Via Rail apologizes after Muslim man told not to pray at Ottawa train station
Via Rail is apologizing after a Muslim man was told he couldn't pray at the Ottawa train station.
Ahmed, who asked that his last name not be used, said a security guard at the station told him he was not allowed to pray there and that he should pray outside.
The Toronto man said the interaction left him feeling shocked, embarrassed and disgusted.
Via Rail issued a statement apologizing to Ahmed and "the entire Muslim community" and said they are investigating the incident.
'We don't want you praying in here'
Ahmed told CTV News he was waiting to travel home to Toronto by bus on Monday when his bus was delayed by a few hours. Some Ottawa-Toronto buses run from the Via station.
Before leaving the station to explore downtown Ottawa, he decided to pray. He washed up in the bathroom and walked across the station to an empty hallway.
After praying there for a few minutes, he returned to his luggage and the co-worker he was travelling with.
He said a security guard then approached him to tell him he couldn't be praying in the station. Ahmed said he was stunned.
"I wasn't bothering anybody. I was on my own little corner. I wasn't even loud," he said. "It was just a lot to handle, so I ended up just sitting down," he added. "I was in a state of shock."
At that point, bystanders started filming on their phones, along with his co-worker. So he asked the man to repeat himself.
"I asked him, 'Sorry, I didn't hear you, could you say that again?'"
Videos of the incident taken from two separate angles shows a security guard speaking to Ahmed and telling him not to pray in the train station.
"Don't pray in here. We don't want you praying here. You're bothering our other customers, OK?" he says.
Ahmed tells him he went to the end of the hallway and not one person had anything to say.
"Pray outside next time, OK?" the security guard responds. He also tells Ahmed he would complain to his employer, then walks away.
The videos, which Ahmed posted to TikTok and Instagram, have gone viral.
Ahmed said the interaction left him feeling hurt and disrespected.
"He made me feel embarrassed. I was just disgusted. Like: this is Canada? This is the nation's capital? This is Ottawa?
"If I was doing something where I'm causing a scene, that's a different story. But if I'm minding my own business, it looks like I'm doing yoga, what is the real situation?"
He said other passengers in the station came up to him and said he should have been allowed to practice his religion as he pleases.
Via Rail investigating
In a statement, Via Rail said it was "dismayed" to learn of the incident.
"First and foremost, we want to apologize unreservedly to the individuals involved and to the entire Muslim community," the statement said.
"Freedom of religion, including the ability to worship, is a human right and is enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. VIA Rail strongly condemns and will not tolerate any form of discriminatory behaviour.
"We take this situation very seriously and are currently investigating the incident and will take the appropriate actions pending the outcome of that investigation."
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra, the minister in charge of Via Rail, tweeted about the incident Tuesday night.
"Canadians should feel comfortable in practicing their faith without harassment," he said. "I'm relieved that VIA is taking this matter seriously."
Ahmed 'not impressed' by apology
Despite the apology issued, Ahmed said he felt that Via Rail was not genuinely sorry.
He said after the interaction with the security guard, two Via employees approached him when he was speaking with one of the bystanders who shot the interaction.
He said the employees defended the security guard by saying he had worked there for a long time and deals with a lot of homeless people.
"I said, 'You’re trying to say that I'm homeless?' Then they tried to change the topic," Ahmed said. "I said, 'Isn't this borderline racism?' They said 'Oh no, you shouldn't think like that.'"
At that point, he said he was already fed up and said he didn't want to continue the conversation, and respectfully left the station.
"Their lack of care was evident," he said.
He said he went downtown and came back to the station a few hours later, where he prayed again with no issues. He then got on his bus and went home, still in disbelief.
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"For certain people to say you can't participate and practicing your religion it was like… a spit in the face," he said. "The apology is cool, but what are you really going to do to make this right?
"I'm not impressed with your little six-sentence apology."
Many Muslims pray five times a day: before dawn, in the afternoon, late afternoon, after sunset and nighttime. Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, starts on Thursday.
Ahmed said he had heard stories of other people experiencing Islamophobia, but never thought it would happen to him.
"I never experienced it before this situation, but it's quite clear and it's quite evident Islamophobia is a real thing."
- with files from Rahim Ladhani, CTV News Ottawa
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