WARNING: This story contains details readers may find distressing.
Members of Hamilton's Downtown Mosque are "gravely concerned" for the family of Imam Kamal Gurgi, as police investigate what they're calling a hate crime against a Muslim woman and her adult daughter.
"We are gravely concerned for the safety of our Imam's family and the whole community in light of continuing social media threats," the mosque's president, Murshid Abdallah, said in a statement released late Monday night.
A 40-year-old man was arrested Tuesday afternoon.
Police say the mother, 62, and daughter, 26, were walking through a parking lot in the Ancaster Meadowlands area around 9:30 p.m. ET Monday when they were almost hit by a vehicle pulling out of a parking spot.
The driver uttered death threats toward the mother and daughter while using racist slurs targeting the Muslim community, police say. When the mother and daughter hid from the man in nearby bushes, he threatened to kill them when he found them, they add. He eventually drove away after bystanders heard one woman's cry for help and intervened.
Police have identified the 40-year-old as Vince Licata of Cambridge, Ont. He will appear in court on Thursday and remains in custody.
Licata faces charges of:
Assault with a weapon.
Dangerous operation of a motor vehicle.
Uttering death threats.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he is "deeply disturbed" by reports of a man uttering racial slurs and death threats at a Muslim woman and her daughter.
"I strongly condemn this violent, hateful, and abhorrent behaviour. It has no place in our country or any of our communities. We will continue to stand together and take action," Trudeau wrote online.
The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) said the women were wearing hijabs and shared a statement from the family saying they were "shaken but unbroken."
The family also compared, in a statement issued through NCCM, this incident to a recent attack in London, Ont., where four members of the same family were killed.
Talat Afzaal, her son Salman Afzaal, his wife Madiha Salman and the couple's 15-year-old daughter, Yumna, were killed at an intersection when a 20-year-old driver, who police said was motivated by hate, ran them over.
Hamilton 'has a hate problem:' councillor
Ward 3 Coun. Nrinder Nann, the only woman of colour on city council, called the incident "unacceptable."
"Hamilton, we have a hate problem. There is no denying it," she wrote on Twitter.
Yasmeen Mirza, assistant secretary at the Hamilton Mountain Mosque, said the community is grateful bystanders stepped up during the incident.
"This gives the community encouragement and assurance that we have allies in our community who are willing to stand united for values of inclusion, diversity and equity," she said in an email on Wednesday.
Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger tweeted his "most adamant objection to this blatant display of hate and Islamophobia in our city."
He added "hate has no place in Hamilton."
Police Chief Frank Bergen issued a statement saying he was offering his support and assurance to the community that officers will do all they can to keep the community safe.
"We continue to be outraged by these blatant acts of hatred," he said. "Left unchecked, we know hate crimes have a far-reaching impact on communities. Right now, Hamilton's Muslim community is feeling unsafe in the city."
Bergen thanked those who intervened for their courage, saying they demonstrated "the community [Hamilton] wants to be."
Any witnesses asked to contact police
The city has grappled with a reputation for hate.
Statistics Canada data show it had the country's highest per-capita rate of hate crimes in 2019, 2018, 2016 and 2014.
Local police logged only one hate incident against Muslim people in 2020, but the police service also acknowledged not all hate crimes or incidents are reported. Local BIPOC activists and community leaders have said they want more details on hate crime statistics.
Police say no additional information will be released as the charges are before the courts.
They're asking witnesses to contact Hamilton Police Hate-Crime Det. Fabiano Mendes at 905-546-5678 or Division 3 criminal investigation branch acting Det. Srgt. Michael Hall at 905-546-3851.