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Police investigating after Syrian restaurant closed due to 'hate messages'

Last Updated Oct 9, 2019 at 11:40 pm EDT

A message posted on the window of Soufi's - a Syrian restaurant which owners say they were forced to close due to death threats. CITYNEWS/George Joseph

Toronto police say they have launched an investigation after a beloved refugee run Syrian restaurant said it was forced to shut down due to “hate messages and death threats.”

In a message posted to its Instagram account, Soufi’s on Queen Street West said the decision to close was prompted by numerous threats received over the past week.

Soufi’s was run by Husam and Shahnaz Al-Soufi, who immigrated to Canada in October 2015 with their three children, Alaa, Jala and Ayham.

CityNews profiled the restaurant in January, 2018. At the time, general manager Jala Al-Soufi, said the restaurant gave Syrian refugees in Toronto a comforting taste of home and provided job opportunities.

A day after the owners announced their decision to close, restaurant patrons, owners of neighbouring shops and many others left messages of support and encouragement on the restaurant’s windows, speaking out publicly against hate.

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.

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.

On Tuesday, Const. Rob Reid told CityNews 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 had not been able to reconnect since.

Police now confirm they have been in contact with the restaurant owners since Wednesday afternoon and have assigned the hate crime intelligence unit to the case.

Soufi’s owners are expected to make an announcement about the future of the restaurant on Thursday morning alongside the CEO of Paramount Fine foods.

In a release Paramount said CEO Mohamad Fakih has been working with the owners to “revisit the decision of closing the restaurant.”

Earlier this year, Fakih was awarded $2.5 million by an Ontario judge after suing YouTuber Kevin Johnston and FreedomReport.ca for defamation.

Fakih filed the suit back in July 2017 for several incidents including a series of videos which spewed “hateful Islamophobic remarks.”

Police say their investigation into the alleged threats and hate speech directed towards Soufi’s and the owners is in its early stages and so far, no charges have been laid.