Canadian 'social experiment' in wake of Ottawa attack gets fake racist punched in the face

Matt Coutts
Daily Brew

An Ontario university student learned the hard was that social science experiments can get messy, and if you act like a racist in Hamilton, Ont., you’re liable to get punched in the face.

A group of Ontario university students trying to prove that not all Canadians were Islamophobic following the shooting death of Nathan Cirillo appear to have made their point, after one of them was attacked while pretending to harass a friend who was dressed in a traditional Muslim gown.

In a video shot in downtown Hamilton, Ont., the student approached the Muslim and told him he couldn’t get on a bus dressed like a terrorist. In four separate instances, bystanders stepped in and defended the victim.

The “social experiment” was recorded on video and posted to YouTube on Monday. It has already been viewed more than 410,000 times.

Filmmaker Omar Albach says the purpose of the video was to “see if people feel safe around Muslims or people who look like Muslims” after the events that happened in Ottawa.

In the video, a Caucasian man, named Devin, approaches a his friend dressed in traditional Muslim garb at various bus stops and tells him he can’t get on the bus dressed like a terrorist.

In each case, bystanders who are not aware the conflict has been staged step in and stop Devin from harassing the victim.

“You can’t stereotype and judge people by their clothes or their nationalities or anything else,” one man says.

In another case, a woman tells him he can’t treat people poorly and use the Ottawa attack as an excuse. “It was awful and tragic, but I don’t think that’s any reason to persecute someone just because of what they are wearing,” she says.

In a third case, a man wearing a toque and lumberjack shirt says the victim is a friend of his.

"You want to take responsibility for his actions?" Devin asks. The man responds, "Yes I do want to take responsibility for his actions."

A short time later, another man jumps in and punches Devin in the face.

"This social experiment had a negative ending to it, but you know what it is positive because he stood up for him, and I appreciate that," Devin said to conclude the video.

Albach, the York University student behind the video, told CBC News that he and his friends did not expect the experiment to go that far.

“We never expected that,” Albach said. “I was standing there filming and just went ‘did he just get punched?’”

Tensions have been high across Canada since Michael Zehaf-Bibeau shot and killed Cirillo while he was standing guard outside Ottawa’s National War Memorial last week, before storming Parliament Hill.

Muslim communities across Canada have reported an increase it attacks and insults.

The campaign of at least one Muslim Toronto council candidate was subjected to racist insults, with her campaign signs being vandalized and her being told to, “Go back home.”

A mosque in Cold Lake, Alta., was also vandalized. Windows were smashed and threats were painted on the walls.

That community, however, rallied in the wake of the attack and cleaned up the mosque, replacing the hateful scrawlings with messages of peace and inclusion.

It is that message of respect and community that Albach and his team were trying to document in Hamilton. He said they didn’t come across a single instance where the racist behaviour was supported.

The Hamilton social experiment has received international attention in recent days, with CNN, the Washington Post and several British news agencies documenting the incident.

Punching someone in the face shouldn’t be celebrated under any circumstance, but it certainly helped prove Albach’s point.