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Toronto Syrian restaurant shuts down, citing hateful messages and death threats

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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

The Canadian Press is a national news agency headquartered in Toronto, Canada. It was established in 1917 as a vehicle to permit Canadian newspapers of the day to exchange their news and information. For most of its history, The Canadian Press has been a private, not-for-profit cooperative, owned and operated by its member newspapers. In mid-2010, however, it announced plans to become a for-profit business owned by three media companies once certain conditions are met.

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First Nations displaced by storm share concerns with Scheer campaign

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WINNIPEG — Families forced to flee the Lake Manitoba First Nation are expressing frustration around evacuation efforts following a recent snowstorm that’s left thousands of people in the province without electricity for days.

Babies and seniors alike were crowded into a Winnipeg hotel lobby on Monday waiting for buses in one what woman described as a maddening series of events that have left people feeling like animals.

They said they weren’t sure where the buses would be taking them.

By coincidence, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s campaign arrived at the hotel and some of the evacuees asked for a chance to express their concerns to the media.

Margaret Missyabit’s voice broke as she described walking out of her home on Saturday when the power went out to try and find out what was going on, saying the community was given little time to gather the things they needed before leaving.

Nearly 21,000 Manitoba homes and businesses remained without power early Monday in the wake of a snowstorm that the province’s Crown energy utility said had left an unprecedented amount of damage to transmission lines, towers and more, and will take days to repair.

The Canadian Red Cross opened a warming shelter at the RBC Convention Centre in downtown Winnipeg over the weekend for the First Nations, which it said was necessary because of the potential number of evacuees as well as a lack of available hotel rooms.

Premier Brian Pallister declared a state of emergency early Sunday morning.

The move makes it easier for Manitoba Hydro crews to access private land and invokes help from neighbouring provinces and states — Ontario, Saskatchewan and Minnesota — who were being asked for workers, poles and even transmission towers.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Oct. 14, 2019

The Canadian Press

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‘Save the kids!’ Dorian survivor tells the harrowing story of his wife’s death

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TORONTO — Cialin Dany knew he was in trouble when he saw a massive palm tree laying on the ground next to the Abaco Lodge.

As hurricane Dorian whirled at the door, Dany, 32, took his Canadian wife, Alishia Liolli, and two of their children and hunkered down in a room at the fishing resort where he worked. Then another tree slammed into the building.

“The bolts start popping, like popcorn, pop, pop, pop, pop,” Dany said. “Then whoosh, the roof flew off.”

The family and a friend who was with them ducked for cover under the bed and prayed. They watched as the wall in the back of the room swayed.

“Then the wall came down,” Dany said as he recalled the events of Sept. 1.

The wall pinned all five underneath the bed. Their 18-month-old son Evans and Dany’s 11-year-old daughter from a previous relationship, Kescianna, wailed with fear.

Dany’s breathing laboured — the bed frame dug into his neck and right shoulder.

“Daddy, daddy, you don’t sound too good,” his daughter said.

“Count to 500 and I’m going to figure something out,” he said.

“I say to God, ‘if you give me 45 minutes, I swear to you I can save them.'”

He grabbed a piece of wood that flew into the room, jammed it under the bed frame and hit it repeatedly. The pressure on his neck eased. He moved a bit and grabbed another errant piece of wood and smashed the wall. He kicked his way through the rubble and slipped out from underneath the bed.

He scrambled to his feet, grabbed another piece of wood to lever the bed, but the wood broke. 

“I need help,” he said to his family.

Liolli told him to get a sledge hammer that was in another room. Dany slammed the tool into the wall, trying to break it up, but the handle snapped in two.

“I’m in really big trouble now,” he thought to himself.

He tried lifting the bed near his friend, Luke Saint Victor, figuring if he could get another adult out, the two of them could save the rest. 

“I ask God for one pound of strength more,” he said.

He moved the bed up a bit, enough for his daughter to get out, then he turned to his wife, who was pinned under the wall.

“I say, ‘Alishia, come on baby, it’s your turn,'” Dany said.

