertan.”
Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson denounced the Tuesday and Dec. 8 assaults as “heartbreaking” and said the responsibility to condemn racially motivated behaviour “falls on all of us.”
A 32-year-old woman has been charged with assault with a weapon in Tuesday’s unprovoked attack at the mall’s LRT station, police Chief Dale McFee said Wednesday.
McFee said the victim — a 23-year-old Black woman — had just entered the southeast doors of the Southgate LRT station around 10:45 a.m. when she was accosted by a stranger.
The accused repeatedly tried to strike the victim in the head with a shopping bag while yelling racially-motivated obscenities at her, McFee said.
The victim ran away while the attacker tried to “thwart her escape,” McFee said. A transit peace officer at the scene intervened and called police.
Hate crimes unit investigating
The Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council received a letter from Edmonton police on Tuesday, confirming an investigation by the EPS hate crimes unit.
In the letter, which was obtained by CBC News, police said the attack “appears to be racially and hate-motivated.”
Rene Ladouceur, 32, is charged with assault with a weapon and nine outstanding warrants for unrelated charges.
In a statement issued Wednesday, police said the EPS Hate Crimes and Violent Extremism Unit is also recommending that Section 718.2 of the Criminal Code of Canada be applied in this case, allowing the courts to consider increased sentencing when there is evidence the offence was motivated by hatred.
McFee denounced the latest attack and said police are working with the victim and her family.
“It’s not something we ever want to see in our city,” he said. “This will now proceed before the courts and hopefully we’ll see this dealt with accordingly.
“These things will never will be acceptable and those who choose to do this to other members our community are going be held accountable.”
‘Happening out of hate’
Council president Faisal Khan Suri, president of the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council, said the council has also been in contact with the victim of Tuesday’s attack, and her family.
“The suspect had swung at the individual,” Suri said. “She kind of ducked out of the way, so she did not get hit. But there was … one or two tries, attempts to assault the individual.”
He said there has been a troubling rise in Islamophobia and racism in the city.
“They’re being targeted by their identity, what they show,” he said. “These are hijab-wearing women whose identity is very visible, and what is happening is happening out of hate.”
In the Dec. 8 incident at Southgate Centre, Edmonton police officers responded to an assault in progress in the parking lot around 3:40 p.m.
Officers were told that a man approached two Somali women wearing hijabs sitting in their vehicle and began yelling racially motivated obscenities at them.
Witnesses told police the man then punched the passenger-side window, shattering the glass. Fearing for her safety, the passenger ran from the vehicle and the man chased her, then pushed her to the ground and began assaulting her.
The second woman tried to help and was also shoved to the ground before bystanders intervened and stopped the attack.
Following an investigation by the Hate Crimes and Violent Extremism Unit, Richard Bradley Stevens, 41, was charged with two counts of assault and one count of mischief.
Police said the investigation into the Dec. 8 case is ongoing.
There’s definitely fear because this could be anyone’s daughter, sister, mother.– Faisal Khan Suri
In a statement on Facebook on Tuesday, the Muslim affairs council thanked the Edmonton Police Service for its “prompt action” in the latest investigation and urged community members to be vigilant of their personal safety.
Edmonton’s Muslim community is on edge, Suri said.
“These are a couple of utterly unprovoked incidences,” he said. “Unequivocally horrendous and horrific for anyone to experience.”
“There’s definitely fear because this could be anyone’s daughter, sister, mother.”
On Twitter, Kenney said it is “frustrating to see another instance of hate-motivated violence” in Edmonton.
“As the legal process takes place, we hope to see justice swiftly rendered for the victim of this crime,” the premier said.
During a news conference Wednesday, Iveson also denounced the attacks, describing them as heartbreaking and unacceptable.
“I condemn these assaults in the strongest terms,” he said.
“The responsibility to condemn racially motivated behaviour falls on all of us.”
The mayor said he remains confident that city police will deploy officers where they’re needed most.
He said the city remains committed to improving safety for commuters with added security officers, additional surveillance cameras and new crime reporting tools. But low ridership during the pandemic has brought added challenges, he said.
When the system was full, there was “natural accountability,” Iveson said.
“In addition to all of the cameras, you’d have literally the eyes of Edmontonians on each other. And that does create a certain amount of accountability and compliance.
“With so many fewer riders right now because of the situation, there is perhaps less citizen surveillance than there would normally be. And so with that comes greater pressure on our police officers.”
Iveson said the city will continue to work with community leaders in an attempt to confront racism in all its forms.
‘It is heartbreaking because it is not my idea of Canada and it is definitely not my idea of Edmonton. But that hatred does linger and fester in all communities and needs to be called out for what it is.”