Toronto police have charged a 28-year-old man after he allegedly assaulted worshippers at a mosque, attacked a taxi driver and sprayed a hijab-wearing woman with an unknown substance.
Described by police and community leaders as a series of hate-motivated attacks, the incidents took place in multiple downtown locations, with the latest occurring at the Toronto Islamic Centre mosque on the weekend.
The incidents come amid a noticeable increase in hate-related events that appear to be connected to tensions aggravated by the Israel-Hamas war.
Around 6:30 a.m. on Saturday, as worshippers had gathered for morning prayers, police say a man approached people standing outside the mosque in the Yonge Street and Davenport Road area. He allegedly threw rocks at the people and yelled derogatory slurs, assaulting one of them with a bike chain. One of the victims sustained minor injuries, police said.
Shaffni Nalir, general manager of the Toronto Islamic Centre, said the man also attempted to vandalize the mosque and smash its windows.
“He uttered many Islamophobic slurs and threats, calling us Muslim terrorists, and how he wanted to kill us all,” Mr. Nalir recalled. “It was terrifying.”
Five or so worshippers had to hold down the man until police arrived, Mr. Nalir said. “Had it not been for the traffic cop who happened to be patrolling the area, we might have lost the man and there might never have been an arrest.”
Earlier in the week, police say the same suspect had been involved with two separate hate-motivated crimes.
On Wednesday, just before 4:30 a.m., a man was driving a taxi downtown near the Front and Yonge Streets area when he was attacked. The cab driver had rolled down his window to ask if the individual wanted a ride, prompting the suspect to ask if the driver was Muslim. The driver was then sprayed in the face with an unknown substance, police said.
A few hours later, a woman was walking downtown around Fort York Boulevard and Spadina Avenue when a man approached her. She was wearing a hijab. The man started making derogatory remarks before he sprayed her with an unknown substance and fled the scene, police said. The woman was transported to hospital for her injuries.
Chandler Marshall, 28, has been arrested and was scheduled to appear in court on Monday. He is facing 17 counts of assault-related charges.
Muslim and Jewish communities have become increasingly fearful in the weeks following Oct. 7, when the militant group Hamas carried out deadly attacks on southern Israel, leading to retaliatory strikes and a siege of the Gaza Strip by the Israeli government.
“Our communities have truly never seen anything like this,” said Steven Zhou, spokesperson for the National Council of Canadian Muslims, an advocacy group that has been inundated with calls about hate-related incidents since last month.
“The reality is this is not the first time we’ve seen Islamophobia at our mosque,” Mr. Nalir said. “As we work to ensure the safety of the worshippers, we also want to see people call out this type of hate when they see it. And that includes our politicians and leaders.”
Antisemitic attacks have also risen significantly, with police increasing their presence at places of worship and other targeted locations. Earlier this month, two empty Jewish schools in Montreal were hit by gunfire. And on the weekend, in Toronto, police charged a woman who allegedly vandalized a Starbucks in a Jewish neighbourhood.