“She threw me Evans and said ‘save the kids!'”

Meanwhile, the water outside the one-storey building continued to rise.

“I’m going for help,” he yelled.

He took the children and got into his car, but glass in the doors began to burst. A shard lodged near baby Evans’ eye. Blood flowed.

“Everything was flying, shingles flying, wood flying,” Dany said.

The water rose fast. The car doors would not open, and his daughter started screaming.

“You are a track star,” he told her. “You can do it, just run. When I tell you to move, we move.”

Dany crawled out the window, took the kids and sprinted to a dumpster that had been blown on its side. They hid there for hours as maggots crawled everywhere.

A slight reprieve came when dawn broke and the sun peeked out. He returned to the lodge to try and save his wife and friend, but  he couldn’t lift up the wall.

Liolli told him to go get help.

Dany dropped his children off at their pastor’s home, found a chainsaw that he hoped would free his wife and friend, and headed back to the lodge, which by then had been flooded.

He called out to his wife and heard his friend, Luke Saint Victor, say in a faint voice “the water came up, the water came up.'”

When the chainsaw failed, Dany used an axe to cut the wall into pieces and finally removed the bed.

Underneath, his wife wasn’t breathing. He performed CPR, but it didn’t work.

“The problem was when she went under the bed, she went on her belly and Luke went on his back,” Dany said. “The water came up, not much, like an inch or two, but it was enough.”

Liolli had drowned.

“My head went blank,” Dany said. “I was crying like a crazy man, just freaking out. I held her in my arms.”

But there was no time for a long embrace. He flagged down a passing power truck, placed Liolli and Saint Victor on the flatbed and then rushed to the clinic. The chief of police, who was there dealing with a flood of bodies being brought in, saw Liolli.

“She’s already gone,” he told Dany.

Dany said he had to get back to his kids. He left Liolli there and prayed Saint Victor would pull through. His friend would die a few days later in Nassau.

After reuniting with his children, Dany called Liolli’s family in LaSalle, Ont., to deliver the news.

Dany later returned to the clinic to figure out how to get Liolli’s body off the island. The authorities moved it to a courtyard along with dozens of other bodies, hidden from the public, but it took a while for Dany to figure that out.

“Nobody would give me an answer, nobody was helping,” he said.

Time was a problem. A body doesn’t last long in the Bahamas heat.

“The smell was starting to rise up on the island,” he said. “I needed to get the boy out of there. It was crowded, dark, and I didn’t trust anyone.”

The airport and docks were overrun with crowds, so he drove to Treasure Cay where he and Evans spent two days outside, getting bit by spiders and bugs, as they waited for a flight off the island. His daughter Kescianna stayed with his ex-wife.

The pair got to Nassau, where Deny was faced with a bureaucratic nightmare that went on for days. Back in Canada, Liolli’s mom, Josie Mcdonagh, tried frantically to get the authorities to help. 

About a week later, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland called the family.

“She helped a lot,” Mcdonagh said.

Liolli’s body finally made it to Nassau on Sept. 11. Dany had to identify it.

“I did not want to see her like that, but I had to,” he said. “I had to.”

Liolli’s body was too decomposed to be transported, so he and the family decided on cremation.

It took 20 days to get her remains to Canada.

“I just wanted her family to have something, so they could go somewhere and know where she is,” Dany said.

The family held a funeral and placed Liolli’s remains in a niche at a cemetery in Windsor, Ont. Afterward, they held a wedding for Liolli and Dany — they were common law wife and husband for years — complete with open bar.

“She’s home now,” her mother said.

Last week, Liolli’s family and friends gathered at Ryerson University in downtown Toronto to celebrate her life. Her former sociology professor, Jean Golden, has launched a fundraising campaign to help rebuild Every Child Counts — a vocational school for children with special needs in Abaco that Liolli helped build and run. The school was destroyed during the hurricane.

“Alishia’s dream will never be destroyed,” Golden said through tears.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 14, 2019.

On the web:

https://www.gofundme.com/f/every-child-counts-school-in-abaco-bahamas

Liam Casey, The Canadian Press

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