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Muslim man told he can't pray in Ottawa train station, video shows

Via Rail has issued a statement saying it is 'dismayed' and is apologizing 'to the entire Muslim community.' (David Bates/CBC - image credit)
Via Rail has issued a statement saying it is 'dismayed' and is apologizing 'to the entire Muslim community.' (David Bates/CBC - image credit)

Via Rail is apologizing after a video surfaced online of a Muslim man being told he couldn't pray inside the Ottawa train station, but the National Council of Canadian Muslims says an apology isn't enough.

The video, which was posted on the social media platform TikTok on March 20, shows a man wearing a reflective vest marked "security" approaching a man in a black sweater seated in a waiting area.

"You wanted me to say something?" the security guard asks the man.

"That I took two minutes to pray? What was your issue?" the man in the sweater asks.

Then the security guard is heard saying, "Don't pray in here. We don't want you praying here. You're bothering our other customers, OK?"

The man in the sweater, who CBC News has not yet identified, responds: "I went to the end of the hallway. Not one person had anything to say." The security guard cuts him off, saying, "Pray outside next time, OK?"

When the man refuses, the video shows the security guard threatening to tell the man's employer about the incident. "Go ahead. You're going viral right now, no worries," the man responds as the guard walks away from him.

After the video went viral online, Via Rail issued a statement saying it's "dismayed," and it's apologizing "unreservedly ... to the entire Muslim community."

David Bates/CBC
David Bates/CBC

"Freedom of religion, including the ability to worship, is a human right and is enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms," the statement reads.

"Via Rail strongly condemns and will not tolerate any form of discriminatory behaviour."

'Disrespectful' and 'racist' situation

It's unclear what transpired in the moments before the video recording.

CBC News has blurred the faces of both men because it's also unclear whether the security guard was acting on instructions from someone else or his own accord, and because CBC has been unable to reach the other man in the video as of publication time.

In a caption attached to the TikTok post, the man explained he went into the corner of an empty hallway at the Via Rail station to pray before travelling. When he returned to his belongings, his co-worker told him a security guard had come by to say he couldn't pray there.

Moments later, the security guard "came yelling don't pray here," the man wrote in his post. He thought to himself, "Are we not in Canada? Why am I not allowed to pray here?" he wrote.

That's when some people began recording the interaction, he added. When it was over, some onlookers "came to check" on him.

"That was just a disrespectful, racist and awful situation to be apart of. It was disgusting to say the very least," the man wrote. "How can this be happening in my home country Canada … not the States … CANADA."

Melanie Campeau/CBC
Melanie Campeau/CBC

The National Council of Canadian Muslims, which shared the video online, has been in touch with the man in the video, according to spokesperson Fatema Abdalla.

She said the incident has shaken up Muslims across Canada.

"It's hard to watch," said Abdalla. "To think that, no, individuals can't feel safe being able to practise their religion ... is disturbing — not just to the individual in the video, but to every single Muslim who thinks that they are at peace and safe to pray in public spaces."

'We're moving to see more than just words'

Abdalla said Via Rail's apology, which was addressed to the people involved in the incident and to the Muslim community, isn't enough for the council.

"We're moving to see more than just words," she said.

"What we need to see is commitments to change, and commitments to anti-Islamophobia training, anti-racism training and diversity training that can provide security guards and others at the stations some more knowledge on how to treat individuals who are just peacefully minding their own business and praying in a corner."

In its statement, Via Rail said it's taking the situation "very seriously."

The company is investigating the incident and "will take the appropriate actions pending the outcome of that investigation."