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Toronto Syrian restaurant shuts down, citing hateful messages and death threats

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TORONTO — A popular Toronto Syrian restaurant run by recent arrivals to Canada is closing after the owners say staff members began fielding hateful messages and death threats.

The owners of Soufi’s in the city’s downtown core issued a social media post Tuesday morning, saying the decision was made with the safety of their family and staff in mind.

The restaurant had recently earned a national profile after a member of the owner’s family reportedly attended a protest against an event in Hamilton featuring People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier.

Several media reports say a now-deleted Facebook post indicated the owner’s son had attended last month’s demonstration, and that he regrets not stepping aside or intervening when an elderly woman was blocked from entering the event and verbally harassed.

Prior to this, Soufi’s had become a popular destination in Toronto and had even been profiled in the New York Times as a success story related to Canada’s acceptance of Syrian refugees.

Toronto police say a member of the restaurant’s staff had previously reached out about filing a criminal complaint, but no such report was ever completed.

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

The post said the family hopes to share more details about the events leading up to the closure once they feel safe enough to do so.

Toronto police Const. Rob Reid said the force received a call from a member of the family on Oct. 2, and the person indicated he wished to file a formal report about hate speech and threats.

Reid said no one was at the restaurant when officers attended the scene, and they have not been able to reconnect since.

“We’d really like him to call back so we can … make this report,” Reid said. “When these things live in the dark, we can’t shine any light on them.”

According to the New York Times profile, the business was operated by a mother, father and two children in their 20s. The elder of those children was the one owners claimed attended the Bernier event as a protester, according to media reports.

The demonstration became a lightning rod for criticism when video footage surfaced showing masked protesters blocking an elderly woman with a walker from entering the event at Hamilton’s Mohawk College.

City police say they’re actively investigating the events around the Sept. 29 appearance, but have not laid any charges.

The post announcing the closure of Soufi’s praised what had until recently been a warm and welcoming reception for the restaurant and its owners.

“Since we opened up Soufi’s in 2017, we have been met with nothing but curiosity, respect, acceptance and love from the people of Toronto, and for that we are eternally grateful,” the post reads. “We will cherish the countless memories of us sharing stories, food, music and laughter.”

Members of the Alsoufi family did not respond to a request for comment from The Canadian Press on Tuesday.

This story from the Canadian Press was first published on Oct. 8, 2019

 

 

 

Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press

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Frantic final push for votes marks final day of divisive campaign

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OTTAWA — The contenders in Monday’s federal election spent the last day of the campaign calling for voters to unite behind their parties amid accusations of dirty politicking and outright lying.

From when Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau fired the starting gun on the campaign on Sept. 11, voters have heard a mix of policy promises and warnings about dire consequences from each party leader if he or she doesn’t come out on top.

The close of what many leaders said was a divisive campaign played out Sunday in one final, frantic barrage of sales pitches in and around Vancouver, where a host of seats are up for grabs.

Trudeau called on voters to swing behind the Liberals, warning of cuts to services if the Conservatives take power.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer warned of federal spending that leads to crippling national debt if the Liberals win a minority and are propped up by the New Democrats.

Jagmeet Singh called on voters to give his NDP a chance, while Green Leader Elizabeth May made a promise of electoral reform alongside a vow to mandate honesty from parties during future campaigns.

“I didn’t think that this election would be so marred by dishonesty,” May said during a morning event.

“Now all the media is covering this now, that this was a dirty election and that people lied — the Conservatives lied about the Liberals, the Liberals lied about the Conservatives, the NDP continue to lie about the Greens. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to endure.”

Polls heading into Monday’s vote suggest a deeply divided electorate after a campaign marked by revelations that Trudeau repeatedly wore blackface more than a decade ago; Scheer’s dual citizenship with the United States and iffy credentials as an insurance broker; and questions about the federal role in a legal challenge to Quebec’s secularism law, known as Bill 21, that is popular in the province but highly controversial.

While four leaders were on the West Coast, Scheer and Trudeau appealed, too, to vote-rich Quebec in the hopes of staunching any bleeding of support to the Bloc Quebecois, whose surge in recent polls has been one of the key surprises of the campaign.

On Saturday night, party leader Yves-Francois Blanchet rallied supporters by talking about the environment, but also talking about his party’s revival with a reference to sovereignty as a possibility one day.

