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Canadian tourist punched by man offering free hugs, New York police say

An Ottawa woman was attacked today by a man holding a sign offering free hugs, after she refused to give him a tip, New York City police say.

Ottawa woman suffers black eye after refusing to tip man offering free hugs in Times Square

A Canadian tourist was allegedly assaulted in Times Square by a man offering 'free hugs' to people passing by after she refused to tip. (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

Police say what started as a kind gesture in Times Square ended with an assault that sent a Canadian woman to hospital.

According to the NYPD, a man holding a sign offering free hugs assaulted a 22-year-old visiting from Ottawa when she refused to pay him for a photo.

The alleged incident happened around 10:45 this morning. The victim took a picture with the accused, but when she refused three times to pay him afterwards, police say he struck her with a closed fist.

She was taken to a nearby hospital with severe swelling and a cut to her right eye. The suspect fled the scene but was arrested a few hours later at Union Square.

Jermaine Himmelstein, 24, is charged with robbery causing physical injury and fraudulent accosting.  

He was also charged today in connection with an incident in April, when police allege he punched a woman in the side of the head while she was waiting for the train. Last October, he was arrested in Times Square after he was accused of striking a woman with a closed fist while holding his free hug sign. 

"I give out free hugs ... to make people stay better," he explained to the New York Times in April 2013.

His parents told the Times their son was autistic and they didn't know he was frequenting downtown public spaces offering free hugs. They said they also didn't know about his change of behaviour when turned down or refused a tip.