Reported hijab attack on 11-year-old girl 'did not happen,' Toronto police say

An 11-year-old girl's report last week that a man twice tried to cut off her hijab as she walked to school "did not happen," Toronto police said Monday in ending their investigation.

Police previously said they were treating case as a possible hate crime

Toronto police said Monday that investigators conducted numerous interviews before concluding that the alleged incident did not occur.

An 11-year-old girl's report last week that a man tried to cut off her hijab as she walked to school didn't occur, Toronto police said Monday.

"After a detailed investigation, police have determined that the events described in the original news release did not happen," police said.

"The investigation is concluded."

The girl reported Friday that a man attempted twice to cut off her hijab as she walked to school with her younger brother. Police said last week that the alleged attack was being investigated as a possible hate crime. 

CBC News is not naming the 11-year-old out of a concern for her interests.

The girl, along with her mother and representatives from the Toronto District School Board, spoke to reporters inside her school Friday after she had talked to police.

Her story captured national attention, and drew public condemnation from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Toronto Mayor John Tory.

No legal consequences

"These allegations were extremely serious and not surprisingly, they received national and international attention," police spokesperson Mark Pugash said in an interview.

"Investigators worked extremely hard since the allegations on Friday. They gathered evidence from a variety of sources," before concluding the story was untrue, Pugash said, adding that the girl who reported the incident will not face any legal consequences.

Toronto police on hijab attack that 'did not happen'

6 years ago
Duration 1:31
Mark Pugash, spokesperson for Toronto Police Service, details the investigation into the reported hijab attack and how they came to the conclusion it 'did not happen.'

On Monday afternoon, the prime minister said he was relieved that the incident hadn't in fact taken place.

"We have seen an unfortunate pattern of increased hate crimes in past months directed towards religious minorities, particularly towards women," he said, calling such violence "a warning sign of increased intolerance."

"We are a country that defends freedom of religion, freedom of expression, and people's rights to go to school without being fearful or harassed," he said. "This is fundamental to who we are."

In a statement issued Monday afternoon, Tory said "it is good to know" that no attack actually took place.

TDSB 'thankful' assault didn't happen 

Pugash said police don't know how the story escalated. He stressed it's "quite rare" for someone to make false allegations of this type, and said he hopes it will not discourage others from coming forward.

In a brief statement, the school board said it is "very thankful that this assault did not in fact happen.

"We won't be commenting further."

Sabreena Ghaffar-Siddiqui, a researcher at Hamilton's McMaster University who focuses on hate crimes against Canadian Muslims, said her initial reaction to news that the incident did not happen was concern that it might eclipse real hate crimes. 

"Hate crimes toward Muslim people are real," she said. "I have heard stories of Muslim girls having their hijab pulled off their head, pushed, thrown to the ground. These are real stories ... and the reaction that we got from the government and leaders needs to still be there."

Amira Elghawaby, a human rights advocate based in Ottawa, said she was saddened to learn that the girl's story was not true, adding it will likely only serve to embolden "those who do hold discriminatory views of Muslims."

She also stressed that, as an 11-year-old, "she probably doesn't really understand the full implications of what she's done" and deserves compassion from adults. 

"Hindsight is 20/20 and I'm sure the police, and the school and everyone will be reviewing how this was addressed. And we, as community members, all we want to do is think about this young girl — give her support — we don't want her to be vilified," said Elghawaby.

"And we do deal with real issues of hate and discrimination too frequently in our society, and we must continue to address that."

CBC News has discontinued using the name and images of the 11-year-old in this story. Following our customary practice, because they represent the record of what took place, we are not altering previous stories.

With files from The Canadian Press