TORONTO — A popular Toronto Syrian restaurant run by recent arrivals to Canada is closing after the owners say staff members began fielding hateful messages and death threats.
The owners of Soufi’s in the city’s downtown core issued a social media post Tuesday morning, saying the decision was made with the safety of their family and staff in mind.
The restaurant had recently earned a national profile after a member of the owner’s family reportedly attended a protest against an event in Hamilton featuring People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier.
Several media reports say a now-deleted Facebook post indicated the owner’s son had attended last month’s demonstration, and that he regrets not stepping aside or intervening when an elderly woman was blocked from entering the event and verbally harassed.
Prior to this, Soufi’s had become a popular destination in Toronto and had even been profiled in the New York Times as a success story related to Canada’s acceptance of Syrian refugees.
Toronto police say a member of the restaurant’s staff had previously reached out about filing a criminal complaint, but no such report was ever completed.
“As a result of numerous hate messages and death threats we’ve received over the past week, we’ve decided to permanently close our shop,” a post on the restaurant’s Instagram account reads. “Our decision is made with a heavy heart in effort to maintain our family and staff’s safety.”
The post said the family hopes to share more details about the events leading up to the closure once they feel safe enough to do so.
Toronto police Const. Rob Reid said the force received a call from a member of the family on Oct. 2, and the person indicated he wished to file a formal report about hate speech and threats.
Reid said no one was at the restaurant when officers attended the scene, and they have not been able to reconnect since.
“We’d really like him to call back so we can … make this report,” Reid said. “When these things live in the dark, we can’t shine any light on them.”
According to the New York Times profile, the business was operated by a mother, father and two children in their 20s. The elder of those children was the one owners claimed attended the Bernier event as a protester, according to media reports.
The demonstration became a lightning rod for criticism when video footage surfaced showing masked protesters blocking an elderly woman with a walker from entering the event at Hamilton’s Mohawk College.
City police say they’re actively investigating the events around the Sept. 29 appearance, but have not laid any charges.
The post announcing the closure of Soufi’s praised what had until recently been a warm and welcoming reception for the restaurant and its owners.
“Since we opened up Soufi’s in 2017, we have been met with nothing but curiosity, respect, acceptance and love from the people of Toronto, and for that we are eternally grateful,” the post reads. “We will cherish the countless memories of us sharing stories, food, music and laughter.”
Members of the Alsoufi family did not respond to a request for comment from The Canadian Press on Tuesday.
This story from the Canadian Press was first published on Oct. 8, 2019
Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press