Yosif Al-Hasnawi, Good Samaritan fatally shot in Hamilton, laid to rest in Iraq

Nearly a month after he was shot and killed while trying to defend an older man in an altercation outside a Hamilton mosque, 19-year-old Yosif Al-Hasnawi was laid to rest in Iraq on Monday alongside some of the most beloved and revered figures in Shia Islam, a family friend says.

Teen who was killed while intervening in an altercation 'represented the real image of Islam'

Mourners gather around the remains of Yosif Al-Hasnawi. (Mark Bochsler/CBC)

Nearly a month after he was shot and killed while trying to defend an older man in an altercation outside a Hamilton mosque, 19-year-old Yosif Al-Hasnawi was laid to rest in Iraq on Monday alongside some of the most beloved and revered figures in Shia Islam, a family friend says.

The teen's father, Majed Al-Hasnawi, travelled with his son's body on an approximately 12-hour journey from Canada to Turkey on Saturday, and then to the Wadi al-Salam cemetery in Najaf, the Iraqi city that houses the tomb of Imam Ali, central to Shia Muslims in particular, Firas Al Najim told CBC News.

"It's a very sacred place to be buried," Al Najim said. "His family, and we as a community, believe that he died as a martyr because he really represented the real image of Islam."

Al-Hasnawi, a first-year Brock University medical sciences student and the eldest of five siblings, had just finished reciting from the Qur'an at a celebration for the birth of the Prophet Muhammad at the Al-Mostafa Islamic Centre in Hamilton's central lower city on Dec. 2, when he stepped out with his younger brother. There, he spotted an older man being accosted by two men, according to police, and tried to step in to help before he was shot.

Al-Hasnawi, 19, was shot and killed outside an Islamic centre when he tried to help someone else on Saturday night, Dec. 2, police say. This photo was taken earlier in the evening as he recited the Qur'an. (Al-Mostafa Islamic Centre)
In the days after his death, Det. Sgt. Steve Berezniuk told reporters the teen was acting as a Good Samaritan when he was killed. 

Two men have been arrested and charged in connection with his death.

'He was trying to help somebody'

"He was in a centre called 'al-Mustafa' [one of the names for the Prophet], he was celebrating the Prophet Mohammed's birth, and then he was reciting Qur'an, he walked outside and, pretty much, he was a victim because he was trying to help somebody," Al Najim said.

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Family and friends of Yosif Al-Hasnawi are seen performing final rites before his burial in Najaf, Iraq on Monday. (Mazen Al Zurufi/Facebook)

"He'd seen oppression and our religion teaches us to promote good and forbid evil and to help people that are oppressed. He felt that it was necessary for him to intervene, to help. And when he helped, he got attacked."

But beyond the pain of losing a loved one, Al Najim says the family is also grappling with the added pain of wondering if Al-Hasnawi might be alive had paramedics responded differently.

Multiple witnesses allege paramedics told Al-Hasnawi that he was acting, shot by a pellet gun, and that his injuries weren't real. According to Hamilton police, it was nearly 40 minutes from the time paramedics arrived on scene to the time they departed for the hospital.

'We want justice'

It remains unclear why Al-Hasnawi was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital rather than the trauma centre at Hamilton General, which is closer in proximity to where the shooting took place. 
Investigators appear near the scene in central Hamilton where 19-year-old Al-Hasnawi was fatally shot. (Andrew Collins)

Both the Hamilton Paramedic Service and Ontario's Ministry of Health and Long-Term care are investigating. Greg Martin, operations supervisor for HPS, previously told CBC News the service takes any kind of complaint or allegation against a paramedic seriously.

"What hurts us the most, as a community, is that the paramedics, their precise position is to help people in times of emergency, but they treated him in a very, very bad manner," Al Najim said, adding that the family is hoping to see criminal charges laid.

"We want justice for this young beautiful child that just lost his life," he said. "But this is not even just for our justice for Yosif … we don't want to see any Canadian citizen be dealt with like that."

'A self-inspired person'

For now, Al Najim says friends and family are remembering Al-Hasnawi for his kindness and caring demeanour, a young man who his father relied on to help ensure his younger brother, who has diabetes, regularly tested his blood.

By the time Al-Hasnawi's father arrived in Iraq, it was night time, Al Najim said. According to custom, burials aren't held in the dark, he said. It was morning when the teen was laid to rest, joined by family members from the city of Al Diwaniyah, about an hour-and-a-half-long drive away.
Firas Al Najim, human rights activist and Yosif Al-Hasnawi's younger brother, Ahmed Al-Hasnawi, hold a photo of Yosif Al-Hasnawi at a memorial at Hamilton city hall. (Laura Clementson/CBC)

Meanwhile, back at his Hamilton home, a stone from Iraq and a rosary remain in Al-Hasnawi's bag. It's a reminder, says Al Najim, of his character and piety.

"He had so many goals, he was such a self-inspired person, such a special child, very quiet guy, very clean, very organized."

His abode now will be a different home, Al Najim said. 

"It's a new world for him."


Shanifa Nasser


Shanifa Nasser is a journalist with CBC Toronto interested in national security, the justice system and stories with a heartbeat. Her reporting on Canada's spy agency won a 2020 Amnesty International award and an RTDNA, and her investigative work has led to two documentaries at The Fifth Estate. Reach her at: shanifa.nasser@cbc.ca