Toronto police investigating online abuse of student leader at U of T

Toronto police confirmed Thursday they have launched an investigation into a barrage of online abuse directed at newly-elected student president at the University of Toronto's Scarborough campus.

Chemi Lhamo, a Canadian citizen of Tibetan origin, received thousands of hateful messages after election

Chemi Lhamo, the president-elect of the University of Toronto's Scarborough campus, believes she's being targeted because of her Tibetan identity. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

Toronto police confirmed Thursday they have launched an investigation into a barrage of online abuse directed at the newly-elected student president on the University of Toronto's Scarborough campus.

On Feb. 9, the day she was notified of her election as president, Chemi Lhamo, 22, received thousands of hateful messages on a photo she'd posted on Instagram four days earlier for the Lunar New Year.

The messages were aimed at Lhamo's Tibetan heritage, and the controversy surrounding China's presence in Tibet. Some seemed threatening.

"China is your daddy — you better know this," read one comment.

"Ur not gonna be the president of UTSC," read another. "Even if you do, we will make sure things get done so u won't survive a day. Peace RIP."

Police are now investigating the online threats made against Lhamo, Const. Allyson Douglas-Cook told CBC Toronto in an email.

In addition to the online threats, a petition calling on Lhamo — a Canadian citizen of Tibetan origin — to step down had amassed nearly 10,000 signatures. 

There was also a message on the Chinese mobile service We Chat making the rounds, calling on Chinese international students to stop Lhamo from becoming president.

Lhamo said she was worried about her safety and took her concerns to the University of Toronto. The students union also made the decision to close her office due to security concerns. 

China denies role in backlash against Lhamo 

There were mounting suspicions about possible Chinese government influence being exerted on Canadian campuses following the incident but Chinese officials swiftly denied involvement.

China's consulate in Toronto said it only learned of the online attacks against Lhamo from the media.

However, a statement from the consulate did not condemn the views expressed in thousands of comments on Lhamo's social media accounts.

"It is believed that this is an entirely spontaneous action of those Chinese students based on objective facts and patriotic enthusiasm," the statement says.

"The Chinese government firmly opposes anti-China separatist activities by 'Tibet independence' activists who are plotting to split Tibet from China [and] the move of any country or organization to provide support or convenience of any kind to 'Tibet independence' activities."