The son of the owners of a Toronto restaurant was one of four arrested in relation to a protest at a People’s Party of Canada (PPC) event that led his family’s restaurant to temporarily close after it received a number of death threats.
Hamilton Police said in a statement Wednesday that Alaa Al-Soufi, Kevin Metcalf, Maximiliano Herrera and Victoria Wojciechowska were arrested on charges related to a protest that took place at a PPC fundraiser late last month in Hamilton. Mr. Al-Soufi was charged with two counts of intimidation, two counts of disguise with intent and one count of causing a disturbance. Mr. Metcalf, Mr. Herrera and Ms. Wojciechowska were charged with a number of offenses, including theft under $5,000, assault and obstruction of police.
A video of three protesters blocking 81-year-old Dorothy Marston from entering the event went viral, racking up over seven million views on Twitter. Mr. Al-Soufi was soon outed as one of the protesters who prevented Ms. Marston from entering Mohawk College, where PPC Leader Maxime Bernier was set to speak. Mr. Al-Soufi’s family received a number of death threats and the 27-year-old was allegedly assaulted as a result of the incident, leading the family to shutter Soufi’s, the Syrian restaurant it owns in Toronto, earlier this month.
In an interview, Inspector David Hennick of the Hamilton Police confirmed Mr. Al-Soufi turned himself into police and was charged in relation to the incident captured on video. He also said police were looking for a person whose hat was allegedly knocked off their head by Mr. Al-Soufi. If that person is found, Insp. Hennick said, Mr. Al-Soufi would likely receive an additional charge of assault.
Loren Sabsay, Mr. Al-Soufi’s lawyer, said that he and his client are not yet sure how they will proceed, given that Mr. Al-Soufi was only arrested Wednesday morning.
“We’ve yet to see any evidence at all,” Mr. Sabsay said. “So it is way too early to be able to say what our approach is going to be to these charges.”
The altercation between Ms. Marston and the three protesters sparked widespread controversy, prompting Mr. Bernier himself to weigh in on Twitter, calling those who protested his fundraiser “thugs.” The Al-Soufi family posted a statement of its own on its business’s Facebook account, and wrote that “Alaa regrets that he did not step aside and/or stand up against the act of verbal abuse that occurred against [Ms. Marston], and would love the opportunity to personally extend his apologies to her.” The post has since been deleted.
Ms. Marston’s son, David Turkoski, told The Globe and Mail he is pleased with Mr. Al-Soufi’s arrest.
“[The arrest] is wonderful for free speech and democracy,” said Mr. Turkoski, adding that the arrest made it clear that individuals shouldn’t be prevented from attending speeches, regardless of their political stripe.
Mr. Turkoski has reconciled with the Al-Soufi family since the incident. On Oct. 12, two weeks after the protest, he posted a picture on Twitter of himself with Mr. Al-Soufi’s parents. “What a wonderful privilege and honour it was to meet the Mr. and Mrs. Soufi,” Mr. Turkoski wrote. “Reason and tolerance without screaming and fear is what we need.”
He said his relationship with the Al-Soufi family does not affect his opinion of Mr. Al-Soufi’s arrest. “I feel really bad for his parents and family. They’re really wonderful people. But it’s one of those things where, if you look at it, you know that cannot be really condoned.”
Soufi’s closing led to an outpouring of support for the restaurant on social media. Following an announcement from Paramount Fine Foods chief executive Mohamad Fakih that he would help Soufi’s get back on its feet, the restaurant reopened less than a week after it had closed.