Video of man taunting mom, daughter with slurs prompts more worries about racial tensions in Quebec
WARNING: The following story and accompanying video contain graphic language
A white man accosted an Arabic-speaking woman and her two-year-old daughter earlier this week, uttering racial slurs and sexually violent threats in broad daylight on a Montreal street.
The incident, caught on cellphone video and circulating widely online, has contributed to growing concerns that Quebec's new religious symbols law has provided licence for the public expression of hatred.
The woman in the video was walking her daughter home from a daycare in the Ahunstic-Cartierville district Tuesday afternoon when a man expressed dismay at hearing her speaking Arabic.
"I told him, 'The language I speak doesn't concern you,'" the woman said Thursday in an interview. CBC News agreed to withhold her identity for safety reasons.
She said the man was further enraged by her comment. He made racist remarks and moved toward the woman and her daughter, raising his hand in a threatening manner.
At that moment, another woman who was leaving the daycare intervened and began recording the interaction. CBC News has agreed to protect that woman's identity as well for safety reasons.
WARNING: The following story video contains graphic language.
In the video, the man can be heard calling one of the women a "slut." He also lurches towards the two-year-old, bending down to meet her at eye level and making a lewd sexual remark about her mother.
The child can be heard crying.
"The reason he chose to attack us was clearly xenophobia and racism," said the second woman, who also speaks Arabic. Neither woman wears a visible religious symbol.
After the man began walking away, both women witnessed him utter another racist comment directed at a woman wearing a hijab.
Montreal police said they have identified the man and are investigating.
Emboldened by new law?
The woman said her daughter hasn't been able to sleep since the altercation. The girl came into her bedroom Tuesday night, worried about the "mean man," the woman said.
"She is afraid," the woman said of her daughter. "She doesn't quite understand the words that were said, but she knows someone was threatening her and her mother."
The woman believes the man's behaviour was encouraged by the religious symbols law that was passed last month.
"I don't think he would have approached me before the new government's law."
That view was echoed by Shaheen Ashraf, a spokesperson for the Montreal chapter of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women.
"Mr. Legault and his government have enabled these people to come out of the woodwork and harass Muslim women," Ashraf said.
The law, formerly known as Bill 21, bars authority figures — including public school teachers — from wearing religious symbols at work.
Though the legislation doesn't single out a particular religion, minority groups say Muslim women will be disproportionately affected.
During parliamentary hearings in the spring, several groups and experts warned the Coalition Avenir Québec government that the measures it was proposing were likely to stigmatize minorities in the province.
A government-funded group of public health specialists submitted evidence suggesting the law could encourage more public displays of racial hatred.
Last week, a Quebec City man, Karim Smaini, posted a video to YouTube, recounting how he was stabbed outside a convenience store after being called "goddamned immigrant."
He, too, blamed the new law for heightening racial tensions in the province.
"It's a very bad, unhealthy ambience," Smaini told CBC News earlier this week.
Premier's office reacts
In a statement Friday morning, Premier François Legault's office maintained there is no link between the incident depicted in the video and the government's new secularism law.
About the video circulating online, the release said: "We firmly denounce these terrible actions. Hate, racism and intolerance do not have a place in our society."
In a tweet, Liberal MNA Marie Montpetit, who represents the Montreal neighbourhood where the woman and her daughter were attacked, called the video "troubling."
C’est troublant dans une société libre & démocratique comme le Québec. <a href="https://twitter.com/francoislegault?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@francoislegault</a> et la <a href="https://twitter.com/coalitionavenir?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@coalitionavenir</a> doivent dénoncer ces comportements discriminatoires, violents & islamophobes et agir pour protéger tous les citoyens du Québec. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Polqc?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Polqc</a> <a href="https://t.co/SZY1HxavSu">https://t.co/SZY1HxavSu</a>—@Marie_Montpetit
The Montreal woman who was accosted on the sidewalk this week said she decided to speak publicly in an effort to improve the deteriorating social climate in the province.
"I'm not doing this just for my girl. I'm doing this for all minority children because what kind of society are we going to have in the future," she said.
"I want to make people aware of where we're going with all this."
From interviews conducted by CBC's Arian Zarrinkoub