London lawyer questions police inaction after Muslim man assaulted in parking lot

A London, Ont., lawyer is wondering why police didn't lay assault charges after a road rage incident that included racist language in a store parking lot over the weekend.

The incident happened on Sunday afternoon at the south Costco

Flowers are seen at a makeshift memorial at the fatal crime scene where a man driving a pickup truck jumped the curb and ran over a Muslim family in what police say was a deliberately targeted anti-Islamic hate crime, in London this summer. (Carlos Osorio/Reuters)

A London, Ont. lawyer is wondering why no assault charges have been laid against a man who allegedly tried to drag a 75-year-old man from his car during a road rage incident that escalated to include racist language in a parking lot over the weekend.

Lawyer Nawaz Tahir said his dad, sister and brother-in-law were in the parking lot of Costco on Wellington Road South, waiting to get into a parking space, when they unknowingly blocked another driver who was trying to leave. 

"He didn't like that," Tahir told CBC News. "He got out of his vehicle, started yelling at my father and brother-in-law, came over to the passenger side, where my father was, and started punching the windshield of the door, then tried to break off the passenger side windshield wiper, and then opened the passenger side door, and grabbed my father, at which time some bystanders and Costco employees intervened." 

The bystanders and employees were able to deescalate the situation, although the "verbal tirade" continued. The man said "Go back to your country" several times, Rubina Tahir, who was in the car, told CBC News. The witnesses and bystanders told the man "They have every right to be here," and eventually police were called. 

"That statement, said to anybody, is never okay. It's shocking to hear. What does it accomplish? Nothing," Rubina Tahir said. 

The man eventually left, but witnesses took down his license plate number and vehicle information. London police say the investigation is "active and ongoing." 

"We take incidents such as these seriously, and can confirm that officers continue to look into this matter," a police spokesperson told CBC News. 

But Tahir says the family was told on Sunday that no charges will be laid against the man. Rubina Tahir called the incident terrifying.

"It was really scary. I was worried about my dad and about the bystanders," she said. "I'm very proud of my city, I believe in community, we do great things in the city of London and I was really taken aback that this happened." 

The family is in disbelief, she added. "My dad is very proud to be Canadian. He came to this country, we've made many memories here. It hits you like a tonne of bricks when you hear someone say that to you." 

Tahir's 75-year-old father is from Pakistan. He arrived in Canada in the early 1970s and worked as a machinist. The incident is especially terrifying in light of the June 6 attack on a Muslim family in London. The Afzaal family was targeted because of their faith, police have said. 

"We've asked people to be vigilant and help diffuse situations like this, and that's exactly what happened. It was really critical and really important given the anger and venom coming from this man," Tahir said, adding that the June 6 attack against a London Muslim family is fresh in his, and his family's, mind. 

"It's hard to say whether this was a road rage incident that turned racial, or a racial incident from the start. We don't know what was in this person's mind," Tahir said. 

Just last week, Tahir was in Toronto, speaking to provincial politicians about the importance of passing the Our London Family Act, which was drafted in the wake of the June 6 attack. Among other things, the act would establish a Hate Crimes Accountability Unit in the province. 

"Too many Muslims in this province who experience hate-motivated attacks and then go to report it, and the charges are dropped, or charges are never laid, and that ends up being a real barrier to reporting. People are discouraged from reporting, they think 'What's the point?' if there is no official response from police," said NDP MPP Peggy Sattler. 

Sattler said she was shocked but not entirely surprised about the incident involving Tahir's father. 

"We need to have some systemic changes to deal with these systemic issues, and the issue of hate crime reporting is a systemic issue," she said. 

No charges laid yet

Tahir is frustrated because police told him they're not going to be pressing charges against the aggressor because his father got out of his car with his fists raised.

"They said that because my father got out of the vehicle and gestured to the man, by doing that it negates the assault charge, that then it's a consensual fight. That's the issue I'm going to be taking up with police," Tahir said.

"In any civilized society, you should not reach into somebody's car and grab them. It's wrong, it's assault, and we should send a message to people that you have to be accountable."

Rubina Tahir said she's disappointed that assault charges weren't laid immediately.

"This should not happen again," she said. "The way we do that is by holding the person responsible for the things that were done. We have to do better as a community." 

Mayor 'disgusted' by incident

His father is physically okay, Tahir said. "We always like to think of our dads as strong guys, but he's getting up there in terms of age and mobility. He walks with a limp, he's waiting for a double knee replacement, he's a cardiac patient." 

London Mayor Ed Holder has spoken to Tahir about the incident and said the incident is "shameful." 

"Am I disgusted by this conduct? Of course I am. Who do these morons think they are?" Holder said. 

"You know, you try to find any light in tragedy and stupidity, and Nawaz agrees, the fact that bystanders came to his dad's aid immediately is a positive," Holder said. "Telling them to go home? They are home. They're in London." 

It's important that police investigate the incident and take it seriously, he added. "When these kinds of hate-related activities occur, the police jump all over it." 

Tahir plans to call London police on Monday to demand answers.

"We know that prosecuting hate crimes in Canada is difficult at the best of times. For me, I want accountability for the assault," he said. "Some people need to take a deep breath. Why did a parking lot dispute turn into 'Go back to your country'? Why did it get elevated to the point of physical contact?" 

Sheikh Aarij Anwer, imam of the London Muslim Mosque, and Fatema Abdalla, Communications Coordinator for the National Council of Canadian Muslims, speak with CBC Afternoon Drive host Chris dela Torre about the Our London Family Act.