Soufi’s was supposed to be an immigration success story, not just for the Alsoufi family, but for all of Canada. A New York Times profile in 2018 tied the Syran restaurant, located on Queen Street in Toronto, in with the boom in Syrian immigration, and its popularity as proof of Canada’s overall tolerance for the 50,000 Syrian refugees Justin Trudeau had famously welcomed. “Canada’s warm welcome to Syrian refugees was a hallmark of Justin Trudeau’s election as prime minister in late 2015, and for many, it remains a potent symbol of Toronto’s multicultural identity. (The city’s motto is ‘Diversity Our Strength.’),” the Times wrote. “Syrian food businesses drew an overwhelming degree of media attention, and a customer base that extended well beyond people with Middle Eastern backgrounds.”
But now, just over two years since Husam and Shahnaz Alsoufi opened its doors, Soufi’s is closed, with the proprietary family citing death threats against them as the reason why.
The alleged threats began after Husam and Shahnaz Alsoufi’s son, Alaa Alsoufi, was identified as one of the antifa (which stands for anti-fascist) protesters at a speaking event for right-wing, anti-immigrant politician Maxime Bernier. Bernier is the founder and leader of the People’s Party of Canada, which espouses ending “multiculturalism” and “open borders” as part of the platform. He has also personally supported “healthy nationalism.” The PPC claims to support some form of multiculturalism, but only when “immigrants who came to Canada [are] gradually integrated into our society,” rather than immigrants who “keep the values and culture they left behind.”
According to CBC, video circulated of antifa protesters, including Alaa Alsoufi, chanting “Nazi scum off our streets” as an elderly white woman approached them, and preventing her from entering the Bernier event at Mohawk College, in Hamilton, Ontario. (Alaa Alsoufi appears wearing a mask, but does not interact directly with the woman or her husband in the clip provided.) The woman — Dorothy Marston, 81 — admitted to being skeptical about immigration, saying Syrian “values are different than ours,” and was curious about what Bernier had to say, though she hasn’t made up her mind about who to vote for in the next election yet. “They were hollering ‘Nazi’ and ‘racist’ and all this nonsense. It was more than nonsense, it was frightening in my country,” said Marston of the encounter. Video of the incident has been shared by news outlets and dispersed by PPC supporters.
In an Instagram post, Soufi’s announced that the restaurant is permanently closed because of “numerous hate messages & death threats” after Alaa Alsoufi was identified. In the post, the Asoulfi family thank their customers, and say that since opening the Syrian street-food restaurant in 2017, “we have been met with nothing but curiosity, respect, acceptance and love from the people of Toronto.” But the PPC supporters’ mark on the family and their business can be seen across their web presence, On Google, they’ve been inundated with one-star reviews. “They should all be shipped back to their own country,” one reads. Another just said, “Hammer and sickle aint tasty…”
The Alsoufis apologized for their son’s involvement in the protest, saying “Alaa regrets that he did not step aside and/or stand up against the act of verbal abuse,” that they are “extremely lucky and grateful” to be in Canada, and that they ask people to refrain from sending more abusive messages their way. Husam Alsoufi told reporter Victoria Balfour that his son thought he was going to an anti terrorist rally, adding, “He thought he was supporting the weak then he found himself caught next to people who attack [sic] the weak. What he did — standing there and not helping the [sic] elderly — is unacceptable...”
On October 1, the father of Antifa Alaa Soufi Dalua confirmed to me that it was his son wearing the mask at the rally. Claimed his son thought he was going to an "anti terrorist rally." I sent his email to Hamilton Spectator and other Canadian papers. They've done nothing. pic.twitter.com/8xYfoiQnft— Victoria Balfour (@VickiBalfour) October 3, 2019
It’s sadly unsurprising that a family of Syrian immigrants is bearing the brunt of far-right retaliation because their son attended a protest and did not intervene when a couple was verbally attacked — even if Alaa Alsoufi was, as Balfour and others have suggested, an active member of antifa. (There are worst things than being an anti-fascist activist, like, say, being a fascist...) Eater has reached out to the Alsoufis regarding the closure, but has not heard back as of press time. However, they wrote in a comment on Instagram, “Please know that we do not wish to hide or conceal the events that led to these threats, and wish to address the claims and information shared by certain media groups in the near future, once it’s safe for us to do so.”
Update: October 10, 2019, 11:03 a.m.: This article was updated to better reflect Alaa Alsoufi’s relationship to antifa.
Update: October 10, 2019, 3:47 p.m.: Soufi’s announced that they will reopen on Friday, with help from Paramount Fine Foods CEO Mohamad Fakih. At a news conference, Faikh said “We’re going to send a message that hate will never win in Canada.”