Toronto Police say a widely publicized attack on an 11-year-old girl, in which a man had allegedly cut her hijab with scissors, "did not happen."
The alleged attack was said to have happened while the girl was walking to school with her younger brother on Friday. She said a man walked up behind her on the street and cut into her hijab.
Police spokesperson Mark Pugash said investigators responded to the report immediately on Friday and worked through the weekend.
"They assembled a lot of evidence including security camera video and interviews," he said. “The only conclusion that made any sense was that what was claimed on Friday didn’t happen.”
According to initial reports, the assailant was an "Asian" man in his 20s wearing all black, with glasses and a moustache. The girl said he had cut into her hijab with a pair of scissors, then ran away when she screamed, only to return 10 minutes later to cut her hijab a second time.
“He just smiled and ran away,” the girl told reporters at a hastily organized press conference at her Scarborough school that afternoon.
“I feel this is terrible and I do not like it. I feel like this should stop," she said.
The girl's mother also spoke at the press conference, saying through tears that the incident was "just not Canada."
"I'm so proud to be a Canadian and I feel safe in this community. It's just, it's not right. He should get help. This is not who we are," she said.
The incident quickly became a major national news story, with politicians including Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressing outrage at the apparent anti-Muslim attack.
Police took a headscarf with a 12-inch slash as evidence, and had been investigating the incident as a possible hate crime. Pugash said the case was now closed. He also said the police had nothing to do with organizing the Friday press conference, and that it would not be standard procedure to identify such a young alleged victim.
The Toronto District School Board said it never called a formal press conference, but that TDSB representatives made themselves available to media who were already at the school. The young girl and her family were asked if they wanted to participate, and they agreed, according to TDSB.
"Once again, we are very thankful that this assault did not in fact happen," TDSB said in a statement to BuzzFeed Canada.
Many Muslim advocates expressed disappointment at the apparent false report, with the National Council of Canadian Muslims saying the organization was "relieved but unsettled" by the news. Toronto imam Ibrahim Hindy called it "a punch to the gut" because it undermines legitimate acts of hate.
"This hurts us all," he said in a tweet.
On Wednesday, the family released a statement to the Toronto Star and other media outlets apologizing "for the pain and anger that our family has caused in the past several days."
The statement thanked the school and the police for acting with compassion after hearing about the alleged attack, and said the family only went public because they were "horrified" that such a thing could have happened. The family said they "assumed it to be true, just like everyone else."
"This has been a very painful experience for our family. We want to thank everyone who has shown us support at this difficult time," the family said. "Again, we are deeply sorry for this and want to express our sincere apologies to every Canadian."
This article was updated after police closed the investigation, and again after the family released a public apology.
Ishmael N. Daro is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Toronto. PGP fingerprint: 5A1D 9099 3497 DA4B
Contact Ishmael N. Daro at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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