Man charged after 2 women in hijabs attacked in Edmonton mall parking lot

A 41-year-old Edmonton man has been charged with a hate-motivated attack on two women Tuesday evening outside a shopping mall.

'These individuals were targeted due to their race,' police sergeant says

The entrance of a shopping centre
The attack happened in the parking lot outside the Southgate shopping mall in Edmonton, police say. (Google Street View)

A 41-year-old Edmonton man has been charged with a hate-motivated attack on two women Tuesday afternoon outside a shopping mall.

The Hate Crimes and Violent Extremism Unit is working with investigators, the Edmonton Police Service said Wednesday in a news release.

Richard Bradley Stevens, 41, has been charged with two counts of assault and one count of mischief.

At about 3:40 p.m. on Tuesday, patrol officers responded to an assault in progress in the parking lot outside Southgate Centre at 5015 111th St., police said.

Officers were told that a man approached two Somali women wearing hijabs sitting in their vehicle and began yelling racially motivated obscenities at them.

Witnesses told police the man then punched the passenger-side window, shattering the glass. Fearing for her safety, the passenger ran from the vehicle and the man chased her, police said, then pushed her to the ground and began assaulting her.

The second woman tried to help and was also shoved to the ground, before several bystanders intervened and stopped the attack.

"The attack on these women is horrific and our hearts go out to them," Sgt. Gary Willits with the hate crimes unit said in the news release. "These individuals were targeted due to their race, therefore making this a hate-motivated crime."

Police will use Section 718.2 of the Criminal Code, which would allow the courts to consider increased sentencing if the accused is convicted, Willits said.

'People will be more on edge'

Momin Saeed, executive director of the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council, said such a violent attack affects the entire Muslim community. He said there is a "spillover effect" of fear.

"People will be more on edge and more suspect of others because of this," he said. "Clearly this is a concern for me and I think it would be a concern for anyone who is targeted and visibly Muslim."

The council's president, Faisal Suri, said there has been a troubling rise in Islamophobia and racism in general over the past five years, especially online.

"Some of the rhetoric we see happening south of the border [in the United States] ... is creeping into our society," Suri said. "And once you have allowed fascism to creep in, things become somewhat normal for those individuals who have such pent-up feelings."

Both Saeed and Suri praised the Edmonton Police Service for filing a hate charge against the alleged attacker. They said the police service's hate crimes unit has been supportive and collaborative in dealing with racism and racist acts, and in ensuring the safety of their community.

Suri said they have yet to speak with the two women involved in this attack, but he understands they have been traumatized by it.