Trudeau warned Blanchet’s “No. 1 priority is separation” — not fighting climate change or “even to stop Conservative cuts” — and returning the countries to debates thought dormant, as part of a message to Quebec voters to support the Liberals.

Not long after, Scheer said Blanchet’s “priority is to work towards another referendum,” in making the case for Quebecers to vote Conservative.

Blanchet, in Quebec, said separation is not a priority for his party now, nor is a referendum on the matter imminent, and said Trudeau was “purposefully lying” to Quebecers — comments he made before Scheer spoke in Vancouver’s Stanley Park.

“We thought that Mr. Trudeau was offering a clean campaign. This is over now. Now he is lying,” Blanchet told reporters.

“If he listened to what I said yesterday, he obviously noticed that I said even if I do personally believe — and that’s a surprise for nobody — that one day, at a time of their choice and in a manner of their own choosing, Quebecers might consider again giving themselves a country, in the meantime, I understand that this is not our mandate.”

May was also heavily critical of what she called “dirty smears” from other parties, and the New Democrats in particular, after a heated war of words with NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh over abortion.  

She said she believed she had a good relationship with Singh — May decided not to run a Green candidate in a byelection that gave the NDP leader a seat in the House of Commons earlier this year — but that now appears to be in tatters.

Singh, before mainstreeting in Vancouver and Surrey, B.C., said he had no regrets about the campaign.

Any divisions in the country are a result of economic insecurity, exacerbated by the policies of successive Conservative and Liberal governments, Singh said. The NDP leader suggested his party’s platform commitments would bridge any divides when asked about specific actions he would take to bring the country together if he becomes prime minister.

“All these worries and fears create division, or worries and fears allow others to come in and to divide us based on things that are not the reason for the problems,” he said.

“I believe we can build a unified country if people see justice in their lives, if they see affordability in their lives, if they see child care and a health-care system and housing that is affordable that is there for them.”

Meanwhile, People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier wrapped up his campaign in his Quebec riding of Beauce, defending his own seat.

He is scheduled to vote mid-morning in his riding — just as millions of Canadians will do Monday.

This report by the Canadian Press was first published Oct. 20, 2019.

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press

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Greta Thunberg meets with First Nations chief in Fort McMurray

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FORT MCMURRAY, Alta. — The chief of a northern Alberta First Nation says he gave climate activist Greta Thunberg a message during a quietly arranged meeting in Fort McMurray on Friday night.

Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam says he told the 16-year-old Swede that Europeans are major investors in the area’s oilsands, and she needs to get people to lobby those investors for greener technology to extract Alberta energy.

Adam says the meeting in a Fort McMurray office was arranged earlier this week, and was kept secret in order to prevent pro-oilsands campaigners from disrupting it.

Thunberg was in Edmonton earlier Friday for a rally at the Alberta legislature that drew thousands of people, but also attracted a small counter-rally of trucks that drove past, blasting their horns.

Thunberg has turned her protest against climate change into a global movement that has seen her speak plainly to world leaders and forums, chastising them to do something before it’s too late to reverse catastrophic weather changes.

Adam says it was a privilege to meet with Thunberg, and says she mostly just listened to him talk about the history of First Nations in the area and their concerns about oilsands development.

“You have to go back to Europe and you have to tell the European investors, why are you investing in the oilsands if you want to promote green energy?” Adam said he told Thunberg.

“Tell them to invest in better technologies to enhance how to produce oil from the oilsands,” he added.

“That’s what you call sustainable development.”

United Conservative Premier Jason Kenney had said he hoped Thunberg would recognize efforts made by Alberta’s oil and gas industry to reduce its emissions, but said he had no plans to meet with her.

Thunberg stayed away from any direct criticism of Alberta’s oilsands while in Edmonton on Friday.

Adam said Thunberg has now left the Fort McMurray area.

“I don’t know why the world is so scared of her. She stands about four feet tall and she’s probably, I’m guessing about 110 pounds, that’s about it,” Adam said, dismissing those who criticize Thunberg’s views because she’s young.

“We talk to our kids every day and sometimes our kids give us meaningful answers that we are looking for.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 19, 2019.

The Canadian Press

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october, 2019

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