'Mom, he's following us, run!' - Hamilton imam fears for family after man charged with hate crime
Imam Kamal Gurgi says the government needs to stop with the 'lip service' and act against Islamophobia
WARNING: This story contains details readers may find distressing.
Imam Kamal Gurgi says he was leading an evening prayer at the Hamilton Downtown Mosque when he saw multiple missed phone calls from his wife.
And he says what she told him when he called back frightened him.
"She said, 'A man was trying to kill us,'" he said in an interview on Friday afternoon.
It was supposed to be a routine trip to the Shoppers Drug Mart in the Ancaster Meadowlands for his wife, 62, and daughter, 26.
The women were wearing hijabs, walking through a parking lot around 9:30 p.m. ET last Monday when police say they were almost hit by a vehicle pulling out of a parking spot.
Gurgi says his wife pulled their daughter out of the vehicle's path.
They are still frightened, afraid to go out alone.- Imam Kamal Gurgi
Police say the situation escalated, with the driver using racist slurs toward the Muslim community.
The women ignored him and walked away, Gurgi says.
"And then my daughter turned her head around ... and she said, 'Mom, he's following us, run!' "
Police say the man allegedly drove after them in his truck as Gurgi's wife and daughter fled.
They hid in nearby bushes, police say, but the man found them and threatened to kill them. That's when bystanders heard Gurgi's wife and daughter call out for help and intervened.
Police have arrested a suspect, 40-year-old Vince Licata of Cambridge, Ont., and he appeared in court earlier this week.
Licata faces charges of:
- Assault with a weapon.
- Dangerous operation of a motor vehicle.
- Uttering death threats.
- Violating probation.
Wife and daughter afraid to go out alone
Gurgi says his wife and daughter are still shocked.
"They are still frightened, afraid to go out alone," he said.
He says he has been leaning on his faith to help him persevere.
The Muslim Council of Greater Hamilton (MCGH), which includes all of the local mosques, issued a statement comparing the incident to a recent attack in London, Ont., where four members of the same family were killed.
Talat Afzaal, her son Salman Afzaal, his wife Madiha Salman and the couple's 15-year-old daughter, Yumna, were killed at an intersection when police say a driver ran them over.
The incident in Hamilton also came just days before a mosque in Cambridge was vandalized.
"Hamilton Muslims join Muslims across Canada to demand stronger action by municipal, provincial and federal governments. Enough is enough and Muslims across Canada demand concrete actions so that these violent attacks cease," the MCGH said in a statement.
"In the coming days, the MCGH and its member organizations will be working with local organizations, as well as the NCCM (National Council of Canadian Muslims), to identify immediate actions from community members and all levels of government to more effectively combat Islamophobia in our communities."
'People are finally acknowledging this is a serious problem' NDP leader says
Gurgi says police chief Frank Bergen met with local Imams a few days ago to hear their concerns.
Gurgi says he wants more security around the mosques "because we feel unsafe and we don't know if now somebody comes in and shoots us."
He also says statements from politicians are mere "lip service" and won't prevent Islamophobia.
"Every time it happens, we said we condemn and there's no place for hatred in our society ... but where are the actions?" he said. "The government, in my humble opinion, is not doing enough to stop these attacks from happening again and again."
WATCH: Hamilton Imam Kamal Gurgi calls on government to take action
Provincial and federal NDP politicians visited the mosque on Friday afternoon and spoke to media.
"People are finally acknowledging this is a serious problem," said federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh. "Muslims are Canadians. These are members of our community ... they are hurting and they are afraid."
Singh also said the government hasn't done enough to tackle online hate, reports of Canada Revenue Agency unfairly targeting Muslim charities and alleged systemic racism within the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.
The federal government previously announced an emergency national summit on Islamophobia would occur July 22. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited a Hamilton Mountain mosque.
In his speech, Trudeau spoke out about multiple forms of misogyny, homophobia and racism.
"We need all of us — Muslim, non-Muslim — to recognize that the intolerance and hatred that exists around the world also exists in Canada," he said.
"This time of COVID has been a time of stress on everyone, and unfortunately, the worst elements have been able to foment division and anger."