Man with knife attacks sisters wearing hijabs outside Edmonton, RCMP say

Police are looking for a suspect after a man attacked two women wearing hijabs, knocking one unconscious and assaulting the second at knifepoint in St. Albert, Alta., on Wednesday.

Hate-motivated attack in St. Albert left one unconscious, other assaulted at knifepoint

The sisters were walking along this pathway just north of the Anthony Henday when they were attacked by a stranger. (Craig Ryan/CBC)

RCMP are looking for a suspect after they say a masked man attacked two young women wearing hijabs, knocking one unconscious and assaulting the second at knifepoint, in a daytime attack in St. Albert, Alta.

The incident, which happened around 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, is being investigated as a hate-motivated crime, St. Albert RCMP said Thursday.

The St. Albert residents are sisters in their 20s. They were walking along a gravel pathway near Alderwood Park, bordering Edmonton's northwest.

Police said a white man — wearing a bandana and yelling racist remarks — approached them. 

He grabbed one woman by her hijab and pushed her to the ground, knocking her unconscious.

He then pulled out a knife and knocked down the second woman, holding the knife to her throat while continuing to yell racial slurs at both women.

Const. M.J. Burroughs said the man's comments focused on religion. 

"Normally in St. Albert we don't see this type of crime very often, so people need to be vigilant," Burroughs said. 

The man suddenly fled the scene in an unknown direction. 

The first woman regained consciousness and was transported to hospital with non-life threatening injuries. The second woman sustained minor injuries but was not taken to hospital, RCMP said. 

Officers and police dogs searched the area for the suspect but did not find him.

The investigation is ongoing. St. Albert RCMP are working with the Edmonton Police Service.

RCMP Const. M.J. Burroughs said the random attack is being investigated as a hate-motivated crime. (Craig Ryan/CBC)

Police described the suspect as a white man about 50 years old, around six feet tall, with an average build and broad shoulders.

He had short, light-coloured hair and light-coloured eyes. He was wearing dark blue jeans, a navy shirt and a red and white bandana with graffiti lettering.

'I find this intolerable'

Both sisters are studying criminology at the post-secondary level. One works for REACH Edmonton, a non-profit organization that advocates for safe communities. Her younger sister volunteers as a summer student for the same organization.

A REACH Edmonton spokesperson told CBC News the family moved to Quebec from Iraq, but after experiencing racism in Eastern Canada, they moved to Alberta. 

The attack comes just weeks after a Muslim family was run down and killed in London, Ont., prompting national calls for action to address anti-Muslim hate. Nathaniel Veltman faces four first-degree murder charges, one attempted murder charge and associated terror charges. 

A number of recent attacks targeting Muslim women have been reported in Edmonton, including earlier this month when a Somali Canadian woman wearing a hijab was reportedly grabbed by the neck and pushed to the sidewalk.

St. Albert Mayor Cathy Heron called the attack an act of domestic terrorism. 

"I find this intolerable," Heron said. "Heartbroken for sure. But infuriated as well."

Heron said she would welcome the opportunity to speak with the sisters. 

"I want them and I want everyone in my city to feel safe," Heron said. "I want them to feel that they can be outside on a beautiful day and be safe. Everyone deserves that." 

Heron and Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson both called for strengthened hate laws in Canada.

"This attack is unacceptable," Iveson said. "It appears our Muslim community, in particular, is being targeted yet again in this way. Our Muslim neighbours, friends and family deserve to feel safe and welcome in their communities. I'm heartbroken that many of them are not feeling safe right now.

"The City of Edmonton supports calls to strengthen hate laws in Canada and will continue to find ways we can work with our partners to stop hate attacks."