THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
A Toronto restaurant run by a family of Syrian newcomers will reopen Friday morning. Tuesday the Alsoufis announced that death threats and hate messages forced them to shut down, after they shared the story of their Antifa-supporting son. The Alsoufi family says it has received “hundreds of messages of heartfelt support” in the last few days.
Mohamad Fakih, the owner of Toronto-based Paramount Fine Foods, will run the restaurant until the family feels safe enough to take over again. Earlier this year, Fakih was awarded $2.5 million in Canada’s largest cyber libel case, after hateful, racist messages about him and his business were posted by an alt-right pundit. Fakih said the Alsoufis will retain all profit. The plan is to operate without security at the restaurant, though that remains an option depending on what happens next.
Husam Alsoufi said the “massive public reaction” to their announcement to close down was “beyond what we imagined.” Fakih reached out to him Wednesday and explained the negative message that closing down sent to the public. Alsoufi said he didn’t want “to set a tragic precedent for future immigrants and refugee business owners as the business that gave in to hate.” He said he wants “to foster hope and resilience in the face of intimidation.” The family had previously been featured in a New York Times article about the rapid growth of Syrian restaurants in Toronto over the past few years.
Police are investigating the violent and racist online threats against the family, after video surfaced of the eldest son, Alaa, protesting at a rally in support for the People’s Party of Canada (PPC) leader Maxime Bernier in Hamilton last month. The PPC is a far-right party, polling at about 3 percent. Bernier has criticized what he calls Canada's embrace of "extreme multiculturalism” and has said that “diversity is not our strength.” He pledged to halve the number of immigrants into Canada as well as repeal the Multiculturalism Act and get rid of any funding that promotes multiculturalism.The video showed people blocking and verbally abusing 81-year-old Dorothy Marston who was trying to enter the venue. Marston told CBC she was called “Nazi scum.”The Alsoufi family issued a statement that their son was at the rally, saying “he did not in any way verbally or physically assault the elderly woman, and has nonetheless offered to apologize personally for not doing more.” The statement said that Alaa was “doxed and physically assaulted” on Friday.
Alsoufi said they are working with Marston’s “lovely family” to make amends.Fakih, who was born in Lebanon, said he told the family he “wanted them to feel they’re not alone” in dealing with this. “We need to send a message that Toronto, that Canada, is safe for business.”Fakih has experienced hateful racist attacks himself. In May, the Ontario Superior Court ordered Kevin J. Johnston to pay a total of $2.5 million in damages to Fakih for video posted online that contained comments that the judge described as “hateful Islamaphobic.” Johnston runs FreedomReport.ca, a far-right-right website on which he describes himself as “the most censored man in Canada.”In videos shot in 2017, Johnston called Fakih an “economic terrorist” who was backed by the Pakistani spy agency. He also alleged that Fakih’s restaurant policy was to deny entry to anyone who wasn’t a “jihadist.”Johnston came in second in the Mississauga mayoral race.Ontario Superior Court Justice Jane Ferguson said that the Paramount case happened at a time “where social media and the internet allow some of the darkest forces in our society to achieve attention.”Follow Anne Gaviola on Twitter .