A University of Toronto professor was at Toronto Symphony Orchestra at Roy Thomson Hall Wednesday evening when she said an older white man chopped her in the neck and called her a “bitch” after she took a photograph.
Aisha Ahmad, a Muslim-Canadian professor who teaches international security at the U of T, told VICE she was at the symphony with a friend after being gifted tickets to Carmina Burana from a fellow professor. Having been to the symphony many times, she knew that flash photography is not permitted so she took a non-flash photograph before the performance began, as she had in the past.
At that point, “the man behind me chopped me on the neck and said ‘put that away'” Ahmad said. “I was stunned. I turned around and said, ‘You can’t hit me, that’s assault. If you hit me again, I will charge you.'”
She said the man, who looked to be in his 50s, replied, “You’re like a child, you bitch.”
Ahmad, who said she was the only non-white person in her section, told VICE others seated nearby turned around to find out what the commotion was about. Then they took the man’s side.
“They began to pile on and chime in and say ‘Stop it already, enough’ and ‘What’s wrong with you?,'” Ahmad said. “In that moment I realized the entire section had decided I didn’t belong there.”
Francine Labelle, a spokeswoman for the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, told VICE it has “zero tolerance for violent, disrespectful behaviour” and that the man has been banned from future TSO events. She also said the TSO reported the incident to police.
Roy Thomson Hall has not yet provided comment.
But Ahmad said she’s dumbfounded at the way things were handled that night.
After the initial attack, Ahmad left her seat to speak with security and later two managers with Roy Thomson Hall. She explained what happened and that she was a U of T professor, and asked to talk to a supervisor about the incident. Ahmad was told “nothing could be done” until intermission and that she was welcome to wait in the hallway in the meantime—about an hour.
At intermission, Ahmad said the doors opened and the man who had hit her beelined towards her.
“He said ‘you’re the woman who accosted me'” she said, and she responded that he had hit her. Then she took out her phone in order to take a photo or video in case things escalated. That’s when Ahmad said the man lunged at her.