Muslim woman targeted in racist attack says call to Edmonton police left her doubly traumatized
Police say call evaluator's conduct was 'professional and empathetic'
UPDATE: After this story's initial publication, Edmonton Police Service issued a statement on Saturday saying it had conducted an audit of the phone call made to its complaint line. The story has been updated to include the statement.
A Black Muslim woman who was threatened and subjected to racial slurs at a south Edmonton LRT station says she has been doubly traumatized — by her assailant and city police.
The woman, a student in her 20s who wears a hijab, says she remains terrified after the racially-motivated attack earlier this month.
She said a member of the Edmonton Police Service discouraged her from filing an official report on the attack, a rejection she feels was motivated by her race and religion.
"I'm dealing with two sets of trauma," the woman said Thursday in an interview with CBC News. "I'm dealing with the trauma of the attack and I'm dealing with the trauma of that EPS officer that day that I called, that kindly rejected me."
Due to the woman's concerns for her safety, CBC News has agreed to keep her identity confidential and will only identify her as M.W.
She was waiting for a bus at the Century Park LRT Station on the morning of Feb. 17 when she was approached by a stranger who was flailing his arms. He made a fist and swore at her, threatening to physically assault and kill her, she said.
"I've never, ever seen that type of violence. I was scared for my life," she said. "I had nowhere to run to. I couldn't run away from this person. I couldn't move."
The EPS Hate Crimes and Extremism Unit is investigating. In response to initial requests for comments from CBC News, an EPS spokesperson said city police have repeatedly condemned violent racism and are investigating the possible "customer service issues."
After this story was first published on Friday, EPS issued a statement on Saturday saying it had conducted an internal audit of the woman's call to police.
"EPS is satisfied that the evaluator demonstrated a high level of professionalism and compassion throughout the call," read the statement from spokesperson Scott Pattison.
The assault — the fifth such attack in Edmonton on Black women wearing head coverings in a 10-week period — has been denounced by Mayor Don Iveson and the National Council of Muslim Canadians.
The woman said she has no doubt her hijab made her a target.
"This is really sad, you know," she said. "I never thought that my appearance would make me a vulnerable person."
She said no security officers were present but that the assault was witnessed by others.
"This happened in broad daylight," she said. "Nobody offered to give me help.
"The perpetrator had ample opportunity to carry out those threats but by the grace of God, I didn't suffer like some other women have suffered."
The woman got help later from an ETS bus driver and peace officers.
'He laughed at me'
Two hours after the assault — upset, confused and seeking advice — she called the non-emergency EPS line.
She said an officer told her there would be "no point" in filing a report and, as the conversation came to an end, laughed at her.
"He told me in that phone call that I should be satisfied with what the peace officers did. And he didn't want to help me.
"I am just trying to do the right thing and be of the service to the city and report it. You know, that's what we're supposed to do if we can do it. And he laughed at me."
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The woman said peace officers at the LRT station told her police would likely investigate her attack as harassment.
She wanted to put her account of the incident on record.
"He did not allow me to file a report," she said of the EPS member she spoke to on the complaint line. "He discouraged me.
"I told him that I wasn't satisfied with just the harassment charge that the peace officers could file," she said. "I told him it was more than harassment. Threats were uttered to me. My safety was put in jeopardy. And that's not OK."
She said the interaction demonstrates a lack of empathy toward people who experience racism, and undermines efforts to root out Islamophobia in Edmonton.
The statement provided by EPS on Saturday goes against the woman's account of the discussion, calling the evaluator's conduct "professional and empathetic."
"The evaluator reassured the caller that police take these types of incidents very seriously. The caller was very appreciative of the advice provided and thanked the evaluator at the conclusion of the call," the statement read.
"The caller specifically noted that she was happy with the information and did not feel the need to pursue charges."
Pattison, the police spokesperson, said Saturday no EPS official was available to respond to an interview request from CBC News. Asked why the police evaluator discouraged the woman from filing a report, Pattison said it was his understanding that that never happened.
In an interview on Thursday before EPS released its statement, the woman said she wants a written apology from the EPS member and is calling on police to publicly condemn the recent string of racist attacks against Muslim women. She is also calling for increased security patrols on transit.
"Islamophobia is at an all-time high and it needs to be addressed," she said.
"That statement made by EPS, it's not going to suffice," she said on Thursday. "They're going to have to really, really work hard to mend the relationship back with the Muslim community, because it's disintegrating."
The woman said she finally received the support she needed after emailing her city councillor's ward office.
The mayor's office then put her in touch with an EPS official who helped her file a report on Feb. 19. She has since been in contact with investigators and feels her case is being taken seriously.
"I do have compassion for my attacker, but I still want to stand up for myself and I want to stand up for the other women that have gone through this."