There’s another incident of Islamophobia in Canada when two people were arrested on Tuesday after allegedly trying to enter a mosque in Scarborough and threatening building staff.
Toronto police say they received a call at around 11:50am from the Islamic Institute of Toronto at 1630 Neilson Rd, near Morningside Avenue and Finch Avenue East. Witnesses alleged a man and a woman tried to enter the building and uttered threats, notably to a custodian at the site.
One witness told CBC News the intruders threatened to set off an explosive.
Police recovered no weapons or explosives while making the arrests. There is no word on charges so far.
“They were believed to be under the influence of illicit drugs,” police said in a statement.
“While there is no evidence to suggest this is hate motivated at this time, out of an abundance of caution, our Hate Crime Unit has been notified and will support the ongoing investigation,” the statement reads.
Omar Essawi was visiting the mosque with his business partner. He’s the one who called police.
“We noticed two people — a white male and a white female — attempting to enter the front of the building,” Essawi said.
Initially, he had assumed it was some sort of delivery, but both individuals were empty-handed.
“They got aggressive with regards to trying to get in the building and started kicking the doors,” Essawi said.
“My business partner drove around to ask if they needed help,” Essawi said. “To which the male responded he was here to detonate an explosive.”
At that point, Essawi called police.
While he was on the phone with the police, the woman began approaching Essawi making a gun gesture with her fingers, he said.
“Thankfully police arrived, intercepted her, and arrested them both,” he said.
Fareed Amin, the chair of the Islamic Institute of Toronto, told CBC News the intruders tried to break into the mosque after walking through the open gates.
“They started banging the main door, but couldn’t get in, so they went around, tried the side doors, gym doors, but none were open,” Amin said.
The gates to the complex were left open for maintenance and deliveries, Amin said.
In addition to a mosque, the site houses an Islamic elementary school, community facilities, a library, and a gymnasium.
Amin said the intruders got hold of the custodian’s personal keys, which were hanging near an outdoor storage room.
“They took his keys, and tried getting in using the keys,” Amin said.
While Amin did not hear “foul language” he was told by another witness that the suspects were “threatening to kill people, shoot folks, saying things like they’ll detonate the building,” he said.
“We’ve had increased patrol at most Islamic centres in Scarborough,” Amin said. “The police responded quickly.”
“They seemed inebriated,” he added.
While there were no physical injuries reported, Amin said the custodian “is a bit shaken.”
Members of the mosque were nervous, Amin said, given the deadly attack on a Muslim family in London last week that police said was hate-motivated.
“Fear’s the first thing that comes to mind,” Essawi said of the incident. “Before London happened, I would’ve felt comfortable approaching them, but because of what happened in London we made an effort to keep distance.”
Toronto Police said the investigation is in the early stages and they will continue to update the public as it progresses.
Police are engaging with community members and patrols remain in the area.