'Could have been me': Somali community reacts to hate-motivated attack outside Edmonton mall
EDMONTON -- Edmonton police are calling the assault of two Somali women in the Southgate Centre parking lot a "hate-motivated" crime and have charged a local man who police know.
Richard Bradley Stevens, 41, is accused of approaching and yelling racial obscenities at the woman and her adult daughter on Tuesday, who were sitting in their vehicle. They were both wearing hijabs, a type of head covering worn by some Muslim women in public.
Witnesses reported he punched and broke through the passenger window, prompting the woman in that seat to run away.
He chased her, pushed her to the ground, and assaulted her, they said, then attacked the second woman who tried to help.
"Somebody's worst fears did come true yesterday," said Maryama, a Muslim woman who CTV News Edmonton agreed to only identify by first name.
While the violence at Southgate is perhaps uncommon, the hate behind it is not, say some in her community.
"When I see another person wearing a headscarf across the room, there's a sense of comradery and sisterhood. And I feel like when something bad happens, it's the same thing, right?
"That could have been me or that could have been my sister."
According to Sgt. Gary Willits of the Edmonton Police Services' Hate Crimes and Violent Extremism Unit, the Southgate attack was "completely unprovoked."
Stevens faces two counts of assault and one count of mischief. He is known by police, but not in the hate crimes department, the sergeant told CTV News Edmonton.
"We have not seen anything else in his past related to racial incidents or events. So this is the first."
Willits said because the women were targeted because of their race, the attack meets the definition of a "hate-motivated crime" and police are using Section 718.2 of the Criminal Code of Canada so that the courts may consider increased sentencing.
Officers, however, are not charging Stevens with a hate crime because "they're very limited within the Criminal Code," Deputy Chief Kevin Brezinski explained on Thursday.
That frustrates Maryama.
"They're doing the best they can with what they have, but I think that's something that needs to be looked at."
So does the larger picture, a MacEwan University sociology professor believes.
"It could cause people to think, 'Yes, we're taking steps in the right direction' – as if the step is all in the criminal justice system," Kalyani Thurairajah commented.
"And we all know that that is not where the solutions lie."
'THEY THOUGHT THEY WERE GOING TO DIE'
Willits said the complainants were extremely rattled still the next day.
"It happened during daylight… This person attacked their vehicle, attacked them," he told CTV News Edmonton.
"They were fearful. They thought they were going to die. And it just kept escalating."
The victims asked for privacy and requested anonimity, their lawyer told CTV News Edmonton in a statement.
Al Rashid Mosque said its members were praying for the victims.
In a statement, the mosque said it was "angry that our incredible city has been disparaged by an ugly act of racially motivated violence."
"We know that there are groups operating in Alberta that espouse Islamophobic ideas and are threatening visible minotiries. We cannot tolerate or allow hate to overcome our society and we expect EPS and the criminal code to thwart such groups and individuals."
Police Chief Dale McFee promised similar behaviour would not be tolerated.
"The message is quite simple: It has to stop. It's not acceptable. It never has been acceptable. But more importantly how this isn't the way we treat people in the city of Edmonton and if you do, you're going to be charged."
He also praised the citizens who intervened and, according to investigators, held the man at the scene until police arrived.
However, Willits called it tough to know what to do as a bystander witnessing a crime.
"We don't want to see people put themselves in harm's way. At the same time, if there's an opportunity where you can render aid and help that person, by all means you gotta find that balance yourself."
With files from CTV News Edmonton's Carlyle Fiset