Traumatic attack on two Black Muslim women prompts family calls for political action
'They shattered the illusion of our safety,' family member says
The family of two Black Muslim women who were assaulted in a hate-motivated attack last month spoke publicly for the first time Wednesday, amid calls for political leaders to take stronger actions to dismantle white supremacist groups.
The women, a mother and daughter, were assaulted outside the Southgate Centre early last month, police say, the first of three reported hate-motivated incidents in the span of eight days.
At a virtual news conference Wednesday a family member said the attack has left them traumatized.
"The strongest women I know were violated, dehumanized, for being Black Muslim women," the family member said, speaking anonymously for fear of retribution. "They shattered the illusion of our safety. They made us feel like strangers in the only place we have ever known."
CBC News has agreed to protect the identity of the family member who spoke Wednesday.
The woman said her mother and sister went to Southgate mall on Dec. 8 to pick up supplies before a slate of new COVID-19 public health orders came into effect in Alberta.
The two women were sitting in a car in the parking lot when a man started to yell racial obscenities, police say. Witnesses told police the man punched the passenger-side window, shattering the glass.
The passenger ran from the vehicle, but the man pursued her, pushing her to the ground and assaulting her, police said. The other woman tried to help but was shoved to the ground before several bystanders intervened and stopped the attack.
The strongest women I know were violated, dehumanized, for being Black Muslim women.- Family member of survivors of alleged assault at Southgate Centre.
The attacker ripped off her mother's hijab, the family member said, while he called the women the N-word and told them to "go back to your country."
"My sister told me her attacker had so much hatred in his eyes," the family member said. "That not only did he say he wanted to kill them, but his physical aggression made her believe that he was going to kill them both."
Police charged Richard Bradley Stevens, 41, with two counts of assault and one count of mischief. The family is calling on police to lay charges against a second man they say took part in the attack.
"It was determined that there is no evidence to support laying charges against a second individual in this disturbing incident," police spokesperson Cheryl Voordenhout said in a statement to CBC News.
She said investigators reviewed available surveillance footage and interviewed witnesses, but asked anyone with previously unreported information to contact police.
None of the allegations have been proven in court.
The two women have since struggled to navigate the complexity of victim services and support in Alberta, the family member said.
"Meeting person after person who was ill-equipped to deal with hate crimes has been disheartening and disenchanting," she said. "We hope the city's law enforcement will do everything they can to bring both men to justice."
Calls for national action plan to dismantle white supremacist groups
The family member was joined on the video call by several Black and Muslim community organizations, including the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) and the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council.
Sameha Omer, NCCM director of legal affairs, called on the federal government to establish a national plan to dismantle white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups.
"It is time that we go beyond platitudes," Omer said. "We cannot allow this kind of white supremacist violence to continue in Canada."
The group is also calling for Alberta Premier Jason Kenney to join with NDP Opposition leader Rachel Notley and the mayors of Edmonton and Calgary to establish a joint provincial-municipal plan to stop street harassment and racist violence in Alberta.
Last year, Edmonton police reported 64 hate-motivated crimes. Over the past four years, the number of hate-motivated crimes has fluctuated between a high of 68 in 2018 to a low of 56 in 2019, according to data provided by police.
Police reported three hate-motivated attacks in the span of eight days last month, beginning with the assault in the Southgate Centre parking lot. A week later, police say a 23-year-old Black Muslim woman was assaulted at the nearby Southgate LRT station. The day after that a Black man was attacked while walking near his home in Parkdale.
Joseph Gladue, 38, was charged with assault causing bodily harm following the Parkdale attack.
Rene Ladoucer, 32, was charged with assault with a weapon after the attack at the LRT station.
"This is Canada and the fact of white supremacist violence or that groups like the Three Percenters exist, mobilize and operate unchecked by law enforcement is one that shatters our national mythology of being a multicultural paradise," said Omer.
"How many times do members of the Canadian Black community, Canadian Jews and Sikhs or members of Indigenous communities have to endure such incidents before we take a stand?"
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.