Toronto mosque remains closed after it receives violent threats, police investigating

A downtown Toronto mosque remained closed on Monday night after it received several violent and offensive threats by email early Saturday. Toronto police are investigating.

On Twitter, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was "deeply disturbed" by the news, while Toronto Mayor John Tory said the threats are "completely unacceptable" and he stands with the Muslim community.

Mustafa Farooq, CEO of the National Council of Muslims, said he is calling on the federal government for a national action plan to dismantle white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups in Canada in the wake of the threats. He said such groups preach hate.

Farooq said the council has no plans to name the mosque out of concern that it could be targeted further.

"These messages were extraordinarily violent," Farooq said in an interview from Ottawa. "When we get these threats, we don't take them lightly. And that's why the mosque was shut down and remains shut down."

Mosque administrators, based on advice from various experts, have closed the mosque for now, he said. It is not known for how long it will be closed.

The threats come a month after a fatal stabbing of a volunteer caretaker at an Etobicoke mosque. On Sept. 12, Mohamed-Aslim Zafis, 58, was stabbed once while he sat in a chair outside the front doors of the International Muslims Organization (IMO) mosque at 65 Rexdale Blvd., near Kipling Avenue.

Zafis had been controlling access to the mosque to ensure it was complying with public health regulations. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Guilherme "William" Von Neutegem, 34, has been charged with first-degree murder in connection with the killing of Zafis. Von Neutegem appears to follow a hate group founded in the U.K., according to the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, a non-profit organization.

Nathan Denette/Canadian Press
Nathan Denette/Canadian Press

Farooq noted the threats also follow a shooting attack on a Quebec City mosque on Jan. 29, 2017 in which six men were killed and five others critically injured.

Farooq said the council has spoken to the imams at the downtown mosque.

"Obviously, there's a lot of fear. There is a lot of concern. There's a lot of trepidation as to what happened. Why is this happening? What's going to happen next?" he said.

Farooq said he is pleased that police are investigating the threats, but said the federal government must take action and the council would like to see a plan within weeks.

Action is needed to ensure "we don't have to keep having these interviews, so that we don't continue to keep having to go to funeral after funeral, to respond to threats after threats," he said.

Jean Delisle/CBC
Jean Delisle/CBC

"This is unacceptable. It needs to stop and the way that needs to stop is through a national action plan to dismantle these kinds of white supremacist, neo-Nazi, violent, Islamophobic or xenophobic groups," Farooq said.

"I won't allow someone who was trying to terrorize us and intimidate us succeed. We're going to stand up as Canadians. We're going to stand up Canadian Muslims. And I know that so many communities are standing with us," he said.

In an open letter to Trudeau, dated Oct. 5, the council urged the government to take action on white supremacist groups. The letter was signed by organizations that represent Jewish, Sikh, Black and Indigenous communities in Toronto, among others, Farooq noted.

Police say no arrests have been made yet

Const. Alex Li, spokesperson for the Toronto Police Service, said police were contacted about the threats on Saturday.

Li said police are appealing for members of the public to remain vigilant, report any suspicious or threatening behaviour and come forward if they have information that could aid the investigation.

"Hate crime is a possibility. We have not ruled anything out," he said.

Li said police will enhance its patrols around Toronto mosques throughout the city to reassure the Muslim community. No arrests have been made and no suspect information is available.


Trudeau pledges action, Tory expresses support

Trudeau, for his part, said: "We must do more to counter hatred and we will,"

Tory said, for his part, said: "Any form of hatred and discrimination towards a place of worship and those who visit these places will not be accepted in our city."

In a statement on Monday, Mary-Liz Power, press secretary for Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, said the government recognizes it needs to take more action.

"Our government has taken significant action to end violence in our communities, and we also know there is more to do. We are committed to doing that work," Power said.

Power said the government has received the Oct. 5 letter and shares the council's concern about the prevalence of violence from white supremacist groups in Canada.

"It is our greatest responsibility as government to keep our communities safe, and we are committed ending and preventing violence in all its forms," she said.

"We are constantly monitoring all forms of terrorism as they evolve, and our response will meet it."

Research facility says action plan needed

Barbara Perry, director of the Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism, a research facility at Ontario Tech University in Oshawa, said a national action plan is needed. Perry estimates there are "easily" about 300 hate groups in Canada.

Islamophobia is "rampant" in these groups, she said.

"This has come to such a point where communities are at risk across the country. It's absolutely time to intervene," she said. "If a mosque is attacked, that is an attack on the whole congregation."